The Lean business process management methodology is a way of planning and measuring the long-term success of an organization, focused on improving safety, quality, delivery, cost, and employee morale. It seeks to eliminate waste and streamline the delivery of value to the customer. There are dozens of tools associated with the practice of Lean, such as value stream mapping, Kanban, and Gemba walks, all of which are useful and effective.
However, it is important to keep in mind that these tools are deployed within the context of purpose, people, and process.
If the goal is to deliver value efficiently to the customer, the organization must begin with a clear and deep understanding of what customers actually value. They must know under which conditions the customer experiences value and why. Only after that is established can the organization begin to undertake the process of delivering exactly that value, no more and no less, with the fewest resources as possible. They can focus on reducing waste, improving collaboration, eliminating redundancy, and ensuring quality at every step of the way. For a Lean organization, the process of evaluating your customer’s perception of value and delivering it efficiently never ends.
Lean organizations seek to create the conditions under which people can achieve their maximum potential. They recognize that great ideas for improvement can come from every level of the organization and that everyone should be provided with the tools that help them contribute. They also foster engagement by recognizing and rewarding people who work toward positive change. While it does start with leaders, Lean is not a top-down approach. Rather, it is a holistic attitude that permeates the entire culture.
Most people probably associate Lean organizations with their focus on process improvement. Lean practitioners recognize that most waste and value leakage is caused by flawed processes, working conditions, and lack of standard work. Problem identification and resolution become part of everyone’s job. Technology provides support for the improvement process and ensures that results are easily and effectively measured.
The characteristics of a lean organization and supply chain are described in Lean Thinking, by James Womack and Dan Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute and the Lean Enterprise Academy. They conclude, "Just as a carpenter needs a vision of what to build in order to get the full benefit of a hammer, Lean Thinkers need a vision before picking up our lean tools. Thinking deeply about purpose, process, people is the key to doing this."