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Lean Described in 4 Words

I get asked frequently to explain what lean is about or find myself explaining to a management team that it's certainly not about reducing headcount. It's about continuous improvement in every area of the organisation, it's not a manufacturing thing, it's a business thing, it's a strategy.

In each case I come back to the same 4 words which are at the very heart of what lean is really about, "Easier, Better, Faster and Cheaper" they are profound, inspiring, directional, simple to say, yet sometimes hard to do, and the best bit is I didn't have to make them up, they are from one of the founders of TPS, Shiego Shingo, his caveat, however, is equally important, the 4 goals of lean are listed in the correct order of priority that you should seek to achieve them in and focus your efforts on.


Doesn't everyone want to have an easier life? And easier time at work? Of course, they do! Where does easier start? Well, it starts with a conversation with the people who are actually hands on doing the work and asking what frustrates you, what gets in the way of you doing what you think you need to do? When you listen to what bugs people it is the waste within the process it's never the value add elements and so by focusing on the waste that is making it harder than it needs to be then the job gets easier.


What is better? Less defects are certainly always a better option than, more right? So, what do you need to do to drive up quality? It maybe you need to introduce some Andon controls, stop the production and don't let defects be passed on, it may be you need a new standard method, or actually introduce a standard method. The focus here is improve quality either by fixing design issues which make it hard for your team to succeed, simplifying the designs, improving the machines and their reliability and repeat-ability or looking at your returns or customer complaints and building that feedback into your improvement cycle, this is a PDCA rich environment!


Doesn't it get harder when you go faster? You would think so but remember you have already focused on taking out the waste making things harder and improving quality, just by doing those it will get faster anyway but now you are looking at how you can accelerate things further. It may be that you now need to think about the tools and the standard work being used, it maybe you actually want to remove conveyors that are slowing things down or you may way to look to add some automation in the right way. Again, it starts with the conversation, on the floor with the people doing the work and as a general rule this phase is far more productive as you have already proven with your follow through in the easier section.


Products that are cheaper to manufacture give your organisation more room to play, you can either reduce the price and undercut your competition or hold the price and add the additional revenue to your bottom line or do a bit of both, the decision, as they say, is yours!

The reason this is least, from my point of view is that it's almost an outcome isn't it, if you have a product that is easier to build, has better quality and you can build it faster than before mathematically it must be cheaper right? Add in a few additional savings on cost of inventory holding (which is reduced) maybe some material changes to equally performing materials that are at a lower total cost (but not lower quality) and you are increasing the bottom line every minute you operate, don't forget however that in lean sometimes it is also cheaper not to make anything, but that's a separate post.

Safety is never a separate consideration

As you can imagine it doesn't take long to explain this and it's always and I mean always 100% of the time followed by a question form someone who wants to reiterate that Safety is the companies' number 1 priority so why isn't safety on the list and why not at number 1!

Well, it's simple I say, for Toyota and any truly lean organisation for that matter, the concept of doing something unsafe for any reason is unimaginable, it's genuinely built into the culture. Remember, one of the key principles of lean is Respect for the person, is it respectful not to think about their safety?

Safety is key at every step, you would never take something away or add something to make a job easier if it was also going to make it unsafe, safety is built in, don't separate it.


So there you go, lean is about making it easier, better, faster and cheaper, in that order for the people within your organisation. You do this by involving them in the process, listening to them where they work, not in a meeting room, go and see, look at what they are doing and work with them to improve it, set standards then improve them, empower your teams to challenge what they do every day and find ways of continuously making it easier, better, faster and cheaper than it was yesterday.

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Thursday, 02 April 2020

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