The exact definition of “lean” has been the subject of some debate recently on lean discussion forums.
Lean is a moving target. Because, at its heart, lean is a process of learning and improvement it cannot be defined as something that is standing still or fixed. It is not simply mimicking what happened at Toyota or anywhere else.
The short answer to “what is lean?” is simply that lean is the generic application of the Toyota Production System (or The Honda Way). It is not one thing but a set of things that are best captured as a philosophy rather than as particular method or technique. If you don’t have the philosophy, you don’t get it.
Here are some ways of describing lean, and they are all correct:
- Lean is a culture of continuous improvement practiced at every level of the organization and by every team.
- Lean is the application of the scientific method of experimentation and study of work processes and systems to find improvements.
- Lean is respect for people. It is respect for the voice of the customer and it is respect for those who do the work, who are “on-the-spot” and are, therefore, the “world’s greatest experts” in their work.
- Lean is the elimination of waste in all its forms. Lean is the ability to distinguish between work that actually adds value to your customers and work that does not. By eliminating waste, you free resources to devote to value-adding activity that serves your customers.
- Lean is a work environment that assures the quality and safety of all work for both clients and staff.
- Lean is a focus on improving the work process and not on blaming people or creating fear.
- Lean is a culture of teamwork, shared responsibility and ownership that cuts through organization walls or silos.
- Lean is a culture that returns the joy to work. Honda speaks of the three joys of buying, selling and making the product. We do our best work when we have joy in our work.
- Lean is flow. Lean is an interruption free process that flows from beginning to end without interruption.