Why would you want to spend a few hours of your valuable time learning about the Lean Management System? You already have many years experience in project management, and your processes and workflows are all working without any problems. Is it really worth investing any time in a new methodology?
The answer is YES. Lean is perhaps one of the most important and effective tools you can learn. You may think your processes are as tight and efficient as possible, but Lean will teach you that there is always room for improvement. And as we see with elite athletes, a consistent improvement programme that shaves milliseconds off your time, or makes small corrections to an athlete's technique, leads to big rewards.
If you need convincing that Lean is more than just a fad, keep reading 😀
The History Lesson
Way back in the 1940s, Japan was beginning its journey to becoming an economic super power. Massive companies like Sony and SoftBank didn't yet exist, and Toyota was still a relatively new player in the automotive industry. Post war, when resources were in high demand, Toyota needed a way to operate at maximum efficiency with minimal materials. Necessity being the mother of invention led Toyota to invent the Lean principle. Lean was initially created by Toyota as a way to standardise processes across its business. But it soon became apparent that standardisation was not enough; Toyota demanded perfection. And in the great tradition of Japan, they created a system for perfection which became known as Lean.
The Philosophy Lesson
Lean could be described as a "way of thinking" or "philosophy". That's not to say it doesn't have a framework and structure to help you get to your goal of perfection, but it is fundamentally a mindset. And this mindset is based around the removal of any unnecessary effort, (or "Waste"), within a workflow. Any wasteful steps in a process are removed, so that you end up with a process where only actions that add value remain. The key point being that all the steps in the lean-modified process should add VALUE to the final output.
The Magnificent Seven
Lean Manufacturing has identified seven types of waste that can be found in any process.
Transport - moving materials or resources without adding any value Waiting - waiting for tasks to be completed Defects - defective work that requires fixing Motion - unnecessary movement by employees or machinery Inventory - too much inventory that is waiting to be used Extra-process - adding features to a product or service that is not required, or brings very little additional value Overproduction - too much created product that cannot be sold
So, why is Lean so great?
Reason 1: It's Simple
If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, lean must be near the top of sophisticated business frameworks. The simplicity of Lean means it is very easy to learn and implement quickly and effectively. It is a very intuitive system which makes it an extremely powerful tool. For any methodology to be truly effective, you need the whole team or company to be fully behind it; this will require a basic level of understanding of the Lean principles from everyone in the business. With Lean, this can be achieved very quickly and with minimal training, and I know from experience how easy this can be. You only need to give people a quick overview of Lean, and it's amazing how quickly they pick up the fundamentals. And within no time at all ideas are being generated with an enthusiasm and aptitude of a veteran Lean black belt.
Reason 2: It Works
There's an old saying that “however beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” The problem with a lot of methodologies out there is that they simply do not have a visible track record of their effectiveness. They sound good on paper, but they don't deliver the results they promise. Lean, on the other hand, has a glowing track record. The results of applying a Lean programme can be seen in the biggest and most successful businesses around the world. In 2020 Toyota was the biggest car manufacturer on the planet. It is currently in the top ten of largest companies in the world, and it produces the most popular hybrid vehicle to have ever been made. This incredible success is largely attributed to Toyota's conception and ongoing development of Lean. So there is very real evidence that the Lean system works for Toyota. But what about other companies? How can we be sure that Lean works for different industries? The beauty of the principles found in lean is that they can be applied to any environment, from big business to everyday domestic problems. Domino's Pizza and McDonald's have both adopted lean to improve their cooking times. And Multi-national companies like Nike, Intel and Kimberly-Clark are all well-known proponents of lean.
Reason 3: It's Practical and Fun (if not slightly addictive)
As you adopt and embrace Lean, it can be difficult to stop analysing every process you come across; whether it is improving a critical and complicated workflow, or speeding up your coffee-making process at home, everything in your life will soon be seen through the lense of the seven areas of Lean waste. This of course is great news if you are trying to inspire your company to take Lean seriously. I have had first-hand experience of the great attraction that Lean brings to a project. The simplicity and beauty of this concept is such a contrast to other improvement tools we are familiar with, that most people are keen to give it a try. If done correctly, Lean group sessions will become the highlight of people's work day. You will find that when everyone is engaged, it is almost impossible not to make significant progress in a very short period of time.
Lean is a fantastic way for organisations to increase quality and decrease waste. The main reason why Lean is a great project management methodology is because it has been successfully implemented by many companies. The methodology focuses on finding and eliminating the sources of waste from a business process. Lean does not focus on the individuals who are executing the process, but it instead focuses on the process as a whole. Lean is so successful because it is adaptable to any industry, and can be easily implemented by small, medium and large organizations.