One challenge with teaching Lean is that there isn't aways a consistent definition that's used by everybody. Some of the definitions are really bad. Some of them are just different from others. Let's start with “different.” Is a lack of standardization in definitions of Lean a problem?
If you do a Google search for “what is lean?“, the first two results are about an illegal street drug concoction called “lean,” which isn't a good start (as I wrote about here). The third results and beyond are about the “Lean” that's the focus of this blog… an approach based originally on “Lean manufacturing.”
These definitions are pretty consistent, but not exactly the same:
Here is a slideshare put together by Mike Rother and Jeff Liker:
And then, there is the Toyota official page on the Toyota Production System, which includes:
“Toyota Motor Corporation's vehicle production system is a way of “making things” that is sometimes referred to as a “lean manufacturing system” or a “Just-in-Time (JIT) system,” and has come to be well known and studied worldwide.”
Toyota isn't saying Lean is exactly the same as TPS (Bob Emiliani says they are not the same).
Hear Mark read the post (subscribe to the podcast):
But, Toyota can't think “Lean” is too far off track, or they wouldn't send their Jamie Bonini to Lean conferences to talk about TPS, as I blogged about here:
Toyota, via Bonini, provides a helpful reminder that TPS is not just a set of tools. It's also a management approach, a philosophy, and an organizational culture that focuses on developing people.
But, not all efforts labeled as “Lean” share that approach, unfortunately. Are they more “L.A.M.E.” than “Lean?” Sorry if that question and term L.A.M.E. seems judgmental. In recent years, I've started to question if this framework and term just makes people double down on what they already believe to be true.
Some Shaky Definitions
I often read articles or websites that have some nutshell definition of “Lean” that seems very incomplete or just incorrect.
For example, I don't think the American Society for Quality (ASQ) definition of Lean is very good because it focuses on “techniques and activities” for operations and supply chain, without any mention of a management system or an approach to engaging people.
Sometimes, it's an article author who perhaps didn't hear things right from the subject of the article. Or, what they wrote was accurate (meaning they captured what the person told them), even if the underlying definition of Lean is not.
I've tweeted a few of these shaky definitions recently:
— Mark Graban (@MarkGraban) August 14, 2017
I don't think it's accurate to say Lean “starts with constant measurement.” Yes, measurement is important. Lean organizations tend to have “true north” categories of Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost, and Morale.
But, “constant measurement” can lead to a lot of overreacting, unless our approach to “Lean Daily Management” takes basic statistical methods into account.
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— Mark Graban (@MarkGraban) August 14, 2017
“Project management?” I have no idea where that faulty definition comes from. TPS (therefore Lean) “was about improving flow and quality of production,” would probably be a more accurate statement.
Lean Six Shaky
I have nothing against Six Sigma. But, I do complain quite often about “Lean Six Sigma” definitions of Lean being very lacking (and I have a separate blog about that).
A photo of a “Lean Six Sigma” framework that's apparently hanging in a U.S. Department of Defense office is wrong about Lean (h/t to Chris on Twitter who understandably said “never seen it put this way”).
Unfortunately, I've seen this a lot (hence my other blog).
The text says Lean:
“Focuses on waste reduction by streamlining a process.”
It's tough, perhaps, to give a short definition of Lean. Nothing in that sentence is really that wrong, it's just woefully incomplete. Lean focuses on providing value to the customer, not just waste reduction. Lean isn't just about process, it's about people. It's not just about streamlining and improving flow, it's also about quality (see, again, the Toyota definition of TPS). An except from Toyota is below:
The DoD (and it's not just the DoD who gets this wrong) dichotomy of Lean + Six Sigma really falls apart when they say Six Sigma:
“Focuses on preventing defects through problem solving.”
The incorrect implication is that ONLY Six Sigma does this. That's false.
Back to my earliest days of anything Lean (back at GM in the mid 1990s), we were definitely focused on preventing defects through problem solving. Lean provides many methods and mindsets for that.
Defect reduction is hardly the exclusive domain of Six Sigma.
Lean Sigma defenders will say, “We didn't say Lean doesn't do that,” but the implication in the faulty Lean Sigma dichotomy is that you NEED both to deliver greater results. You can choose to use Lean and Six Sigma together in the same organization. But I, like many, reject the notion that you can combine Lean and Six Sigma into a single coherent methodology.
A cat and poodle together in a cage doesn't make them a “catoodle:”
A Better Short Definition
To end on a positive, I like this short definition better:
— Mark Graban (@MarkGraban) August 17, 2017
Lean is not just about cost reduction… it's more about “respect for people” and changing the way we do things… which leads to lower cost as an end result.