There is a lot of interest in lean operations in both manufacturing and service sector organisations. The concept of lean operations was pioneering by Japanese car manufacturers who developed a range of practical techniques aimed at reducing or eliminating wasteful processes. Developing lean operations can be achieved by any organisation that conducts processes i.e. takes an input and adds value by converting it into an output. In embracing lean operations, many specialists and organisations concentrate on the application of the tools and techniques of lean (e.g. Kaizen, 5S, 3C, JIT, TQ etc.) and undervalue the human element.

Observe the way in which lean operations occur in some World Class organisations and you will see that it is the deeply embedded culture and ethos that makes lean practices an integral part of everyday working life. Lean operations require technical knowledge, organisation and skills but it is the organisations “natural” ability to instinctively apply practices such as Kaizen (continual improvement), 5S (housekeeping) and teamwork that makes such a major contribution to safety, quality and cost reduction.

Lean starts with top management understanding and embracing a way of life and living and breathing the ethos. It will not succeed if it is applied in a piecemeal way.

Education and lifelong learning for all staff and the relentless commitment of top management is the way to ensure success in achieving lean operations.

Some points of wisdom
  1. Sustaining lean operations is a way of being – it is NOT just the operation of lean techniques.
  2. Each and everyone in the organisation is required to live with a lean mentality – lean should be the natural state of operations not the application of a process methodology.
  3. Embrace continuous improvement to drive the elimination of waste.
  4. Lean is a never ending journey that sets out for perfection but is never planned to arrive.
  5. Practice makes perfect.

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