Language of Lean

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Language of Lean

Most organisations have either heard of or deployed the concepts known collectively as "Lean" and the word has embedded itself into common parlance over the last few years. The concept was well known and used in the manufacturing sector initially and there has been a relatively seamless transition into other commercial areas such as banking and now the Public Sector. Like most successful concepts the basic ideas are simple and easy to understand, the difficulty comes in the deployment and implementation. However some protagonists do not help by insisting on using Japanese terms to describe the various techniques and then adding their own flavour to what is essentially a highly pragmatic and readily understandable concept. Others seek to increase this confusion with an array of numbers; the 7 wastes, 6 sigma, 5S, the 4 lean laws and for some the use of an A3.

Let's examine the key principles. There is a fundamental hypothesis about the current situation in any organisation that underpins the use of Lean and that is explained in 5 principles:

  1. Most processes are not lean;
  2. One primary objective of Lean is to reduce “Work in Progress”;
  3. Every process should operate on Pull principles not Push;
  4. 20% of all activities cause 80% of the delays or problems;
  5. Invisible work cannot be improved.

To illustrate the first two points consider any process in which the customer is applying for something. It could be a mortgage, a social benefit, a new credit card or even planning permission. Let's assume the process takes 30 days from start to finish. How much time do you think the organisation actually spends working on the application? We have studies that show it to be as little as 5 days; why then does it take 30 days from the customers' perspective? Take a look at the "Work in Progress" on the right and it starts to become clear that this process is not lean. By the way, don't get carried away with the thought that your processes are electronic and therefore must be lean. How many messages do you have in your e-mail Inbox? Electronic piles of paper are just as bad as physical ones.

To correct and improve any situation Lean redesigns what is happening by:

  • Recognising and valuing the needs of the Customer;
  • Simplifying the process;
  • Embracing Problems;
  • Organising the process (Flow & Pull).


By focusing on the needs of the Customer and organising your activities in a way that actually delivers Customer requirements, Lean techniques enable costs to fall at the same time as improving customer satisfaction and service delivery. is experienced in helping organisations become lean. We strip away the jargon and help apply the principles. Talking is free, why not contact us; we guarantee there will be no need for a translator.

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