In this segment we’ll define Lean and try to clear up some common misconceptions that surround it.
Lean is a proven set of principles and methods to reduce waste and defects … within systems and processes … by framing all activities in relation to the value they provide to our customers … and engaging those closest to the work to improve productivity, quality and service.
Whether you’re at the grocery or the gym, when you think of lean, you think less fat. The concept is basically the same with Lean management. Our goal is to reduce waste and eliminate distractions and frustrations that slow down our mission-related, value-added work.
Lean is not a new concept; its principles of continuous improvement have been around for more than a century, primarily in manufacturing. But over the past 10 or 20 years, the Lean management philosophy has definitely caught on in service sectors, including at all levels of government. While Lean isn’t new, it does seem to be shrouded in misconception. Let’s clear some of this up.
First, Lean is not about reducing headcount. In fact, Lean doesn’t focus on the people who do the work but the slow, wasteful and frustrating processes employees use. Lean recognizes that agencies’ vital missions are ever-increasing, and often there aren’t enough employees available to do all the work that needs to be done. Lean is about expanding employees’ capacity to fulfill their vital mission work. As employees improve work processes, they find ways to improve quality and provide more and better customer results. The upshot of Lean is having engaged employees doing more value-added mission work.
Lean is not a silver bullet. It isn’t a cure-all, and it’s not about completing one-off projects here and there using Lean tools. Lean helps to build a culture of problem solving and continuous improvement within organizations in a systematic way, so that everybody, every day, everywhere reflects on how they did yesterday, where the waste occurred, and how they can do better today.
You also don’t need to have a PhD in Lean in order to use it. Its principles and tools are intentionally simple, and in fact, Lean really only works if everybody in the organization engages in it.
Lean refers to leaning waste out of processes so they are streamlined to include only value-added steps.
The goal of Lean is to eliminate wasted steps and wasted time from important processes so that employees focus on what matters most. In turn, this allows customers to experience value without unnecessary steps.