Bill Artzberger – Chapter Two

Bill Artzberger

Lean Thinking 101: What is Lean?


This chapter is intended for anyone interested in learning more about Lean or improving their business operations in general. Business leaders or managers who are interested in learning how to increase profits and lower costs while improving customer satisfaction can benefit from understanding that the only way to get there is to embody the concepts involved in the philosophy of Lean thinking. Any organization can benefit from the application of Lean principals. However, you must first understand Lean thinking and learn the key Lean principles.

This chapter will help you to:

  • Understand Lean thinking and the true meaning of “Lean.”
  • Understand key Lean principles to apply to your own organization.
  • Get started with your Lean journey.
  • Find that “one thing” you must know before you get started. Without this key, your Lean journey will not be successful.

What is “Lean Thinking”?

At its core, “Lean” is about optimizing your operations. A Lean organization consistently provides greater value to its customers while consuming fewer resources to do so. Lean organizations do not focus on a single area of their business; they focus on the entire process flow to eliminate waste and create greater customer value.

Lean organizations require less effort, less space, less capital and less time to produce lower cost goods and services with fewer defects. Lean applies in every organization, every business, and every process. It is not a tactic or simple cost-reduction program; it is a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization.

Lean does not simply mean performing kaizens, setting Lean focus groups, using 5S programs, displaying Lean boards or using visual pull systems. Those are all Lean tools, which you may decide to use someday. However, these tools are not the true foundation of what it means to think and be Lean. You must do more than use a few tools and metrics to enjoy the true benefits of Lean thinking: You must create an
enterprise-wide, customer-focused learning organization to be successful in creating a long-term, sustainable Lean organization. You don’t get
“Lean” or get “Leaned out.” Lean is not a destination – Lean is a continuous journey of self-improvement that takes place every single day that you walk through the doors of your business.

The term lean was coined to describe Toyota’s business and production system (Toyota Production System – TPS) in the late 1980s by a research team at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program. However, the Foundation for Lean Thinking and the Toyota Production System was actually born with Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company (as detailed in Henry Ford’s bestseller, Today and Tomorrow, published in 1926). Henry Ford’s strong belief in total process optimization and waste reduction drove Ford Motor Company to produce the highest quality
automobiles of the time at affordable prices while providing the highest wages in the industry. Henry Ford made the automobile affordable for
everyone, using Lean thinking and Lean techniques, before they were formalized or systematized through the Toyota Production System.

Ford’s constant improvement and waste reduction focus also improved other industries and created new products and components out of scrap. Large wood planks became floor boards and body coach panels. Smaller wood pieces became steering wheels and shifter knobs. Smaller yet, scrap pieces of wood were burned to provide steam and electricity at the plant. When the scrap wood burning proved to be fairly inefficient, Ford, working with a relative, developed a method to grind, heat and compress the scrap wood to form small black nuggets. These nuggets have since
become the most popular form of fuel for cooking your hamburger on the grill: charcoal. This relentless quest for process optimization and waste

The learning process is the key to process improvement and the key to Lean and Lean Six Sigma. This is the one thing you must know to be successful in your Lean journey. If we do not figure out how to do our jobs better, our competitors will, and we will be forced to the back of the pack.

Recall Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.” Organizations that have not yet accepted the concept of Lean thinking often find themselves performing the same processes day after day and wondering why none of their activities have any effect on their company’s bottom line.

“We have always done it this way,” is the silent killer in your organization. Complacency kills. As the world rushes by, if you’re not moving with it, you’re holding fast to outdated ideas and principles. This guarantees that when you do open your eyes, you will be far behind the race, and catching up will be the hardest thing you ever do. Change is imperative; but not just any change – not change for the sake of change – but the correct change. You need to make changes that will solve problems, make improvements, and move you forward. You need to

Example of a Successful Learning Process

When was the last time you took an airline flight? Was your flight on time or were there technical or mechanical difficulties? As a society, we tend to take airline travel and modern transportation – and the problems that go with it – for granted. As a flight instructor, I have always been intrigued by aircraft accident investigation: the painstaking reconstruction process, the analysis, the tests, and of course, the “black box.” While I have a small vested interest and professional curiosity in the process, I am amazed how fascinated everyone seems to be with it. An airliner crash is big news. We see it on TV and read about it in the papers. But, the follow-up investigation is big news too: blow-by-blow accounts of the investigation and speculative reports are a regular staple of our media diet following a crash.

Why do we have this insatiable need to know? Many fault the investigation crews and agencies for dragging out airplane crash investigations too long, feeding the media frenzy. But these investigations begin with the sole intent of finding the root causes of
failures, problems and accidents, and to prevent them from happening again. What you may not realize is that the FAA and NTSB go through
similar, smaller scale processes hundreds of time each year: Seemingly small incidents and problems – an alternator problem here, an electrical
problem there – are all researched. As a result, there are hundreds of small corrective actions taken every year by the FAA. They ground
planes, issue airworthiness directives (AD’s), change procedures, change training, develop new products and change current products.

As a result of all these efforts and painstaking processes, flying is now the safest form of transportation available. It is an amazing accomplishment. Just think if we could do that with auto travel! Despite similar investigations and procedures in the automobile crash sector, there are still 50,000 people killed on our roads every year, along with a quarter million injuries.

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