Basic Concepts: Lean Management
We can start by saying that lean management is not a defined set of principles that can be neatly arranged in topics – lean preaches continuous improvement, motion, not static. As its principles define, it’s constantly moving and evolving – and so should you.
What is Lean Management?
Lean management is, being as concise as possible, a general approach to running an organization in a way that supports the principle of continuous improvement – seeking to achieve small, incremental changes with the goal of improving efficiency and quality in your processes without a huge impact on the environment and everyone involved.
By identifying and tracking all the steps in your business processes, this management style seeks to eliminate all types of waste – not discriminating whether it’s time, effort or money you’re wasting. Your main goal, therefore, should be to establish a workflow that works well without interruptions, material/resources accumulating without being used, the need to repeat steps, etc.
Even though its roots go way back in manufacturing – search Toyota Production System to learn more – lean management can be applied to any industry or service company with the single goal of optimizing processes and eliminating all of the steps that don’t generate value.
As it’s happened all the way back in the past, challenge your employees to innovate and suggest ways of eliminating unnecessary steps – involving your team members in strategical improvement decisions is key since they’re the ones actually using the processes you wish to improve. If you ask people to think and give you ideas other than just giving them the improvement ideas all developed, you’ll be stimulating them to think and make them feel like they are truly part of the process.
This improvement model of asking those who actually do the job to think, experiment and learn from the results is what’s proposed by lean management. It’s a participative other than detached management approach: it humbly observes, challenges, encourages and learns other than arrogantly bossing employees around. It’s the ultimate “practice what you preach” philosophy.
As it’s a process of constant learning and improvement from the obtained data, lean management can’t be defined as a still or fixed concept – you can’t just copy what this or that company did and worked for them, mainly because, as people have their particularities and are unique, so are companies and their processes. You’ll be more accurate defining lean management as a philosophy – a way of thinking – other than just a method or a technique.
Lean management’s principles:
Since we’ve already pointed out the need of optimizing towards generating more value, it’s important that you’re aware of Lean’s definition of value – it’s based on the customer’s point of view, not the company’s owner or board of directors or anyone else’s. Through this point of view, value is anything that will stimulate the purchase of your product or, even more directly, make the customer want to give you money for what you offer.
In order to properly optimize your processes, you’ll first need to map them, identifying all the steps you take – from the beginning to the end – so that later on you’re able to cut off those that are only generating cost without adding to the customer’s value perception. All the steps that do generate value should also be optimized in order to eliminate all the possibilities of waste. Lean is all about the application of the known and effective scientific method of experimentation and study of work processes and systems to find improvements.
Lean management’s philosophy is based on a culture of continuous, incremental improvement that’s practiced by every employee, every team, at every level of the organization. It’s not something defined by high management and shoved down everyone else’s throats. Lean’s philosophy encompasses a lot more than just processes, it’s about the respect for people, for everyone’s voice in the processes – the customer’s, the employees, the people who actually get the job done.
It’s important you keep in mind that these principles are cyclical and should be continuously repeated in the search of better processes each time – your customer’s perception of value is not static and neither should you, as they evolve, you have to evolve to if you don’t want to be left behind.
There are a lot of tools – as we’ve pointed out here – that can help with the technical aspects of the continuous improvement process, such as Poke-a-Yoke, Kanban, continuous flow, etc. Lean management is not just social or just technical, it’s a global philosophy that searches continuous improvement while changing people’s perceptions of their organization and systems.