What Does ‘Lean’ Mean?

Recently, a colleague and I attended a Canadian Manufacturing and Exporting morning on LEAN. As members of the Centre’s LEAN Committee, we were looking for ways to supplement our learning.

Four different speakers shared the benefits and their excitement about LEAN. They talked about improvements made on the floor with packaging and assembly; better staff morale as a result of their involvement in the discussions and solutions to flow issues; being able to produce twice as much with half the resources; importance of staff involvement; using LEAN processes to look at all aspects of the organization; staff taking ownership of the process which makes it a good retention tool; engaging and empowering staff. There was also lots of interesting language – mapping value stream, think flow, pull, Kaizen, huddle boards, black belts.

What does all this mean? Some online research lead me to a streamlined version of the principles of LEAN, which turn out to be:

Purpose – what is the value to customers?
Process – map the value stream, think through the flow of the work
People – encourage everyone to buy into the system and simplify their work

One of the things that LEAN isn’t is a way to do away with staff, which is what many people think of when they hear an organization is going LEAN.

For me, one of the most interesting take-aways from the session was that 95% of what a product costs is not what we want to pay for – referred to as the eight wastes which include:
• transportation;
• inventory;
• motion, searching for box/paper, etc.;
• waiting;
• over-processing, printing in colour rather than black and white, which costs 3 or 4 times more, printing email;
• over-production, design changes;
• defects;
• skills and strengths, underutilization of people skills, get people to use outside skills to accomplish the job.

We left the session with many ideas to discuss at our LEAN office meetings:
• options to streamline our documents and forms;
• ways we might produce even less paper than we currently do;
• methods to use fewer computer clicks for data entry;
• encouraging everyone on staff to find ways to simplify their piece of the puzzle because we are all in this together!

You might be interested to learn about more about the concept of LEAN for your business.

– Cathie Clement