What is Lean and How to Apply it?


Organizations spend vast sums of money on resources to offer goods and services to customers. But are these resources optimized? Going Lean will help optimize resources for increased efficiency.

The history of Lean

Since Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos published their book The Machine That Changed the World (1991) – Lean production has been the model of operational excellence.

The scientists discovered that Toyota’s car factories could produce vehicles two times quicker and with 40% better quality, using an inventory equivalent to 10% of what they used. These exceptional results were attributed to the systematic application of the company’s production system or, simply, Lean.

Womack and Jones’s work Lean Thinking (1996) showed that companies in any sector could make their processes like Toyota’s, for incredible improvements in productivity, quality and delivery times.

Lean in a nutshell

Lean is about understanding what customers value about your products and services, and that everyone in your organization is focused on providing this value to customers as quickly as possible, using minimal resources.

Easier said than done

Toyota has never hidden its methods from suppliers or researchers. For more than three decades, numerous publications have explained how to implement certain Lean improvement tools. These have brought to light expressions, such as Just in Time, SMED and One-Piece Flow, among others. Unfortunately, these expressions and their meanings or applications do not convey the essence of Lean.

Lean tools are like the ingredients in a culinary recipe. An expert cook can make the most of these ingredients and transform them into a delicacy. But the ingredients alone do not guarantee the cook’s success – misuse leads to mediocre dishes. The key to applying Lean in an organization is not to hold a VSM workshop here or a 5S there.

A cultural shift in an organization

Lean is not simply tools, rather the implication of a cultural change in an organization that begins with management and must reach every employee.

All team members should:

  1. Systematically, consistently and rigorously solve problems. Lean techniques and tools only show which problems need attention and propose methodology to resolve them, but problems must be understood and attacked, not only superficially solved. Rigor and persistence are key and can be the difference between successfully implementing Lean. Progress is only made if problems are definitively resolved.
  2. Eliminate waste. By waste, we mean everything that adds cost or does not add value to a product. During an assembly process, screwing would be the only thing adding value. The operator’s movements when screwing, the stock of screws, transporting assembled elements and the potential reprocessing due to assembly error are examples of waste. Eliminating waste leads to better business results.
  3. Develop the Kaizen Spirit. This spirit is summarized in a code of attitudes, such as having an open mind, critical spirit, sense of urgency, rigor, perseverance and teamwork. A Kaizen attitude in employees makes it easier to solve problems and eliminate waste.
How SGS can help you go Lean

The goal is to focus all employees on eliminating waste and adding value. In other words – be more efficient, be more profitable. Is there a recipe for this? Yes.

For over 20 years, SGS Productivity by Leansis has been helping clients to implement Lean in any sector. Participation in more than 2,000 projects has allowed us to establish the steps needed to implement Lean in any organization.



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