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What Sets a Lean Organization Apart?

Posted by Greg Jacobson

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May 31, 2016 11:36:33 AM

unique.jpgThe business methodology of Lean is often used in the same sentence as other formal business models such as Six Sigma, TPS (Toyota Production System), and Total Quality Management (TQM). There are certainly enough formal processes and tools that are used by Lean organizations to justify its inclusion on that list, and adopting the Lean approach (big L) has helped many organizations achieve success.  But really any organization can be lean (small l). Here are the factors that set Lean (and lean) organizations apart from their competition.

Focus on the Elimination of Waste

Perhaps the goal most commonly associated with Lean organizations is the elimination of waste. There are eight wastes, in particular, that Lean organizations work to minimize. They include; waiting, inventory, movement, over production, over processing, defects, transport, and (recently added) human potential. Lean organizations view anything that doesn’t add value to the customer as waste that should be reduced as much as possible.

Employee Empowerment

Organizations committed to the Lean approach believe that every employee has the potential to contribute to the elimination of waste. It is front line employees, after all, who experience it first-hand on a daily basis. While leaders spearhead the improvement effort and provide the resources and tools necessary to act on opportunities for improvement, it is the employees who identify, implement, and achieve them.

Cross Functional Collaboration

Lean organizations know that often, the root cause of waste is a lack of cooperation across organizational boundaries. This is a problem that causes the wastes of transport, inventory, and movement. If a group doesn’t work closely with people both upstream and downstream from it, backups, waste and unnecessary motion and inventory can occur. Keep in mind this isn’t just related to manufacturing organizations. In a software company, for example, product management, development, and quality assurance must all be aligned for the most efficient delivery of product to the customer.


If your goal is that nothing happens unless it delivers value to the customer, it is essential that all processes and procedures be documented so that they can be done according to the current best practice at all times. Improvements are welcome, but only after a rigorous vetting process and updates to the Standard Work.

An organization of any type or size can adopt these principles to gain the advantages if the Lean approach, whether or not they have a formal Lean initiative. What’s important is that everyone is working together to make sure that each action delivers value and that those that don’t improve until they do.


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Topics: Lean

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