Did you know that employees waste up to 50% of their day managing menial data entry and management tasks? This is a huge waste of money, time, and creative productivity.
Waste in business is everywhere (not just data entry and managing tasks), and it can create bottlenecks that slow you and your business down.
But what to do about it (you ask yourself)?
Let us introduce you to lean methodology—the key to unlocking your business's true potential.
With the lean methodology, you can reduce waste, improve your operations and achieve exceptional results.
In this article we’ll:
- Explore the history of lean methodology
- Learn about the core pillars of the lean management principles
- Go over some use cases
- Tackle a hybrid approach
- And see how Motion can help you remove waste
Let’s dive right in.
What is the lean methodology?
Lean has a long history, but is based on the Japanese principle of kaizen, or continuous improvement.
In practice, lean aims to create as much value for the customer as possible while also removing waste from the process. Over time, these principles led to the three pillars of lean (we'll get to those in a bit).
Initially used in manufacturing, the lean methodology has expanded into various fields like healthcare and software development.
Lean concepts help businesses streamline processes, cut costs, improve quality, and provide greater customer value. Businesses do this by:
- Refining their processes
- Fostering a culture of innovation
- Striving for efficiency
- And focusing on customer-centricity.
And implementing the pillars of lean is a lot like tending a garden. Over time (continuous improvement), you weed out unnecessary plants (waste), and care for the healthy ones (add value).
Where did lean come from?
From the 50s to the 80s, Toyota faced intense competition from the largest manufacturer at the time, Ford. Ford also invented the industrial assembly line and could produce more than 2.5 million cars a year (vs. Toyota's 3000 a year).
Eiji Toyota studied the Ford production line and realized he could do something similar, if not better.
Over time, Toyota created the Toyota Production System (TPS) and became one of the largest car manufacturers on the planet. Not just that, but they became the standard against which other companies measured quality (and improvement).
Toyota's success with the Toyota Production System caught the attention of others, leading to the adoption of lean manufacturing principles across other industries.
Years later, the books “The Machine That Changed the World” by Jim Womack and “Lean Thinking” by Dan Jones further defined lean. They suggested using lean management as a set of guiding principles rather than rigid practices, making it more flexible.
Today, lean methodology is a popular Agile approach used by businesses (large and small) around the world.
And just like with the advent of Agile, lean has led to variations (frameworks),
- Total Quality Management (TQM)
- Just-in-Time (JIT)
- Six Sigma
- Theory of Constraints (ToC)
The 3 pillars of Lean methodology
Pillars are structural components that support buildings. Here are the core pillars that support lean methodology (and some examples to go along with those). It's important to understand these key principles to make lean work for you.
Delivering value as defined by the customer
Remember the saying, “the customer is always right?”. Well, whoever coined it couldn’t have been more right because there is no use in making a product or service when no one uses it.
So, how can you give your customers what they want? It all starts with understanding your customer as much as possible.
To do this, you need to put yourself in their shoes. Think about what they'd want and need from you.
For Toyota, this meant putting themselves in the shoes of a car buyer.
A real estate office could focus on identifying the key features that their clients want in a property. They could also look at the entire buying process to see where they can deliver more value or remove unnecessary steps.
A great Agile tool for defining customer value is user stories, which follow a pattern like “As the (user), I want (fill in), and it meets these requirements of (X, Y, Z).” These narrative-style stories capture the customer’s aspirations (requirements) and experiences.
Customer feedback can also come from surveys, interviews, or questionnaires.
Imagine a business process is like following a recipe. To create a delicious dish, you use only the necessary ingredients and remove any excess or irrelevant elements. In business processes, cutting waste means removing unnecessary steps, redundancies, or bottlenecks.
There are different types of waste (in lean), such as:
- Waiting time
- Unnecessary transportation
- Excess inventory
- Unnecessary processing
These sneaky culprits all (negatively) affect resources, operations, and processes.
So, how can you cut waste and optimize your processes?
- Take a closer look at your processes and identify any steps or activities that don't contribute to delivering value to your customers.
- Optimize the sequence (or logic) of activities in your workflows.
- Scale from there. Cut waste in other areas (keeping improvement and value in mind).
For example, if you carry high inventory levels, how much is enough to keep the customer experience the same (or better)? Or if you run a construction company, can you cut downtime?
With continuous improvement, this process of elimination is an ongoing activity.
Here are a few other tips that can help:
- Value stream mapping: Create visual maps of your processes, from start to finish, to identify steps that add value (and those that don't).
