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Monday, March 29, 2021

The Foundation and Principles of Lean Thinking

Though there is no single definition of Lean thinking, these concepts will help any organization get started with Lean thinking. Lean thinking offers the agility to continuously deliver value in an ever-changing business environment. Implementing Lean thinking will guide your organization toward a stronger, more sustainable future.

3 Foundations of Lean Thinking

1) Purpose

Since the goal of Lean management is to deliver value to the customer, everyone needs a clear understanding of what that value is and how it is measured.

Once a value is defined, everyone can begin working together with the purpose of delivering that value as efficiently as possible. Uniting teams with a shared and clearly defined purpose is integral to leading a Lean organization.

2) Process

Lean methods focus tirelessly on process improvement to remove waste and create value.

Lean leaders believe that flawed processes reduce value and detract from their purpose, so they empower everyone to identify and work to correct problems and improve processes.

3) People

Lean organizations are not led from the top down. Leaders strive to create the conditions for employees to be their most successful and efficient, and actively observe, ask questions, and elicit input toward that goal.

They foster engagement and mentor employees toward continuous improvement. Lean companies are holistic, and success is the result of goals, attitudes, behaviors, and processes that are enacted by everyone, every day.

The Guiding Principles of Lean Leadership

The five Lean principles provide a framework for creating an efficient and effective organization. Lean allows managers to discover inefficiencies in their organization and deliver better value to customers. The principles encourage creating better flow in work processes and developing a continuous improvement culture. By practicing all 5 principles, an organization can remain competitive, increase the value delivered to the customers, decrease the cost of doing business, and increase their profitability.

The 5 principles of a Lean system guide the daily activities of every Lean leader. Those principles are:

1) Identify value

Value is defined by what the customer needs from a product and informed by their desires and expectations.

In an internal system, the “customer” can be another team or department that determines their requirements for value.

2) Map the value stream

Determine all the processes involved in delivering value to the customer from beginning to end.

At a high-level, mapping the value stream can be detailing the path of materials as they move through the design and are delivered in a product, identifying departments and processes.

Another way to look at the value stream is to map the flow of information through a department or organization. Mapping gives greater insight and understanding of business operations and is the first step in identifying waste.

3) Create flow

Work to move products, processes, or information through the value stream with no interruptions, delays, or bottlenecks.

Flow makes everything move in a tight sequence with high efficiency and little waste.

4) Establish pull

With a smooth flow, products can be delivered to the customer as needed. Using a “just in time” delivery model reduces excess inventory, over- or under-production, or unmet demand.

The benefit of pull is that everything is produced highly efficiently, exactly when needed, in the exact quantities required.

5) Seek perfection

Even with a very good process, further evaluation of the value stream always reveals waste or excess that could be eliminated, and flow can always be refined.

Lean systems are engaged in continuous process improvement, iterating these 5 principles over and over in the pursuit of perfection.


Four Lean Rules-in-Use

Rules create structure in our systems. Without rules there would be in chaos. Lean rules provide the guidance needed to implement improvement, explaining the “why” behind lean tools and the Six Sigma methodology. Lean rules also help develop new solutions to problems. For everyone in an organization, these rules help structure activities, connect customers and suppliers, specify and simplify flow paths, and bring improvement through experimentation at the right level.

The Principles of the Toyota Production System can be summarized into four basic rules.

Rule 1: “All work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing, and outcome.

Thanks to specification in terms of sequence of steps, timing, outcome and content, people are able to address any deviations. This rule is a necessary step for people to know implicitly how to do their work.

Rule 2: Every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses.

The path of communication must be described, shared, known and applied. Each collaborator so knows implicitly how to connect with each other.

Rule 3: The pathway for every product and service must be simple and direct.

Services don’t flow to the next available person—but to a “specific” person

Rule 4: Any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest level in the organization.

Frontline workers make improvements to their own jobs and their supervisors provide direction and assistance. The purpose of the supervisor is to act on the process to continuously improve the performance of the process.

The impact of those rules on the System is important – “By making people capable of and responsible for doing and improving their own work, by standardizing connections between individual customers and suppliers, and by pushing the resolution of connection and flow problems to the lowest possible level, the rules create an organization with a nested modular structure”.

Toyota developed this set of Principles, Rules-in-Use, as the building blocks of a production system. They allow organizations to gain maximum efficiency so everyone can contribute at or near his or her potential. When the parts (activities, connections, and pathways) come together the whole is much, much greater than the sum of the parts.

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