I recently had a haircut appointment and my hairdresser asked me what I do. This led to a discussion about Lean Smarts and the inevitable question:
“What is lean?”
I began answering the question trying to compare and contrast traditional manufacturing versus lean manufacturing. As much as I tried not to, the conversation became very technical very fast. I could tell that I was failing to give the hairdresser the simple answer she was hoping for.
Since that experience I decided I could do better, and this led to lots of reflection about lean, what I’ve experienced, and what is common in the industry.
Unfortunately, what is common in lean industry is NOT simple!
Lean–as the industry presents it–is in fact very daunting!
Amidst all the charts, diagrams, value stream maps, terms, and stuff out there, it has become very easy to lose sight of what lean is in its purest and simplest form.
Our opinion at Lean Smarts is that lean has been made too complicated.
We don’t hide the fact at Lean Smarts that we are big fans and strong proponents of 2 Second Lean. I recall one moment in the book when Paul Akers asks a VP at Lexus what happens when other big corporations visit their company. The VP answered him by saying, “Paul, smart people can’t believe it could be this simple.”
So in this article I want to demystify lean and combat the idea that lean is complicated. Yes, there are useful technical tools at our disposal, but at its core lean is wholly simple. Too many people are paralyzed by the complexity, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Lean Is Simple
Lean is about seeing every little detail in life as a process and improving those processes on a daily basis. That’s it!
Are we all done? …or do I need to elaborate? 😉
Okay, well let’s unpack this a little more. Everything is a process, and here are some examples:
- How you wake up in the morning and get dressed for work is a process.
- How you gather materials and tools for your work is a process.
- How you answer your email is a process.
- How you pay your monthly bills and work a budget is a process.
- How you pack a box and ship it is a process.
- Even how you use your kitchen or clean your bathroom is a process!
Once we recognize and accept that literally everything in life is a process, we can then learn to identify waste in those processes and make improvements.
At it’s core this is what lean is about: making life better by eliminating waste and enjoying more value in every life process.
If lean is not kept simple, it will not be for everyone. Complicated lean is only for managers, consultants, and engineers. It has very little sticking-power with everyday employees, so keep it simple!
This also means that the more complicated you make lean, the more challenging it will be to actually create a lean culture. Employees won’t get it and won’t care if it’s complicated. But if it is so simple that everyone can understand and participate in it, you’ve got a chance at creating a comprehensive lean culture.
There are some that may frown upon how I’ve handled this issue of defining lean in this article. That’s okay. They may place an expectation for you to graduate from this elementary understanding to grasp more complicated concepts like flow, pull, and just in time.
Although it’s okay and even good to understand these other ideas, beware of anyone who encourages you to abandon the basics of simple lean and push towards complexity and engineering methods. Something exceptional will be lost in the process.
And at your next hair appointment you may have a tough time explaining what you do!