Once we have a question like this, we can start to think about an answer and one of the first set of conventional answers that it should dispel are those which are tool focussed. These are the ones that seem to miss the whole point of the question as, whilst we of course need to use the appropriate tools if we are to apply Lean Thinking in our Organisation and we need to know how to use them effectively, if we focus on the tools, it is like postulating that World Class Tennis players are created by providing them with the best Rackets.
An answer that I find much more compelling is one that is Principle Driven and this is what we tend to find alive in those organisations, such as (amongst others) Toyota (the Toyota Way) and Danaher (Danaher Business System), that have made Lean Thinking a fundament of their success. This approach was codified by Womack and Jones in their book "Lean Thinking" and one approach is taught and modelled by the Shingo Institute in their Shingo Model.
However, I'm going to attempt to answer the question myself and, at the same time, provide another proposal for LEAN as an acronym. So instead of the oft used 'Tongue in Cheek': "Less Employees Are Needed", I am going to propose:
LEAN = Leadership, Excellence, Analysis and No
1. Leadership: In Lean Thinking this is not just for those people provided with a leadership job title but the enablement of everyone within the organisation to take leadership in their own domain. By setting the appropriate boundary conditions, taking a People focussed approach to our business processes and ensuring that everyone is focussed on what the Customer / Consumer perceives as value, we can ensure that daily management assures continuous flow (of products, information, knowledge and services) throughout the Value Stream.
2. Excellence: The pursuit of excellence is absolutely core to Lean Thinking and its continuous pursuit is enabled through some of the key tenets of a Lean Business System. Utilising small batch sizes, continuous flow, built-in-quality and pull systems (not only for products but also information, knowledge and services), based upon the customer demand, daily management drives rapid problem solving and Kaizen. Team members are encouraged to constantly experiment with improvements to the system and through go-to-gemba (go to where the value is added) Leaders are able to coach and act as teachers.
3. Analysis: Lean Thinking has its foundation built on fact based decision making, through the application of A3 Thinking and a short-interval control approach, whereby people are rapidly involved in problem solving, using the appropriate tools (including both the Lean and Six Sigma toolkit), to find the root cause and implement countermeasures. However, experimentation and learning is a major element and therefore 'at-the-gemba' problem solving with 'cardboard engineering' experimentation is common and this approach is not just for the shop-floor but is applicable all the way to the board-room.
4. No: In my experience the 'secret formula' of Lean Thinking is Hoshin Kanri (or Policy Deployment) and the one area that most organisations struggle to apply. Having the courage to say NO to the multitude of opportunities that an organisation has and to have the 'laser-like' focus required to choose only those few things that will truly provide the break-through results is extremely difficult and only a few organisations have the level of discipline and stamina required to truly do this. Without this ability to say no, most businesses tend to overload their people and fail to execute effectively.
Those organisations that have embedded Lean Thinking into their Company Culture have demonstrated superior performance over significant periods of time and prove that Lean is, above everything, about integrating a Principle driven approach to an Organisation's Management Philosophy.
Did I ask the appropriate question and is my answer to that question the right one? I don't know for sure but hopefully we won't need to build a special computer the size of a small planet in order to determine it and with a bit of luck the answer won't be 42!
"I aim to promote the global sharing of best practices in the application of Lean Thinking."