Defining a Lean Organization is a Matter of Character

Lean is all about respecting people while eliminating Muri (overburdening), Mura (unevenness), and Muda (non value added activity) in all business processes. It is a philosophy which embodies a manufacturing culture of continuous improvement based on setting standards aimed at eliminating waste through participation of all employees.

While Lean can be beneficially applied to any process within an organization, its greatest benefit comes when it is applied across the enterprise.  In The Machine That Changed the World in 1990, Jim Womack, et al., emphasized “that Lean thinking can be applied by any company anywhere in the world but that the full power of the system is only realized when it is applied to all elements of the enterprise.”

Lean focuses on creating and implementing processes throughout the entire organization that are highly responsive and flexible to customer demand. Lean paves the way for delivery high quality products and services, at the right location, at the right time, all in a cost-effective and profitable manner.

Over time, it can be said that an organization that implements Lean becomes a Lean Enterprise.  While there is no precise definition of a Lean Enterprise, I believe those organizations share common characteristics.  A Lean Enterprise can be defined by these 15 characteristics:

  1. Customer Focus – The external customer is both the starting point and ending point.  Maximize value to the customer.  Optimize not around internal operations, but around the customer.  Seek to understand not only the customer’s requirements but also their expectations of quality, delivery, and price.
  2. Purpose – The purpose of an organization encompasses your vision (where you want to go), your mission (what you do), and your strategies (how you do it).  Focus on purpose, not tools.
  3. Organizational Alignment - You want people to understand their purpose, not just their job description or the tasks that are assigned to them.  All the people involved need to have a common understanding of the organization’s purpose, and practical understanding of the consequences of failure and the benefits of success.
  4. Knowledge – People are the engine of the company, so it is vital to build knowledge and share it.  This includes explicit knowledge (like that from books) as well as tacit knowledge, involving soft skills.  Knowledge is built through the scientific method of PDCA.
  5. Questioning – Encourage a questioning culture.  Ask why several times to try to get to the root cause.  Encourage everyone to question.  ”Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” said Stephen Covey.
  6. Humility - The more you strive for Lean, the more you realize how little you know, and how much there is yet to learn.  Learning begins with humility
  7. Trust – Build confidence in your promises and commitments.  Building trust takes time.

To be Continued…Stay tune to tomorrow for the remaining characteristics that define a Lean enterprise.

This post was written by Tim McMahon.  Tim is the Founder and Contributor of A Lean Journey Blog. This is a great Lean blog written by a great Lean thinker and practitioner.  I have been reading Tim’s blog regularly for a couple of years now.  His site is dedicated to sharing lessons and experiences along the Lean Journey in the Quest for True North. The blog also serves as the source for learning and reflection which are critical elements in Lean Thinking.  Tim was also very helpful as I was starting the Lean Leadership blog.  I encourage you to check out A Lean Journey.

Tim is a lean practitioner with more than 10 years of Lean manufacturing experience.  He is currently the Quality Manager for an innovative technology company which enhances the way people experience the world every day. Previously, Tim led continuous improvement efforts for a high-tech optical fiber manufacturer. Tim teaches problem solving skills, lean countermeasures, and how to see opportunities for improvement by actively learning, thinking and being engaged.

Tim McMahon was elected to the Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Northeast Region Board of Directors in 2010.  He currently serves as the Vice President of Programs for the Northeast Region.  Tim has also been supporting AME as the Social Media Lead in the NE Region and member of the National Social Media Council.

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article.  You can check out my Facebook page and continue the discussion there as well.  Your feedback is appreciated.

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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3 Responses to Defining a Lean Organization is a Matter of Character

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