Lean Management

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  • what simplistically as “produce a bit of everything, all the time” (concept of product mix)
  • KAIZEN, a Japanese term which literally means “Continuous Improvement”, i.e., the search for permanent progress
  • And the STANDARD WORK which constitutes the basis of progress, in the sense that it represents the basic reference for the manual work carried out on the process, and that it will be brought to evolve at the rate of Kaizen

5) Stability

Finally, as Lean requires a very fine adaptation to the business environment, a maximum of STABILITY is necessary among the incoming raw materials, the workforce, the means used, the methods and the environment (the eye sharpened will have recognized here the 5M).

Advantages and disadvantages

Among the advantages of the approach, we find the savings in money and time, the stabilization of the workload, and the appropriation of the methods by the employees.

Let’s look at these elements one by one:

1) The advantages

A properly implemented Lean strategy will have a significant impact on different aspects of the organization:

  • Economic gains: by eliminating all that is “waste”, all that does not represent Added Value for the Customer, the costs linked to this waste will disappear and lead to an improvement in the financial results of the organization
  • Gains in process flow time: in the same way, the elimination of waste will speed up the flow of the process and will allow the product or service to be delivered to the Customer more quickly
  • Stabilization of the workload: paradoxically, this acceleration of the flow will not result in a higher rate of work for the employees, but on the contrary by a stabilization and a smoothing of the rate, consequence of the elimination of the jolts
  • Better appropriation of working methods by employees: by involving field teams in improvement projects and by communicating sufficiently, we will give meaning and encourage better appropriation of new working methods.

2) Misuse

There aren’t really any limitations or drawbacks. On the other hand, there are bad ways to deploy Lean that can cause more damage than gain.

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2.1) Considering that they are tools and not concepts

The customers of this company are less and less often delivered on time and are victims of stock shortages.

Jean, the Managing Director of Demain-jexcelle, has just read an article about Lean and what it has brought to the industries that have implemented it.

He also reads that Toyota is an example in this area.

Observation visits in the factory

As Jean wants to obtain rapid results, he decides to organize a visit to the nearby Toyota factory, accompanied by his Production Manager and his Logistics Manager, to learn from what has been put in place.

The visit lasts a few hours. Toyota presents one of its production lines with several Lean tools that have been implemented.

Inspiration from using the KANBAN method

The production results on this line are excellent. What impresses Jean and his collaborators the most is the use of Kanban cards which allow optimized flow management on the line.

Jean and his team take a lot of pictures of the boards where these cards are grouped, and Toyota even allows them to bring some sample cards.

Application of the observed process

Back at the yogurt factory, Jean sets the goal for his teams to implement the same Kanban system as Toyota on all their lines within a week.

Observation of unsatisfactory results

In the days that followed, Jean and his lean expertise committee followed their performance indicators with some excitement in the expectation of a clear improvement, to be able to reassure their customers.

But a month later, despite a promising start week, the results are no better than before the implementation of the Kanban system.

Exploration visits to the factory

Convinced that they must have missed an important element of using the Kanban board, Jean asks Toyota if they can come back and visit their factory.

Understanding that there is no solution for everything

Toyota is now using another system. That’s not what we saw last time,” Jean points out to the Toyota supervisor who accompanies them. So, what you showed us was not the right solution to manage the flows on this line.

The supervisor’s response: Yes. What you saw last time was the best solution for us at that time.

Today, following our continuous improvement initiatives in place in the company, we have adapted our tools to our current needs. And in a few months, our tools will have further evolved”

Moral of the story

The most successful companies and those that have successfully implemented Lean are generally known.

Many come to visit them to “take an example” from these leaders hoping to obtain the same results… which most of the time are not at the rendezvous.

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The reason stems from a common misunderstanding of what Lean is all about.

The pioneers in this field consider that its deployment requires a very good understanding of the details of the company’s processes, to put in place, the most appropriate solutions possible.

2.2) Not considering the health of workers

If certain precautions are not taken, Lean can lead to a deterioration in working conditions.

As we saw above, there is no single way to deploy this approach on a perimeter.

The important thing is to apply the concepts in the way that best suits the work environment at any given time.

There would be no sense in deploying Lean without considering the health of workers.

