10 Things Lean is NOT!

Vishy Chandra
Posted: 02/01/2015

Inspired by Don McMillan’s "Life After Death by Powerpoint" where he says, "The only way to show them NOT to do this is to show them what not to do", and correlating to the endless number of myths on practice of Lean, this article clearly tells you 10 things that Lean is not!

If you:

1. Were thinking of implementing Lean

2. Have implemented Lean

3. Are going to discuss Lean in your board meets

Then watch out for these 10 nays!

Lean is not …

1. A waste reduction principle

Too often, I have heard people saying that lean is a principle to eliminate waste and worse still, explain wastes as TIMWOODS or CLOSEDMITTS. Waste elimination is just one aspect of lean and true, eliminating wastes gives tangible benefits, but Lean is not just waste elimination. It is about maintaining the balance and harmony of your organization.

2. Absent of data

In this world, few approaches work without data to improve processes. Lean is also one of these. It needs data at every point. Ask someone who has balanced loads in his production line, and he will tell you why data is so important for Lean also!

3. Easy

This has to be the winner. People say implementing Lean is easy and Six Sigma is tough. So let’s Lean!! Mistake. HUGE mistake. Lean is an integration of 5 elements, and it needs a rigorous 2-3 year journey just to start to see first set of long term gains, which we can build upon. "Lean is a mindset" – Claes Bosch Larsen, Global Operations Director at Falck Global Assistance.

4. Not reliant and not compatible with Six Sigma

As per Nicholas Ruhmann, Director of Operational Excellence, National Flood Services and Mikkel Kragholm, Associate Manager, Novo Nordisk, when it comes to Lean or Six Sigma, companies must make a choice. These journeys are fundamentally different from each other, and thus an integrated version called Lean Six Sigma may just be nothing but using some Lean tools in a Six Sigma approach or vice versa.

5. Implementing projects having poor management controls

Victor J Taveras, a senior executive in the Printed circuits industry believes that he has seen companies refuse to keep up with technology, refuse to invest in infrastructure, refuse to take the bold steps necessary to be market leaders, yet still think they would increase their gross margin points ten percent purely through Lean. Makes sense right!!

6. Possible without stable processes

Jeffrey Liker in his book "Toyota Way Handbook" said that implementing Lean without having your processes in a state of control is like "Playing with fire". (Right – the playing with fire is my addition to make it more appealing, but I hope you get the point – you need stable processes).

7. Just walking the GEMBA, and hey walking it blindly

A lot of time is spent discussing on how GEMBA walks are an integral aspect of Lean implementations. Yes, go to the floor and observe. Nice – sounds like a plan. But you need to know what to observe! If you are going to just be at the GEMBA with a pen and paper and do nothing, the GEMBA walk is going to be fruitless!

8. Mean. Think more than twice if you fired 40% of workforce as a result of your lean efforts.

Lean principles came later. TPS came earlier. Anyone will tell you that TPS places a lot of importance on respecting people. How can you say you have implemented Lean (literal meaning leaning the organization), by firing 40% workers? I am sure you have a better strategy of saving some bucks!

9. Not building quality in process.

One of the reasons why Toyota was successful and still is, is due to the Andon principle or the popular "Pull the cord". If you are not going to build in quality in the process and empower production line workers to detect quality problems, chances are you are going to spend the same bucks again and again!

10. Implementation of Lean tools without people development

Consultants and lean practitioners come with a huge toolbox and with an even bigger halo on their heads! For all such people a simple message – If you aren’t going to look at people and how they have developed themselves as part of your Lean effort, you haven’t implemented Lean!

Stay away from these 10 points and you would have embarked on your journey to a holistic implementation of Lean.

The author C. Vishwanathan is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and has experience in standardizing Lean frameworks and deployed close to 20 projects as part of the frameworks. Vishy is an IASSC Accredited trainer for Lean and Six Sigma as well and is currently Head Consultant and Trainer with The School of Continuous Improvement.

Vishy Chandra
Posted: 02/01/2015


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