The Journey to Lean and beyond

The core idea of Lean is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources from an organization.

A popular misconception is that lean is only for manufacturing. Not true. Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization.

The term “lean” was coined to describe Toyota’s business during the late 1980s by a research team headed by Jim Womack, Ph.D., at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program.

A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. The ultimate goal is to provide perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.

Businesses in all industries and services are using lean principles as the way they think and do. Many organizations choose not to use the word lean, but to label what they do as their own system. It requires a complete transformation on how a company conducts business.

When should a business start implementing lean and how should it get started? Some would say to implement lean right away across the whole organization. Although you might be excited about the value you see in lean, you might want to slow down and take a more systemic approach so it becomes part of your organizations culture, where ultimately Lean will live and thrive. I alway’s ask the question when faced with something that seems really big: How do you eat an elephant? The Answer, one bite at a time.

When we talk about implementing lean we are usually talking about minimizing waste through establishing efficient processes, standardizing tasks and developing the skills to solve problems in order to continuously learn and improve.

In deciding where to start your lean implementation, you should ask yourself “Why” you want to implement lean. The driver might be delivery, lead times, quality, cost or a combination of all of these. Your lean program therefore needs to be designed to address these issues directly in the beginning. Maybe you have one process that touches multiple departments that could be improved upon. Pull together those in the departments together and review the current process and begin the discussion on how to improve, streamline, & eliminate waste.


Eliminating waste along entire value streams, instead of at isolated points, creates processes that need less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to make products and services at far less costs and with much fewer defects, compared with traditional business systems. Companies are able to respond to changing customer desires with high variety, high quality, low cost, and with very fast throughput times. Also, information management becomes much simpler and more accurate.


Many organizations will bring in outside contractors to help train and implement processes to get things going. There is no magic way of getting going. The key is for Lean to become part of your culture. I’ve seen many organizations start but not keep Lean alive as a result of it not becoming part of the culture. Some helpful tips I’ve seen work are: Add Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) to everyones KRA’s. You can do this by setting the goal of coming up with a certain number of CPI’s along with even a dollar amount of savings. Create competitions among the organization or functional team members. Prizes/Recognition always go along way too. Add CPI whenever you can to KPI’s. Maybe your a frontline leader, HR manager, Operations Manager, Accountant, Customer Service Rep/Supervisor, Analyst, etc. and you are reading this article. If your organization has yet to implement Lean, you can take on the quest of leading the efforts to do so. Look at a process that you see needs improving. Pull together all people from each department the process touches. Map out the current process from beginning to end across all departments. Map out what you all want to see in the future. Now create a action plan for how to implement. Practice makes perfect. Don’t wait until you think you can perfectly do this. Start now.