The Lean method for beginners

lean steak shaped as heart on plate

There is a lot of hype around Lean at the moment, and while many large companies have been using Lean principles for decades, it’s still quite new for small business.

The term “Lean” was coined in the late ’80s by a couple of researchers in the book The Machine That Changed The World, after they spent time in Japan researching the Toyota Way and the Toyota Production System. So what is “Lean” truly about? Here are the key building blocks of “Lean” in a nutshell which you can start to introduce into your small business today.

1. The Culture:

There are two key pillars of the culture which people often forget. These are:

Continuous Improvement

This is about creating a work environment and culture that strives for continuous improvement in everything it does. The key attributes of a continuous improvement culture are:

  • Challenge – empowering your team to challenge the status quo
  • Go and see – always going to the place of work and seeing what’s really happening and getting the real facts straight from the source
  • Kaizen – this is continuous improvement in small steps. Everyone takes ownership to make a little improvement every day.

Teamwork

Teamwork is vital in creating an open and transparent culture where people can truly thrive and work at their full potential to continuously improve. The key attributes of teamwork are:

  • Teamwork – working towards a common goal and taking ownership and accountability
  • Respect – promoting an environment that respects everyone’s ideas, thoughts and inputs. This is fundamental to create an environment in which people feel comfortable to raise their concerns or ideas.

2. The System

The system is the principles and tools behind achieving a “Lean” business and this is what most companies are good at introducing. Unfortunately without the culture above, these efforts often fail. The Lean system is based on the following key pillars and foundations:

Standardisation

This is the foundation of contiuous improvement. You need to create a standard platform upon which you can improve. If you have no standard processes or systems in place, its hard to understand the basedline from which to improve.

Just In Time (JIT)

JIT is a key pillar and is about delivering your products or services in the right quantity and at the time the customers want them. Focusing on creating processes in your business that are streamlined and let your work flow seamlessly from start to finish will enable you to deliver your product or service as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Built In Quality (Jidoka)

Building in quality (the second key pillar) at every step of your process is key to a Lean system. It ensures that the quality of work is 100% before it passes to the next processes and this eliminates a lot of waste in the form of rework and defects.

Purpose and Vision

Having a clear purpose is central to improvement. Your improvement efforts are geared at achieving your purpose as a business and without it you don’t have a clear target to strive towards.

Empowered People

Empowering people with the ability to make decisions and improve their working environment (with the appropriate systems in place) is critical to obtain buy in and create a satisfied, motivated and high performing team.