What is Lean?

Lean working was brought to prominence by the Japanese manufacturing industry. The term first appeared in 1988 and is based the Toyota Production System. There are two key aspects to lean:

  • Elimination of waste.
  • Improving the ‘flow’ or ‘smoothness’ that work is undertaken.

Waste is identified as: Over Production (making or providing services that are not required), Unnecessary Motion (people movements that do not add any value to product or service), Inventory (unnecessary stock or work in progress), Defects (not getting it right first time), Waiting (people waiting before work arrives), Transportation (unnecessary movement of goods), Over processing (doing things that are either not necessary or not wanted by the customer).

The lean expert will have many ways (tools) for identifying, quantifying and reducing waste. Although these often come with hard to pronounce Japanese names, the concept and discipline is not difficult to grasp. For example: Poka-yoke – a term which means mistake proofing. Perhaps a checking devise that checks a part or assembly has been made correctly.

Improving the flow of work is often more difficult. Ideally work would be balanced, the right number of people would always be present, and the right number of machines would always be available. No stock, work in progress or waiting times would exist between people or machine. However, most companies are at the mercy of their customers and demand is unpredictable. Consider your local supermarket. Perfect flow would mean no que at the checkouts, all check out staff working at full capacity and all products available on the shelves. An almost impossible goal, but an aspiration that has obvious benefit as we move towards it.