Lean is a philosophy – a collaborative approach where management and staff work together, on equal terms, to identify and eliminate business problems and increase customer satisfaction. It is a mindset which seeks to create a culture of continuous improvement.
Lean might be described as a management system that highlights problems, coupled with a human system that produces people who are willing and able to identify and solve those problems.
After all, “waste” in processes can only be eliminated by people working together, using problem solving tools. Thus lean is more about engendering behaviours that encourage collaborative problem solving and improvement, than it is about knowing what an Ishikawa Diagram is, or having a view on the “correct” process mapping approach to use.
Lean is a people process, and the focus should be on engaging and involving people, rather than having a checklist of tools that you make people work through.
To quote John Shook, Chief Executive of the Lean Enterprise Institute:
“The famous tools of the Toyota Production System are all designed around making it easy to see problems, easy to solve problems, and easy to learn from mistakes. Making it easy to learn from mistakes means changing our attitude toward them.”
Lean is a change of mindset. Entering into lean with a top-down command and control structure will not work. Lean means changing our attitude: changing our attitude to problems, and changing our attitude to learning from mistakes.
All of this requires openness and trust at all levels of the organisation. That is not easy to achieve and is one of the main reasons why lean fails.
Lean is a people process. Get to know your people. Listen to them. Learn from them. Work with them to remove the obstacles and issues that make their work difficult and damages customer value. Be open and honest, and the results will begin to show.
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