The Continuous Improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean Group on LinkedIn posed the question “What is Lean?” a couple of months ago, requesting responses in just three words. Now, several people who responded would fall into the “does not follow instructions” category, but the answers were very enlightening and wide ranging. In some ways it is a bit concerning, the fact that members of a group such as this have such varied opinions, but it’s really not surprising.
I have taught Lean Sigma Green Belt classes and defined the goal of Lean as “the elimination of waste” (and Six Sigma as the elimination of variation), but as I have progressed through different organizations, my view of Lean has changed, or should I say, evolved to one that focuses more on increasing value. However, how one defines Lean depends on the situation.
For example, when trying to first implement Lean in an organization, especially an organization that is hemorrhaging cash, trying to sell a higher level, more philosophical (to some) view of Lean is the surest way not to ever get it implemented. Selling Lean as a way to eliminate waste (interpreted as “cut costs”) provides the best chance for success (with success being defined as the approval to start introducing the concepts in the organization). After all, these executives are in a “show me the money” mode, and Lean can certainly do that!
Most organizations start Lean as a program or initiative, but many times it never really gains the traction to become ingrained in the culture, or become the “way the company does things.” Part of the reason for this results from never being able to get past the initial focus of elimination of waste, which most managers translate to cost cutting, to the higher level view of increasing value (with respect for people).
As practitioners, evangelizers, or philosophers of Lean, I believe we need to keep moving organizations toward the goal of increasing value, and to do that, we need to change the conversation. One that moves us from minimizing (wastes) to maximizing (value). Although it can easily be argued that by eliminating waste, value will be increased; it can also be argued that by increasing value, waste will be eliminated.
As humans, we are conditioned to respond to certain stimuli and form opinions base on the way information is presented to us. To that end, think about your first thoughts on the following statements:
“I want to eliminate waste in the organization”
“I want to increase value in the organization”
Which one invoked more positive thoughts? Which one had you thinking about the long term with growth and expansion, and which one about the short term with cutting and contraction? Minimizer or Maximizer?
Back to the three word response for the question, “What is Lean?” My answer: Value, Respect People. With a more expanded goal of “increasing value through continuous improvement with respect for people.”
What are your thoughts?