Going Lean: Five Common Misunderstandings

The practice of implementing lean is becoming increasingly popular and it looks like lean might be here to stay. However, it is important to remember that lean isn’t just a quick fix or “extra” program. Instead, implementing a true lean mindset takes time. When lean is done correctly, it will help your business to grow and flourish exponentially. The keyword here is “correctly.” The primary goal of lean is to eliminate waste while also enhancing customer value. Eliminating waste is not quite as simple as some may think; it is not as easy as just picking up extra trash or simply cleaning-up an area within a warehouse. A true lean mindset engulfs nearly every component of a business, and elicits helpful changes in every area from cleaning up and organizing to process development and improvement.

Below we have outlined five common misunderstandings of lean that often stand in the way of creating successful lean implementation.

1. Eliminate All Inventories – In the lean mindset having an abundance of extra inventory is not considered efficient. In effect, unused inventory just sitting on the shelves is not adding any sort of value to the business at all. It is not producing income, it is taking up space, and it also risks being broken, damaged, or lost while in storage. Instead, it is better to slowly rid yourself of extra inventory until there becomes a natural flow. This may be a bit scary at first, but once a flow is determined you won’t need the extra assurance that comes along with a fully stocked inventory room.

2. Employees Must Work Harder – This is simply not true. Many times people think that in order to double the amount of work done or increase output that you will either have to add employees or make them work much harder. However, with lean it is quite the opposite. Instead, procedures and processes are evaluated, revised, and improved and waste is identified and eliminated. By doing this, employees spend much less time on tedious or unneeded tasks and spend much more time engaging in true value-added tasks.

3. Lean Cuts Jobs – Since lean is so effective, some employees assume that it will lead to a reduction in the workforce. The goal of lean manufacturing is not to reduce the headcount of employees, but to increase output and improve productivity. This in turn leads to growth and the possibility of actually hiring more employees in the future.

4. Tools Must be Used to Make Lean Successful – Certain tools such as 5S, Kaizen, Six Sigma, etc. are helpful in the implementation and general functioning of lean, but are not essential components needed for lean to be successful. Lean must have a strong framework supported by management with a clear plan for policy deployment and immediate targets for success to occur.

5. Lean is Only for Manufacturing – False! Lean is becoming increasingly more prevalent in other sectors besides manufacturing. In fact, it is not uncommon for lean to be implemented within office settings, healthcare facilities, or in retail facilities.

Don’t fall victim to the misunderstandings of lean. If you are looking to implement lean within your work environment, take the time to learn and understand the foundation of lean and how it can help improve your business.

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