In addition, more and more training on the subject deals with both the “performance” aspect and the “occupational health” aspect, which allows coordinators in companies to be relatively autonomous in this area.

Trap to avoid relying on direct financial gains

If there is no doubt that a Lean approach will bring gains to the organization that implements it, you must not fall into the trap of wanting to pilot it exclusively from indicators of direct financial gains.

Indeed, many improvements have an impact that is not directly measurable financially.

Here are some examples:

  • Gain linked to the deployment of the TPM:

You put in place a preventive maintenance policy for critical equipment which was non-existent until now.

This will bring additional costs, but you cannot calculate the gain related to failures that will not occur. However, prevention is necessary.

  • Gain linked to the optimization of production flows:

You do a lot of work optimizing your flows, which allows you to reduce the flow time between the customer’s order and the delivery of the product from 30 days to 10 days.

How do you measure the financial impact of the additional orders you will receive from Customers who have chosen you for this performance compared to another competitor?

  • Gain related to the improvement of a workstation:

You arrange a workstation, which has the effect of facilitating the work of an operator who can now be more vigilant about his quality control activity, thus avoiding certain non-conformities, certain product blockages and certain Customer complaints.

How do you estimate the financial gain of this improvement?

If your director gives you the objective of setting up a quantified action plan aimed at reducing the costs of your organization by 1%, unfortunately you risk never launching the three examples of improvements above, because you do not you won’t be able to “sell” them.

The 6 good practices of a Lean organization

An organization wishing to move to Lean must apply the principles of continuous improvement.

1) Management Commitment

There is no point in launching a Lean approach as soon as you finish reading this article if you do not have the support of your Management.


A “mandate” given to the team by management is essential.

Several organizations have become accustomed to operating in silos and, to decompartmentalize things, only the leader has control over the entire perimeter.

2) Staff involvement

However, “management commitment” does not mean that the transformations must be decreed by the company’s managers and applied in a directive manner.

Staff involvement is necessary for at least two reasons:

2.1) He is behind the creation of added value

however, in the company, the people who “handle” the product or the service delivered to the Customer, those who transform it and bring the Added Value, are the people in the field.

They are the ones who know the real problems and who often already have the solutions.

2.2) He implements improvement projects

The implementation of improvements, in particular the application of work standards. Also involves the operators, those who carry out the work.

Their pride and their perseverance in applying them will be all the stronger if they have initiated or contributed to them.

3) Gemba

To fully play their role, the Lean teams, as well as the Management, must be present most of their time in the field, the “Gemba”.

It is notably through the long, patient. And the repeated observation that people trained in this field will be able to identify “Mudas”.

4) Definition of a roadmap

The Lean projects to be carried out should not be decided by brainstorming. Or following a visit to another company that has implemented a tool that seems interesting to us.

The first step is to make a diagnosis of the current state of the company. Using tools such as Value Stream Mapping (VSM, or value chain analysis).

Then comes the definition of “where we want to take the company in the next few years”.

5) Continuous improvement

It is important to conceive that Lean Management is not a binary state. And that this concept is not limited to an approach or a result.

This concept, and that of Kaizen, is the principle of continuous improvement.

Consequently, among the essential rituals of a company that has embarked on this field. We will find daily points of problem-solving led by multidisciplinary teams.

These teams will analyze each day the main problem(s) of the day before. Proposing the appropriate long-term solutions will contribute to the permanent progress of the organization.

6) “Work is health” (Henri Salvador, 1965)

We mentioned it in a previous paragraph. It can happen that modifications are made to a workstation as part of a Lean project. Have a negative impact on the health of workers.

In fact, not only must it be ensured that the improvements. Made to the workstations do not degrade the ergonomics of the workstation. But occupational health can even be the primary motivation for launching an improvement project.

Even the “little annoyances” that one might think have no health consequences. Will necessarily at least have an impact on the person’s concentration on their tasks.


Lean Management and its variations such as Lean Manufacturing. Lean Office or Lean Engineering have become essential in today’s organizations, and not only in industries.

Like any approach capable of significantly improving a company’s performance.

These are Management and Organization concepts whose deployment requires the commitment of management. And good expertise on the part of the teams responsible for implementation.

We will have the opportunity in future articles to go further in this adventure by exploring in more detail. Some of its key concepts.


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