Why Is Lean Important?

A reader of my books recently asked me the following questions:

  • Why is Lean important to an organization?
  • Why should we introduce Lean to an organization with good performance?

These are good questions. Most of the writing about Lean focuses on organizations that perform poorly and need to improve.

So why is Lean important to an organization? Here is my answer:

To help an organization survive for the long-term, as it faces new competition and changing macroeconomic conditions. Lean, done right, makes an organization more flexible and adaptable to change as it occurs (rather than delayed responses). Survival gives an organization the continuing opportunity to better serve its customers over time.

And why should we introduce Lean to an organization with good performance? Here is my answer:

Good performance is relative. Most organizations process material information using the batch-and-queue method. If that’s all you compete against, then performance can appear to be good (despite having unhappy customers). Customers expect great, not good, performance. If we are truly customer focused, then the reason we do Lean is to better satisfy customers.

But there is more to it than that.

Lean management is a better way to deal with low economic growth, which we may face for some time to come. Process improvement pays for things that an organization needs or what it must do for its stakeholders. The payoff will be low and slow if leaders fail to recognize Lean as a solution to information flow problems, and which also has the knock-on effect of improving human health in organizations.

For an organization to reap the benefits of Lean, leaders have to admit all work processes can be improved, and that nobody is exempt from improvement. An organization where everyone improves their work processes, top to bottom, in non-zero-sum (win-win) ways, is one that progresses and will survive and prosper for the long-term.

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