Lean Thinking: This question often comes up in Lean discussions. I think it has been best answered by W. Edwards Deming.

Lean thinking

He’s maybe a little harsh in saying that businesses may not know what they are doing. However, we would argue that without being able to describe what you do as a process, your clients are probably having a different experience of your product or service depending on who they are interacting with.

Imagine being recommended the roast duck at Emilio’s by a colleague when visiting her town. After relating your mediocre experience next day, she said, “Oh no, you should have waited until Thursday. That’s when Emilio himself comes in and he can make a mean roast duck”. Marvellous!

There’s also been much talk lately about ‘process’ in sports. If any team is unsure of the process, then improvements are simply trial and error as opposed to building on what has already been established as best practice.

So, can we describe Marketing as a process? Finance? Purchasing? Retail? Hospitality? Healthcare?

Lean Thinking in the Business

Our argument would be that any function in any business needs to be understood as a process.

The individuals in that organisation need a baseline process and those individuals need to be supported to improve that process.

Errors, Complaints and Accidents should all be viewed as feedback and opportunities to strengthen the process.

Staff should be encouraged not to accept errors. They should be encouraged to highlight when they are unable to perform their tasks effectively. Everyone should be encouraged not to pass on problems.

This is a brave undertaking for any management team, but it is the start of the Lean journey for everyone!

‘Stop’ – I don’t know what I’m doing

Imagine creating an environment in your workplace where it was okay for anyone to stop what they were doing if they weren’t sure of:

  • the information they received
  • the training they received
  • the system they were working with
  • anything else

the goal would be to provide support to address the issues being encountered.

Some of you may be of the opinion that nothing would get done with this approach – in that case the business would be a long way from our goal of everyone comfortable with standard processes that deliver value to our clients.

Set up your employees for success

This may be an aspirational objective that is never fully achieved.

Do our current processes and training prepare our employees for success or failure?

Edwards CDeming was of the opinion that 90% of errors in any business is due to the systems and management of processes rather than the employees.

Do you agree?


You may be interested in applying lean thinking in your business and putting these ideas into practice?

Enterprise Ireland offer support to clients through their Lean Business programmes.

Click here for details.

Click here for details of ETAC’s next Lean Business programme.