Guest Post: Lean is Patient


Mark's Note: Today is another excellent post by Christina Kach. She touches on many of the misunderstandings of miscommunications about Lean in this post and you might recognize much of what she's identified as “L.A.M.E.”, not Lean.

“Lean is patient and creates value for the customer; Lean does not have to be expensive to implement or create extra work; it is not an overnight success or hidden in a conference room. It does not approve of “we've always done it this way”; it is not just about the tools but becoming part of the culture; it does not aim to eliminate your job but rejoices in making your job easier. Lean encompasses all industries, eliminates the seven wastes, reduces cycle time, and pairs well with Six Sigma. Lean journeys never end.”

Sound familiar? That is because it is a lovingly borrowed from Corinthians “Love is patient, love is kind” Bible verse from many a wedding speech. Why the connection to Lean? Recently, I've found more of my time is spent explaining what Lean is NOT, instead of what Lean is and the benefits a true implementation can provide an organization. I have a theory on why this is; let me explain.

Trends come and go. But when something is found valid and worthwhile, it has a habit of reaching the proverbial “tipping point” and sticking around to become part of our world for the long haul. Though this is exciting, it can also lead to rumors and diluted value or significance of the trend. Combine that with the internet and a world of constant connection to endless information sources – and messages get lost in translation. I find the same can be said for Lean methodology. Henry Ford, Taiichi Ohno, and The Toyota Production System started back in the early 1900s.

After the term “Lean Manufacturing” was coined in the 1990s with “The Machine That Changed the World,” the concept started to gain momentum in the West. And now, in 2012, Lean is really taking off – with more books written, company Lean programs initiated, and diverse industries looking to apply its teachings. With so much information available on Lean methodology, how can we be sure we get the correct information and not just hearsay or a second-hand opinion?

The focus of this article is to address the mixed messages of Lean as it becomes ever more present in our working worlds. I liken these phenomena to the game “Telephone” we played in our youth. The starting phrase was seldom the phrase uttered by the last individual in the circle. For example, the message that 5S (Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain) is a tool of Lean implementation has morphed into “5S is Lean.”

What Lean is Not:

  • Lean is not easy. It is a plan, it is methodical, it is challenging.
  • Lean is not accomplished overnight and is never complete. That is why it is “continuous” improvement.
  • Lean is not the sole responsibility of the Lean Leader. It is part of everyone's job.
  • Lean is not 5S or making toolbox Shadow Boards. Those are tools to assist in Lean implementation.
  • Lean is not a name. It is a method. A science.
  • Lean is not to create extra work for the employees or eliminate your job. It is to make your work easier.
  • Lean is not a waste of company resources or time. It is to help companies remove waste, free up resources for other tasks, and improve time.
  • Lean is not always huge, multi-phase projects. It is quick hitters as well. (See Mark's Name Tag example: My Conference Kaizen)
  • Lean is not done at a desk or in a conference room.   It should be discussed and viewed at Gemba, where the work takes place.
  • Lean it not making a Value Stream Map for the sake of making a Value Stream Map so you can say you made a Value Stream Map.   It is to map out your processes to get a realistic view of how you are operating and where there are opportunities for improvement.
  • Lean is not a management check-in-the-box of “we are doing Lean.” It is the way you should you be operating at work every day.
  • Lean is not extra work or an extra step in a project. It should be incorporated start to finish and tied to business goals.
  • Lean is not something you learn one week in a classroom or something you are ever done learning. It is an ongoing process of learning and application. If you finish learning Lean, you are doing it wrong.

And some of what Lean should be:

  • Lean should be spending a few hours to solve a nagging problem, instead of firefighting that problem day in and day out.
  • Lean should be part of your culture. It is not enough to say you are “doing Lean” and implementing a few foundational tools.
  • Lean should be combined with Six Sigma & other methodologies to create robust processes and improvements.
  • Lean should be about getting to the “root” of the problem, not about hacking randomly at the “leaves.”

I could go on and on with examples; there is no shortage of inaccurate information circulating out there. As Lean practitioners, part of our mission is to pass along fact and solid theory, not this rumored chit-chat. What can you do today to make sure the correct vision of Lean is passed throughout your organization

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Christina Kach is a Senior Business Analyst on the Continuous Improvement team for a financial services company in Boston, Ma. Christina held her first Lean position as in intern in 2006. Since then she has continued to seek out varied roles of increasing responsibility and actively pursues further Lean education. She recently held the role of Continuous Improvement Lead for a Government Defense Company based in Massachusetts, focusing on Lean implementation and process improvement in a manufacturing environment.


  1. This is an excellent post! I have shared it with the 120 folks I work with and they found it very helpful and informative as we begin our initial foray into LEAN.

  2. I recently was a guest presenter on Lean Management at a Process Excellent Summit by World Vision in Kenya. The Devotion we did at the beginning of the Summit was on 1 Corinthians 12:3-8a (love is patient love is kind), the group was asked how this passage of scripture related to continuous improvement. It was fantastic. I strongly recommend using this scripture when trying to embrace Christian organizations on adopting Lean Thinking.


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