Lean is hot! It has been for a while and it will probably continue to do so for the coming years. Some explanations of Lean tend to be a little dry or overly complicated so hereby an attempt at a super simple introduction to some of the most important elements of the concept.

With Lean you (attempt to) cut out everything that does not add value to the customer. In other words, all wasteful steps that a customer is not willing to pay for should be eliminated.

Sounds simple right? There are 3 things that probably need a little more explaining though:

  1. Who is the customer?
    The customer is more than just the end customer, the one that pays for your product or service. There are also internal customers that need to be considered like the person next to you on the conveyor belt or the one selling the product.
  2. When is something valuable and when is it not?
    Something does not add value when the customer (internal and external) is not willing to pay for it. For example: a customer is willing to pay for someone to sign a contract but not for 3 others to take a look at it and give an okay on it. In that respect, unproductive meetings, piles of reports and overhead staff in general are considered non-value adding and are all considered ‘a waste’.8 Lean wastes
  3. What is a waste?
    Finding all the wastes and getting rid of them is often considered the ‘holy grail’ of a Lean organization and there are 3 types to consider:

    1. Waste due to variation or unevenness (mura)
    2. Waste due to overburdening machines or people (muri)
    3. Actual waste in the process (muda) or the 8 Lean wastes.The 8 wastes in the process are what most organisations focus on, as they are the easiest to spot and improve on.

A little bit more on the wastes:

  1. Waste due to variation or unevenness (mura).
    Unevenness happens when a process, its result and its duration is difficult to predict. This happens when customer demand is not steady but also when there are differences in expertise and knowledge for example. Standardising work as much as possible and ensuring a simple and open supply chain will even things out.Amazingly funny and famous clip to show you the effects: 
  2. Waste due to overburdening machines or people (muri)
    The chocolate adding up so Lucy and Ethel can’t deal with them any more is exactly what overburdening is! It comes from removing too much waste and flexibility and it stresses out people and machines. The risks of this are obviously huge and it’s something that happens a lot in ‘Lean’ organizations these days. When the focus is solely on the short-term gains, you’ll be losing in the long term!
  3. Actual waste in the process (muda), or the ‘8 wastes’. These are: defects, overproduction, waiting, non-used talent, transport, stock, Motion and over processing. For ease of remembering you can use the acronym DOWNTIME.This is a little inception-like…but it’s pretty easy. These 8 wastes are the ones you want to get rid of when improving your processes. For example, me creating the picture of the 8 Lean wastes can be considered overprocessing; there are a million pictures like that online and apart from some visual aid it does not necessarily add any value. Plus I’m not that good at Illustrator so it took me a lot longer than I wanted to… Checkout panview.nl for a more detailed description.

Getting rid of the wastes (the 8 wastes that is!)

Removing waste with LeanThough I could go on and on about this topic let’s keep it simple for this particular blog and leave it at the following:

What does a Lean process look like in practice?

Another video for demonstration. The quality is not too good but it’s only 1 minute and really shows you the flow you could create and what happens if that is disrupted:

Now, to be fair, blaming the customer for screwing up the process is not what you want to be doing!


Who would benefit from Lean?

Anyone really! It all started out at Toyota in the 1940’s and ever since the 1980’s other manufacturing companies have been implementing the method and with much success. For the past 15 years Lean started to be really successful in the service industry and since a few years it has even taken the innovative and creative startup world by storm in an adapted form.

No one could get hurt from listening and delivering optimal quality and value to their customer. Neither does it hurt to get rid of everything that is wasteful, no matter the size of your company or the market you’re in.


To conclude

Of course there is much more to this method as we haven’t even touched on Lean leadership and the Lean organization.

I’ve seen this method successfully applied in all sorts of organizations and see no limitations to its use and functionality given that each organization implements it in such a way that it actually fits their own wants and needs. Remember the overburdening? Lean is a great method but a forceful implementation is setting you up for disappointment. Use your common sense and those elements of the method that fit your needs and you’ll gain amazing results!

I’d love to hear from you

Are you in the field of Lean? Would you explain Lean differently? What are your real-life experiences with Lean? Share in the comments below!