You are here:EP Blogs






What is Lean? By Mike Loughrin

by admin on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 5:44 AM

Lean is the number one improvement program in the world.

The only real competition for popularity comes from inaction or weak attempts that rely upon naive trial and error.

In terms of comprehensive programs, the runner up methodology is Six Sigma, a great program, but far less popular than lean.

Let’s look closer at lean in terms of foundation, approach, vision, and applicability across various organizations.

Definition of Lean

The systematic elimination of waste.

The first key word is systematic. Lean is not a chaotic scramble.

The second key word is waste. Lean is not a cost cutting frenzy. Anyone can cut costs (and revenue) to zero.

It takes a systematic approach to find and eliminate the root causes that lead to the waste found in all organizations.

5 Principles of Lean

There are 5 principles of lean.

These 5 principles where first articulated in the bestselling book “lean thinking” by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.

These 5 principles are:

1. Specify Value

2. Identify Value Streams

3. Create Flow

4. Leverage Pull

5. Seek Perfection

If you are serious about a lean transformation, then you should be leveraging these principles as critical milestones. If you are not serious, then ignore these principles at your own peril.

7 Types of Waste

Lean is focused upon eliminating the 7 types of waste.

These 7 types of waste are:

1. Over Production

2. Movement

3. Inventory

4. Poor Process

5. Waiting

6. Defects

7. Motion


Tools for all Challenges

There are a large number of problem solving tools that are used to systematically eliminate the 7 types of waste.

Some of the commonly used tools include:

• Value Stream Mapping

• Pareto Analysis

• Cause and Effect Diagram

• The 5 Whys

• Control Charts

• The 5S System

• Changeover Reduction

Many of these tools will be used by employees working in teams during Kaizen Blitz events. Kaizen is Japanese for continuous improvement and Blitz is German for lightning fast. Kaizen Blitz is lean for lightning fast continuous improvement. The best approach is to leverage Kaizen Blitz events whereby teams work on well defined and targeted improvements.

Cultural Transformation

A key part of the lean vision is to make a cultural transformation where everyone is empowered to participate in continuous process improvement.

A lean cultural transformation assessment is an ideal tool for organizations to use to track their progress. The best ones will quantify how the culture is changing by measuring progress in terms of:

• Leadership

• Teamwork

• Engagement

• Lean Basics

• Advanced Topics

Sustainable Lean Organizations

The ultimate objective with lean transformation programs is to create a sustainable lean organization.

This requires:

1. Creating a lean culture in your organization where all functional areas are completely committed.

2. Integrating with your customers and suppliers using proven best practices in relationship management.

3. Maintaining supply chain management as a core competency so you can remain sustainable.

Two key responsibilities for a leadership team are to:

1. Create the vision of a sustainable lean organization.

2. Define a lean transformation program as a strategic initiative.


Transformation for Everyone

Lean is an all inclusive improvement methodology and is growing rapidly in all types of organizations.

You can find success stories in terms of:

• Lean Healthcare

• Lean Government

• Lean Retail

• Lean Finance

• Lean Services

• Lean Military

• Lean Distribution

• Lean Manufacturing

• And Many Others…

Lean and Green

We define lean and green as the systematic elimination of unsustainable practices.

The tools for lean and the tools for green are being blended to provide a powerful toolkit for lean and green. The most exciting aspect of this merger is how organizations are creating a competitive advantage, while at the same time, having a positive impact on our environment.

Searching out the 7 types of waste is being expanded to environmental waste which is defined as an unnecessary or excessive use of resources or a substance released to the air, water, or land that could harm human health or the environment.


Lean has earned its role as the #1 improvement methodology. It combines a strong foundation with structured approach focused on a long term vision that is applicable for all organizations.

Mike Loughrin is an expert in the creation of sustainable lean organizations and a certified coach for the Six Disciplines strategy development and execution program. He brings exceptional experience in both industry and consulting services and has helped organizations such as Levi Strauss & Company, Hewlett-Packard, Warner Home Video, Sweetheart Cup, and Alpine Electronics improve their performance.

Using a balanced approach to defining strategy, improving processes, and leveraging the appropriate technology, he keeps the focus on ROI and delivers results by leveraging skills in leadership, knowledge transfer, project management, and the application of best practices. As a frequent speaker at various educational events, he provides informative and energizing presentations by leveraging his passion for excellence.

Blogs Parent Separator Guest Blog
Lean Tools

Browse Articles from our many Guest Authors

Home   |   Our Practice   |   EP Blogs
    Subscribe to our Newsletter


Contact US
For More Information!
(708) 220-7101