Let’s Debunk 3 Myths About LEAN

October 20, 2014

When implementing a new process, it’s important to consider both the best practices to follow and the pitfalls to avoid. LEAN is a process improvement methodology that maximizes economic value, customer satisfaction, and speed by eliminating costs, waste, and non-value added steps in a product or service process. We already discussed some key best practices in  “Want to Be an Efficiency Superhero.” In this article, we debunk 3 myths about LEAN:

Myth #1: LEAN is only for manufacturing

While LEAN did begin in manufacturing, and organizations like Motorola, Toyota, and GE have successfully implemented LEAN and have been reaping the benefits and revenues of efficient, lean processes, LEAN is not only for manufacturing. LEAN is process based and metrics based, so we tend to assume that it’s easier to map the product assembly process and count the errors in the the product coming down the assembly line.  Service organizations across industries and functions, including healthcare, hospitality, travel, logistics, utilities, call centers, HR, banks, and financial institutions, have all successfully implemented LEAN throughout the past 20 years. Banks used LEAN to cut down account opening time from days to a few seconds and clicks on your tablet or smart phone. As a result, they increased their customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and significantly cut costs. Hospitals used LEAN to offer better patient care by organizing nurses to work as a team in patient “cells” or adjacent rooms, eliminating the walk time for each nurse from 10,000 steps per day to about 1,200. As a result, nurses spend more time monitoring and caring for patients than walking from patient room to room; this improved nurse-doctor communication overall and nurse-patient interaction from 35% to over 90%. LEAN increased patient safety and increased profits. Logistics companies used LEAN to deliver your online orders quickly and accurately. As a result, they increased customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and revenue. Start-ups use LEAN to bootstrap, build prototypes, and go to market faster.  As a result, they are nimbler in the market and can pivot their product or service quickly to address customer needs. Today, LEAN is indispensable when building a start-up.

Bottom line: You can implement LEAN in almost everything that involves several steps to produce a product or a service. Boom! Myth #1 debunked.

Myth #2: LEAN is cumbersome and expensive

Do not confuse LEAN with Six Sigma. Lean focuses on removing waste in a process, while six-sigma focuses on eliminating variation in process.  As a LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt, I can confirm that Six Sigma projects are a big undertaking: They are complex, statistically driven, require specialized project managers to run them, take a while to produce results, and can be cumbersome–both on your budget and your time. On the other hand, LEAN projects are…well, lean! Pun intended. LEAN is simpler, measurement is basic, and although it is recommended, they don’t require LEAN certified project managers to run them.  Perhaps the biggest benefit of LEAN is the immediate results: With LEAN process improvement, you can punch in a minimum of 15% improvement in your process (less time, less cost, more revenue) overnight. That’s right! Overnight. How? LEAN teaches you how to map the process to develop markets and sell a product or a service as it is today. LEAN’s first secret is that it helps you uncover the steps you take–in your effort to build, market, and sell a product–which the customer is not willing to pay for. These steps are the non-value adding steps.  LEAN’s next secret is that it helps you eliminate these non-value adding steps from the process. The third secret is that it helps you deploy the now leaner process (without the non-value adding steps) and watch your customers smile more and your revenues increase.

Bottom Line: LEAN is not cumbersome to implement and can help your bottom line. Boom! Myth #2 debunked.

Myth # 3: LEAN is a fad

LEAN has been around since 1895. That’s almost 120 years. It has been implemented successfully around the world, including the US, Japan, and Germany. Taiichi Ohno is considered the father of LEAN. His book the Toyota Production System (TPS) later became LEAN Manufacturing. Ohno’s seven types of waste transformed how we think about a value adding process: 1. Delaying, waiting, or spending time in a queue with no value being added, 2. Producing more than you need,  3. Over processing or undertaking non-value added activity, 4. Transporting,  5. Engaging in unnecessary movement or motion, 6.  Keeping inventory, 7. Producing defects.

Today, LEAN is a mindset of process improvement that can have a direct and immediate impact on your bottom line.  It is a paradigm shift in the way you build, market, sell, and deliver a product or service to your customers. Actually, it’s a paradigm shift in the way you operate at work day to day. A manager can help her team benefit with LEAN by working together and  looking at all the processes in their realm of operations to uncover bottlenecks, delays, and unclear, fuzzy steps that make an action or process cumbersome, complex, and even scary. By redesigning and standardizing a cumbersome process to a more efficient one, the team becomes more efficient and effective. And by the way, everyone stays onboard and now they have more time to be more creative, more innovative, and more strategic. And these are skills you want your team to have and build from.

Bottom Line: 120 years is about ten generations of people applying LEAN across industries worldwide and reaping the benefits. Boom! Myth #3 debunked.

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