A Lean Mentality

Adding Efficiency to Our Mindset

The term ‘lean’ comes from the concept of using half the manufacturing space, half the human effort, half the tools and half the time to develop a new product.

While a mass producer would traditionally have a ‘good enough’ view of production and believe that to get better would cost more than it was worth, lean producers have an entirely different belief and continue to pursue perfection.

Lean thinking recognises that few processes are created to deliver customer defined value in the most efficient way possible. In reality, most production processes are created to maximise the quality of a product.

Let me give you an example.

At one time my company produced Audio CDs for personal development. The process involved a one time only activity of making the recording, and then the ongoing activities of burning the CD, printing labels, packaging and shipping.

The focus of our work in designing the process was on the ‘quality’ of the product.

The concept of flow through the process never even entered our minds. The CD cases were stored wherever space permitted with no thought to how much movement we would have to undertake to fill orders, where a large number of disks were being stored for future supply, and that sometimes these would be moved around as we cleaned or rearranged the office.

Now while time and flow were never considered, we got away with it due to the size and nature of our organisation. However, that does not mean it’s efficient!

How many larger organisations, particularly those that have products passing through a production line or documents passing through a process of approval or even customers moving through a queue, focused on making sure their processes produced high quality outputs with little thought to maximising flow and minimising waste?

My experience has been there are many opportunities to enhance performance in every company by including Lean Thinking concepts in the scope of their continual improvement endeavour.

Different Approaches to Lean


Many consulting firms and outside agencies try to replicate the success Toyota had in the development of their ‘Toyota Way’, by implementing specific tools, one at a time, in a pyramid building approach. What’s important to recognise is that one of the keys to Toyota’s success lies in the fact that employees were totally committed to the objectives they were trying to achieve and the ‘Toyota Way’ was developed with their participation.

There is always risk in trying to achieve the same level of success by trying to sequentially roll out specific lean tools as a ‘management initiative’.

I am no longer surprised by the fact that many people think Lean is actually 5S. And most of the people who think that, tell me about the bad experiences they’ve had with roll outs of these tools.


Lean projects on the other hand differ in that the improvement work follows the traditional DMAIC process.

While the DMAIC sequence is more commonly referred to in a Six Sigma context, it is totally relevant to projects focused on reducing time, inventory, or any form of waste that is best treated using Lean specific tools.

All of our work in this space generally focuses on this project / problem solving approach to the application of Lean.

More Information

This article is drawn from Australia’s best selling PROCESS MASTERY WITH LEAN SIX SIGMA 2ND EDITION text book.

For more information CLICK HERE where you’ll discover why this is one of the most important text books in the business improvement world today.

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