What is Lean Management?

Written by Jason Haines

So, what is Lean management? What are the key ideas behind it and why is it so hard for companies to implement into their businesses?

The definition of Lean Management is as follows: a technique developed with the aim of minimizing the process of waste and maximizing the value of the product or service to the customer, without compromising the quality. It is coined by the Toyota Production System, which is a part of Lean thinking.

It gives the frontline employees the power to make changes and understand the whole picture of what the company is trying to achieve. Lean management is a way to help all people in the business to critically think of ways that they can adjust their jobs while improving the whole process. It gives workers and managers a way to think more deeply and not just think of what something affects the here and now.

When people think of only the here and now, they may affect something in the process that will affect the whole system negatively. It may not today, but it could at some point and time down the road. We in the Lean community call this firefighting. Sometimes firefighters are hard to keep up with and wear you out because they try to fix their past hurried fixes. Firefighting comes from looking at a problem and not going into depth on what is really causing the true problem. People only see the surface level part of the issues and fix what they see. When in retrospect there is probably a more underlying issue to the problem at hand.

However, I cannot sit here and completely say that the firefighter is wrong in making their fixes. They are typically getting pressures from managers above them, the frontline employees, and at times not a full understanding of what they are trying to fix. This is where Lean, going to the Gemba, and critical thinking should start to come in to play. Think about it, if you can start to teach your frontline employees to think and make changes themselves how much time would that free up for yourself to complete tasks that you have to put off until later. And those tasks take time out of you being with your family at night or on the weekend. Lean helps by getting you more time to spend with your family.

One way that C Tek can help you with your Lean management journey is by providing you with one of the C Tek Starter Kits. These kits help you with building work cells that can provide better flow in a department. When you purchase one of these C Tek Starter Kits, C Tek will also provide on-site training to teach you and your employees how to use the product. C Tek has many field reps and in-house reps who can answer any questions you have about their product.

Lean management is going to be work upfront and potentially cause a lot of confusion at first; many employees may not understand what is going on. This is where Lean training comes into play. Teaching everyone in your facility on the basics and the reason behind this new implementation will get everyone started on the right path. Then starts the real work of helping, guiding, teaching, and allowing the frontline workers to lead. Having your employees lead the process will show them that they have the power to make decisions on how to implement changes when they see changes are needed.

Lean management is all about leading the people and managing the processes. If you are in the world of management, you will have or already have had a tough time changing process. But keep moving forward, by giving employees the tools to teach, guide, and empower their employees to be stronger. Once you teach people what they need to do and take the fear away from their job and careers then the real journey can begin with your company.

Lean management is all about respect for the people. Whether it is your stockholders, leaders, frontline employees, or customers, Lean is built around respect for all people. Lean helps drive out fear from the workplace and makes your people feel safer in their jobs with no worries of being let go. Do not mistake there is no discipline, but with Lean, you can help your employees know that they are safe to make mistakes without repercussions for trying something different. Once they have this safety it makes performing the job correctly easier and helps employees understand they have the power to make changes. Once you adopt allowing employees to think critically you have freed them to use their minds in order to make their jobs more efficient.

What does it take for us to get to this point of freeing our employees and ourselves to make our companies stronger in the long run? It takes a lot of upfront hard work and determination to make it work. It takes not sacrificing long term goals for those short-term results. This may be the hardest part of Lean. The short-term result can be lucrative in the interim, but you must understand that it can affect things negatively in the future. This is where your critical thinking training comes in. It helps employees focus on more than just the here and now. They start to think about how their decisions will affect the system of their jobs. This mindset helps them to start to ask questions and work together as a team. Then Lean management can really take off and become great.

When a company gets its employees to work together, make changes, and not have to wait on the leadership to make decisions then it is truly free. Frontline employees, stockholders, leadership, and the customers all are happy and working towards one goal. This helps the company push in one direction and begin the long term thinking that Lean management allows. Once everyone is on board for the long term it makes things straightforward.

Companies who have learned how to use Lean management to its full advantage have seen many gains. They have seen employees grow with the company and seen profits grow and sustain over the years. It takes work upfront but the rewards, in the end, are worth it.

Let C Tek help you find ways to start to improve your business.