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Is lean about waste?

By , - Last updated: Thursday, December 16, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

First, I disagree that lean is a “production practice.” But that’s not really the question, so I’ll move on.

I agree with Art’s description – many people see different things in it. It wouldn’t be fair to say that lean is NOT about waste elimination, but it’s equally unfair to say it’s all about that. As Anais Nin said, “we don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” But let’s get back to waste and it’s role.

Waste is the flip-side of the coin of value. Assuming that lean is just about eliminating waste means that value is already a foregone conclusion. This couldn’t be less true.

The reason many organizations focus more on the waste side of the coin is because they are so focused on manufacturing. Often manufacturing by itself doesn’t have the opportunity to increase the value provided to the customer. The voice of the customer comes in through another door. The specs are provided. All manufacturing can do is screw it up – hence, waste.

However, unless you’re in a commodity business, getting the value right is so much more important, and so much harder.

We should develop a lens and a language for waste. But we should also be developing that lens and language for value, whether it’s in the form of what we deliver or how we deliver it. Too often lean is spread from manufacturing to other functions. But perhaps it should start in marketing (if marketing is meant to figure out value, instead of just promote whatever you have) or product development.

So my message is: get value right before you worry too much about waste. In other words, effectiveness is more important than efficiency.

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