Lean has two objectives: the complete satisfaction of each business client (increasing the bottom line) and the personal success of each employee (increasing motivation and engagement).
To achieve these goals, the lean tradition emphasizes four fundamental principles:
Understand what the client wants in order to define value for the service or product provided. Markets are competitive and dynamic; the tastes and practices of clients are constantly changing. First and foremost, a lean enterprise must develop its ability to listen to its client base by resolving customer complaints and experimenting with new offerings. Only by resolving problems for its clients in a dependable, sustainable manner can an enterprise build quality into its products.
Increase the proportion of just-in-time deliveries. This means reducing “lead time”, the delay between the client’s request and the delivery of a product or service. The trick to reaching this goal without increasing stock (or backlog) is to produce only what the client asks for, when it is asked for, and only in the proper amount. In manufacturing, for example, lean employs a variety of techniques to establish a pull system where customer demand regulates flow. The pull system creates a culture of continuous progress, without which isolated improvements rarely become permanent solutions.
Stop production for each defect and resolve the problem immediately, rather than working around it. Setting a problem aside in order to continue working will just generate other difficulties downstream. Delaying action also prevents workers from seeing the precise conditions which created the problem, and hence resolving it and moving forward. Lean has developed several techniques to highlight, identify, and deal with problems in the time and place they arise, so that the employees themselves can discover root causes and find permanent solutions. These practices permit an enterprise to guarantee the quality of its products and services, while training its agents to work more effectively.
Involve employees in redesigning and improving their work environment. Through continuous training on standards (agreed-upon methods of working that minimize waste) and workshops promoting kaizen (progress by small steps), employees are encouraged to engage in the improvement of their own work stations, eliminate ergonomic stresses, and find clever ways of working more efficiently. The role of management is to support these daily actions of improvement, so that each person in the enterprise can share the sense of quality offered to the client and express their creativity in the work of production.
Lean is practiced in the field, in order to reach agreement with the teams over the facts and true nature of their problems. Unlike other productivist methods born of Taylorism, lean does not distinguish between the experts who theorize and the workers who produce. Rather, it aims to develop the expertise of each person by putting in place a hierarchy founded on teaching and the transmission of experience. The goal of lean management is to develop the technical competence of each person and to understand how to work with colleagues upstream and downstream.
Step by step, improvement by improvement, the lean method aims above all else to build confidence between the enterprise and its clients, between management and employees, and between the company and its suppliers. This confidence permits a collective engagement in the drive towards efficiency through the elimination of useless activities. Furthermore, every partner in the value chain reaps financial rewards: a better quality/price ratio for clients, jobs and bonuses for employees, higher activity and profits for suppliers, and growth and a better bottom line for the enterprise.