Many of us are familiar with what Lean is—a business optimization model. It purports to help develop products faster, reduce waste, and improve efficiency across the board. This process is often misunderstood, though. Lean can work for you, but in ways that many businesses may not expect. To get a better idea of what Lean is, let’s review seven things that Lean is not:
1. A Waste Reduction Model
Yes, Lean can eliminate waste, but no, Lean is not a waste reduction model. Lean prioritizes organizational harmony first, with reduced waste as a byproduct of this process. Don’t count on it to produce the same effect as a dedicated waste management appraisal.
2. Lacking Data
Like any process evaluation, Data powers Lean. Data is the information that allows businesses to customize broad processes and apply them to their unique situations. Lean depends on this data during each part of its implementation.
Easy and simple aren’t the same thing. Though Lean might be a straightforward optimization model, there may be pain points you uncover along the way. Don’t be afraid of these emerging problems—meaningful change is rarely a painless process.
4. Not Compatible with Six Sigma
Lean and Six Sigma are two competing ideologies that share many of the same steps. They’re so similar that a third model known as “Lean Six Sigma” has been developed, offering the best of both worlds. Make no mistake, though—the processes of each methodology are different. Integrated approaches like Lean Six Sigma rarely offer the same benefits that either approach would provide on its own.
5. A Substitute for Poor Management
Optimizing your business doesn’t excuse poor management decisions. Lean relies on a coordinated system of progressive decision-making. This includes staying up to date with technology, investing in necessary business infrastructure, and doing what’s necessary to be a leader in your industry. Marginally higher efficiency is no replacement for these managerial controls.
6. Possible without Controlled Processes
Think of Lean as the missing piece of your treasure map that reveals the hidden gold. Great when the rest of your map is in place, but useless on its own. To see any demonstrable improvements from Lean, your business processes must be structured and controlled. From there, you can use Lean to determine where the areas most in need of improvements are.
7. Independent of Your Workforce
Both Lean consultants and your own workforce are necessary for Lean to succeed. Greater efficiency relies on a comprehensive effort from all employees. Implementing Lean means taking stock of your workforce and developing their skills alongside your efficiency initiatives.
Written by Dean Van Dyke, Vice President, Business Process Optimization
Dean Van Dyke is the Vice President of Business Process Optimization for iBridge. He brings more than 18 years of customer relations, business process outsourcing, lean six sigma, program/project management, records management, manufacturing, and vendor management experience to iBridge. Mr. Van Dyke was the former head of Microsoft’s corporate records and information management team, and served honorably for over fourteen years in the U.S. Navy and Army National Guard. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of South Dakota and his Master’s in Business Administration from Colorado Technical University.