- Kaizen events: Organize focused events where teams work together to tackle specific problems or processes.
- Kanban system: Implement a visual workflow management system using Kanban boards. This lets you visualize work, identify bottlenecks, and see where to limit work-in-progress.
Continuous improvement (Kaizen)
Kaizen theory (continuous improvement) is the driving force behind reducing waste and the central pillar of the lean method.
Kaizen theory is about the power of making small, incremental changes that add up to significant improvements over time. It’s also about encouraging everyone in the organization, regardless of their role or level, to seek out improvement.
An example that exemplifies continuous improvement is a sports team. They review game footage, analyze performances, and identify areas for improvement.
The PDCA/PDSA cycle is the cornerstone of Lean's continuous improvement methodology. This approach provides a systematic framework for making changes in a sustainable manner. The basic steps of these cycles go like this:
- It starts with planning, where specific objectives and improvement goals are identified.
- Then, actions are taken to put those improvement ideas into practice.
- Once implemented, the results are studied and analyzed to understand the impact and effectiveness of the changes.
- Based on these insights, adjustments are made. Then the cycle begins again, with each iteration driving further improvement.
To help you cultivate a culture of continuous improvement, try the following practices:
- Evaluate processes and outcomes
- Create action plans once you find possible changes and implement them
- Encourage employee feedback and suggestions
- Measure and track progress
How is lean used today?
We can find the lean methodology being used across industries (and projects).
Let's take a look at a few lean principles in action.
Lean in project management
Lean principles have been used in project management for a long time.
In fact, lean and project management work so well together that they sparked their own niche called lean project management. In lean project management, project managers use visual management techniques like Kanban boards. These techniques help to identify bottlenecks in project processes and to improve the flow of work.
Lean in software development
Lean principles are integral to the Agile software development process. Agile software teams focus on iterative development, continuous improvement, and constant feedback.
Lean works well with the software development process as it helps software teams reduce unnecessary coding (waste) and deliver high-quality products. This combination has also become such a popular technique that it's called lean software development.
Lean in healthcare
Lean works in healthcare to improve patient care, reduce errors, and improve service efficiency.
Here they use techniques like value stream mapping, standard work, and error reduction. These help identify and cut non-value-adding steps while creating better outcomes.
Lean in service industries
In supply chain management, lean principles can reduce excess inventory and improve efficiency. Lean principles also help cut wasteful steps and speed up services.
Concepts like value chain plotting, and supplier management are key parts of lean supply chain management.
Banks worldwide have been using lean principles for years to cut down on long queues and unnecessary activities within the banking ecosystem. The proof is in the pudding: you can apply for a loan online. No queues, no lengthy paperwork, and no need for staff.
Lean in lean startup methodology
Applying lean principles in start-ups has led to the creation of a powerful start-up methodology.
The lean startup approach focuses on:
- Building a minimum viable product (MVP)
- Validate learning through rapid iterations and customer feedback
The aim is to get a product or service to market as quickly as possible and then improve from there. To do this, a development team gathers feedback from customers and continuously improves the product (or service).
For instance, a tech startup could develop an MVP with core features and functionalities. They launch the product as soon as possible to validate market demand and gather feedback from early adopters. Then they apply the feedback to the product.
A hybrid approach: combining Agile & lean
And then there's the hybrid combination of Agile and lean methodologies, a perfect (and powerful) match.
For example, take lean and Scrum. Scrum ceremonies like stand-ups and sprint reviews work well together with lean principles like value stream mapping (to identify waste and bottlenecks). And sprint retrospectives incorporate continuous improvement by nature.
Lean also plays nicely with Kanban. Kanban boards visualize work in progress and look to minimize work in progress (that's the lean part).
When adopting a hybrid approach, make it your own.
Consider the nature of the project, the dynamics of your team, and your organization's culture. Tailor your approach to fit your project's unique requirements and draw elements from each framework to meet your needs.
Use Motion to further eliminate waste
Motion is an AI-backed task management app that works well alongside the lean methodology.
Motion integrates with Google or Microsoft calendars and automatically plans your day. Motion considers factors such as task priority, hard and soft deadlines, and your availability to work on tasks. This eliminates manual planning and ensures your tasks are prioritized.
Motion’s scheduler tab enables you to create time blocks for meetings and keep your schedule organized. The meeting assistant feature helps you find shared free time for appointments, even in different time zones. This streamlines the process of scheduling meetings and ensures efficient use of your time.
Don't let waste hold you back—harness the power of Motion and take your business to new heights.
Sign up for your 7-day free trial of Motion.