"Doesnt Seem Lean…"


Here's a terminology question:

When somebody evaluates a situation and says “such and such practice doesn't seem very lean,” I sometimes cringe. Why? Because I don't like Lean? No, not at all.

I'd rather hear things discussed and evaluated in terms of waste and value. “Such and such practice involves too much waste of motion” would be a better statement. That seems like more of a factual statement. There is waste. “Lean” or “Not Lean” sometimes seems like too much of a judgment call with room for interpretation. One risk is that we start defining bad practices (full of waste) as “Lean” and then Lean becomes this amorphous term that losing meaning.

Another risk, I think, is that people are doing what seems “Lean” or what they think is “Lean” based on a desire to make the boss (who says Lean is good) happy instead of a desire to eliminate waste or increase value to the customer.

Lean, as a set of principles and mindsets, is incredibly helpful. But, I think we need to be careful our terminology is based around “doing Lean.”

What do you think? Too nit picky?

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

  1. Andy Wagner says

    I think the key point to emphasize is that lean is a relative term. It’s a journey, not a destination. To say that this or that process is or isn’t lean is to suggest that one can objectively become lean by checking the right boxes. It takes the emphasize away from gradual, continuous improvement, the heart of lean thinking.
    (It’s also a bit nit picky).

  2. Dean Bliss says

    Those of us who do Lean for a living get a little sensitive to the misusage of the word “lean” sometimes, but I’d rather hear the word used wrong than not hear it at all – that provides a teaching opportunity for me, and clarification of the “grapevine” conversations that inevitably pop up throughout the organization. I’ve never been a big fan of the word “lean”, but it’s what we have, so we need to do our best to clarify it when we can.

  3. Jason Yip says

    I’d rather that we only talk about things that matter and never have to use the word Lean.

    Definitely not too nit picky.

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