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Lean as a philosophy


Lean-Starterpaket 2022

The term "lean" is now widely used in industry and commerce, but also in administration, especially in connection with "lean management". Nevertheless, the approach goes far beyond that: Lean Thinking is in demand - but what does it actually mean?

Lean: more than methods and tools

As a comprehensive approach, the lean idea describes a management philosophy - and therefore cannot be reduced to methods and tools. Lean is above all a cultural issue in companies. What it implies, is the orientation of all business processes towards the customer, the change from the company-driven push principle to the customer-oriented pull principle. The goal of this comprehensive change process is to meet the needs of customers in the best possible way. The basic principle is to involve the employees and let them act on their own responsibility in their area. This is because, as specialists, they know the processes "on-site" and have the competence to continuously identify and implement opportunities for improvement or to suggest major changes to avoid waste. The company becomes a learning organisation where leadership consists of support, encouragement and appreciative cooperation that tolerates mistakes. Hierarchical structures and controls are reduced, this eliminates management levels - the company becomes lean.

Efficiency or effectiveness?

Most organisations see "lean" exclusively as a tool to increase efficiency. Lean methods and tools are used to enable smooth processes and a production without waste. Employees are not seen as a core element in the continuous improvement process, but merely as production factors whose costs should be minimised as much as possible. Typical efficiency indicators are productivity, capacity utilisation, manufacturing or process costs.

Such companies are efficiency-driven, but often blind in terms of effectiveness. This means: existing processes are optimised, but their usefulness is not questioned. In the end, customers are only interested in whether the right processes are running, delivering the required results - the effectiveness..

Companies at a crossroads

Managers and consultants often think and act based on numbers and efficiency values only, instead of orienting themselves to the wishes of their customers. Creative leeway to question processes, think outside the box and introduce fundamental changes to increase principle. The goal of this comprehensive change process is to meet the needs of customers in the best possible way. The basic principle is to involve the employees and let them act on their own responsibility in their area. This is because, as specialists, they know the processes "on-site" and have the competence to continuously identify and implement opportunities for improvement or to suggest major changes to avoid waste. The company becomes a learning organisation where leadership consists of support, encouragement and appreciative cooperation that tolerates mistakes. Hierarchical structures and controls are reduced, this eliminates management levels - the company becomes lean. Efficiency or effectiveness? Most organisations see "lean" exclusively as a tool to increase efficiency. Lean methods and tools are used to enable smooth processes and a production without waste. Employees are not seen as a core element in the continuous improvement process, but merely as production factors whose costs should be minimised as much as possible. Typical efficiency indicators are productivity, capacity utilisation, manufacturing or process costs. Such companies are efficiency-driven, but often blind in terms of effectiveness. This means: existing processes are optimised, but their usefulness is not questioned. In the end, customers are only interested in whether the right processes are running, delivering the required results - the effectiveness. Companies at a crossroads Managers and consultants often think and act based on numbers and efficiency values only, instead of orienting themselves to the wishes of their customers. Creative leeway to question processes, think outside the box and introduce fundamental changes to increase effectiveness are considered necessary on the one hand, but dismissed as expensive gimmicks on the other. Securing a long-term market presence is thus questionable.

Consultants and especially managers must learn to consider effectiveness as well as efficiency. Change is doable - the lean idea with the inclusion of the many bright minds present at all levels in the company and a corresponding culture of error is an important step in this direction.

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Bettina Dirks
Bettina Dirks
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