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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Lean Beyond Waste

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: Thursday, December 9, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The premise behind this question and the Wikipedia definition reveals three common misconceptions about lean. First lean is not limited to production activities. Although the original insight to streamline the flow of work as well as improve the way each step is performed was developed on the shop floor, it has long since been shown to have widespread application to other processes. Indeed over time the principles of lean process design we articulated in Lean Thinking have transformed all kinds of activities from supply chains to service delivery and administration to flows of patients through hospitals. They are even helping to design new operating systems and improve development and response times in IT and software processes. All value creation, even one off project work, is actually the result of a process not just the sum of the steps.

Second lean is not just about eliminating waste. Although many managers were originally attracted to lean as a more effective way of engaging employees in eliminating waste, this is just the beginning of a journey. As soon as you learn to see how broken your current processes are you begin to see the opportunities for fundamentally redesigning the next generation product, process, tooling, location, route to market etc. Indeed as processes are streamlined and compressed it opens up new business models that were previously unaffordable. In Lean Solutions we explicitly address the lean approach to defining value back from the customer and show how lean rapid response supply chains enabled modern convenience and multi-format retailing and how streamlined back office processes in banks will make it possible to design new bundled and customised services to clusters of customers with similar needs.

Third lean is not just a set of tools or practices. What distinguishes lean from all the other process improvement streams is that it is not just based on theory but on a complete business example in Toyota. The more we understand about Toyota’s shop floor practices, underlying principles for process design and management tools the more we realise that they only really work in the context of a complete lean business system.  Indeed Toyota’s lasting contribution to the practice of management is that it wove together process improvement, learning by doing and the scientific approach of the quality movement into a complete business system that delivers superior performance. Our task now is to not only describe the way Toyota’s management system works but to do so in a way that enables other organisations to create their own functional equivalents of it that deliver similar leaps in performance.

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