If we are to understand the basics of Lean process improvement let’s start with a review of the definition of Lean. We can define Lean as a system for developing process improvement that is continuous and has a focus on reducing and eliminating waste.
Toyota developed the concept to help with their production operation and improve processes to cut the time it takes from receiving an order to delivering it.
• You minimize waste when you use a Lean approach.
• You look at value from the customer point of view and deliver what the customer needs when they need it.
When you implement a Lean Process Improvement approach an organization can:
• Minimize waste
• Reduce inventory
• Increase productivity
• Improve quality
• Increase customer satisfaction
• Reduce costs
• Increase profits
Lean Process Improvement can apply to production environments but also extend to other environments such as healthcare, software development, service, and government.
The ideal with Lean is to meet customer expectations by creating a near perfect process. The process minimizes waste, uses as few resources as possible, and encourages continuous improvement.
Some basics of Lean Processes:
To accomplish ideal Lean processes, here are some of the techniques:
• look at the overall flow of products and services
• do not focus only on separate technologies and departments but look at the big picture
• look at all assets, technologies, and departments involved
• eliminate waste along the entire process not just separate points
Compared to a traditional approach a Lean approach can use less space, less money, and less time to make products and deliver services. For example, instead of keeping a large inventory of products, you have the inventory you need for your immediate orders. This approach can help you streamline your operations plus respond as customer preferences change.
Lean is not just a way to reduce costs. Instead, it is a way of thinking. It is not a short term solution. It is the way a group operates. It is actually a long term approach that requires discipline.
Lean is not just for manufacturing. Groups outside of manufacturing have used a Lean approach and had good results. This can include service groups, healthcare, and government.
A short history of Lean Process Improvement:
The term Lean appeared in the 1980s to describe an approach Toyota was taking. Dr. Jim Womack of MIT and his team coined the term. Womack and Jones wrote Lean Thinking where they described basics of Lean organizations and characteristics of their supply chain.
Womack founded the Lean Enterprise Institute while Jones founded the Lean Enterprise Academy. Their book describes the thinking that should accompany a Lean operation.
The basics of Lean thinking:
Lean thinking should involve purpose, people, and process. With purpose we should ask – what customer problems will your organization solve and then prosper?
Concerning process, we should ask how a group will look at each value stream. Each stream should be valuable and adequate. Each step should be linked to flow.
Concerning people, we should ask how a group can be sure that an individual is responsible for evaluating every process. Everyone should be thinking about constant improvement. We should look all the time at the Lean process and business results. Everyone should be actively involved.
Some more basics of Lean Process Improvement:
Here are some techniques to help with the Lean vision:
• Pick a specific process or problem to improve
• Put someone in charge of the project
• Put together a team that understands and works on the related process not just managers
• Make communication a top priority
Here is a way to look at Lean through phases.
1. Define – This is where you determine your goal.
2. Measure – This is where you are specific about the data you will look at
3. Analyze – Here you look at root causes to solve problems and meet your goal.
4. Generate – Look here at solutions.
5. Implement – Take action with your solution.
6. Control – Make sure you have achieved your goal and keep the solution in place.