The word Lean was first used by James Womack to describe what was found in a study of the automotive industry in 1989. Certain unique behaviours and attitudes to how people were carrying out their work at Toyota Motor Company were observed. The results were outstanding. What Dr Womack and his team saw was a company that:
required less effort to design, make and service their products
produced products with fewer defects
used fewer suppliers
performed its key processes in less time and with less effort
required less inventory
had fewer employee injuries
When we apply this philosophy to a business, it makes perfect sense – it is the ability “to do more with less”. Companies who continuously engage in Lean activities use less effort to perform their work, less materials to create their products and services, and less time to develop them. Lean companies are better oriented towards their customers, develop higher quality products and services, and therefore have better customer retention. Lean is a methodology to develop staff and promote a culture of problem-solving and continuous improvement in any business.
The philosophy of Lean can be summarised as follows:
maintain an unrelenting focus of customer value
adopt a company philosophy of continuous learning and daily improvements
eliminate wastes in the company
provide exactly what is needed at the right time based on customer demand
build long-term relationships with all the company’s stakeholders – employees, managers, owners, suppliers, distributors, customers and the community
To see staff successfully apply Lean principles in a retail pharmacy, chain, a leasing business, a media group, an administration office, a high street retailer and a legal practice dispels the myth that Lean is only for manufacturing companies.
Our belief is that the expertise to develop business processes already exists in each business – it lies with those that deliver the processes every day. Lean thinking provides a structure to express what is done as a process and a set of tools and principles to improve that process.