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Lean Principles

When beginning the lean journey, it is helpful to develop a roadmap of the key milestones and programs that must be implemented along the way. To help with this process, two of the great lean resources, Lean Thinking by Womack & Jones and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean by Flinchbaugh & Carlino, have been consulted. Even though the former was written in 1996 and the latter ten years later in 2006, they share some common traits in their framework for lean implementation. These shared traits can be summarized as 6 basic concepts:

Initiation – All lean initiatives must begin somewhere, and where better to begin than with the customer? What does your customer value? Which things are they willing to pay for and for what things aren’t they willing to pay? Once you have identified and specified value from the standpoint of the customer, all other things fall into place.

Waste Elimination – Many people think that Lean is about waste elimination only, but cutting waste is only one of many components. After you understand what your customer values, you can then go about systematically eliminating from your process the things for which your customer is not willing to pay (i.e. waste). Map all the steps in the value stream and eliminate the seven classic forms of waste (more on this topic in the next webletter).

Flow – After waste has been eliminated, work to get the steps in the value stream into a tight sequence that flows smoothly towards the customer. Here is an opportunity to directly observe work (with your own eyes). Stand in the place that the work is performed and seek to understand why things are done the way they are. Look at this work from the “big picture” as a linked sequence of activities, connections, and flows.

Pull – Once flow has been established in the process, it’s time to implement a pull system. Let customers, either external or internal, pull value from the next upstream activity by sending a signal, such as a Kanban, when they need more material or product.

Organizational – There is a huge organizational component to Lean that must be addressed early—through clear channels of communication. Lean initiatives and their benefits are sometimes preceded by bad impressions of what this means to the employees. Clear communication from the beginning will help to diffuse any misconceptions. There must be agreement throughout the organization about what new terms and visual signs mean and how to use them. One must create a learning organization that enables systematic problem solving to get to the root cause of issues.

Sustainability – As transparency increases and waste is further eliminated, pursue perfection through continuous improvement. Always be setting goals and looking ahead to where you want to be in both the short-term and long-term.