Defining a Lean Culture is a Matter of Character (Part 2)

Yesterday, we took a stab at defining a Lean enterprise as a company that spreads Lean thinking across its entire organization. Those who find success embody a set of distinct characteristics that can help us understand what it means to be on this Lean journey. The first seven characteristics focused on elements of strategy, alignment, and continuous learning and can be seen here. The next of set characteristics focus on execution and continuous improvement:

8.  Empowered employees – Give frontline employees the first opportunity to solve problems.  All employees should share in the responsibility for success and failure.

9.  Flexible workforce – As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said “The only constant is change.”   Flexibility is the ability to react to changes in customer demand.  The key to success is to maintain redundancy and hence flexibility within the core competency.

10.  Partnership – Use teams, not individuals, internally between functions and externally with suppliers.  Employees are partners too.  As Covey says, “You must find a win-win, never win-loose, solution and if you can’t you should walk away.”

11.  Simplicity – Lean is not simple, but simplicity pervades.  Simplicity is best achieved through the avoidance of complexity, than by ‘rationalization’ exercises.

12.  Process – Organize and think by end-to-end process.  Think horizontal, not vertical.  Concentrate on the way the product moves, not on the way the machines, people, or customers move.

13.  Improvement – Continuous improvement is everyone’s concern.  Improvement should go beyond incremental waste reduction to include innovation breakthrough.

14.  Prevention – Seek to prevent problems and waste, rather than to inspect and fix.  Shift the emphasis from failure and appraisal to prevention.  Inspecting the process, not the product, is prevention.  Use poka yoke to mistake proof process errors.

15.  Visualization – Visuals translate performance of every process into expected versus actual, throughout the management systems.  It is regular, frequent, and factual data driven.  Visuals provide the opportunity to quickly spot and take action at the earliest point that performance has not met what was expected.

A Lean Enterprise is not created quickly.  To be successful, Lean manufacturing requires building a culture of operational excellence. It’s easy to say (or define), but harder to instill throughout an organization, which is why a lean implementation takes time. But the benefits of lean are undeniable, and those companies who make the journey stand to gain significantly. When a business applies lean thinking, culture, and methods throughout the entire organization and beyond its four walls to customers and suppliers a Lean Enterprise is formed.

How do you define a Lean Enterprise and what characteristics embody that concept?


This post was written by Tim McMahon and is the second of a two part article.  You can see part 1 here.

Tim McMahon 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.

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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6 Responses to Defining a Lean Culture is a Matter of Character (Part 2)

  1. resultsfmcg says:

    Excellent article, thankyou.

  2. Tim says:

    Well written and very informative. Thank you.

  3. Georgina says:

    Hey Christian have you ever read a book called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way? Just wondered your thoughts about it?

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