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Lean Thinking
Lean Thinking
Lean Thinking
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There's probably a support group for angry lean practitioners who are moved beyond frustration by 'lean' becoming a not so subtle code ...

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Actionable Takeaways
  • Start and end with the customer. 

Be absolutely focused on delivering customer value, which involve ...

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Lean manufacturing has been criticised for its negative impact on workers — with greater stress arising from the drive to perfection and zero waste. It has also been criticised for its tactical focus, in delivering customer value now, over having a strategic view of future opportunities. 

The focus on just-in-time delivery and minimising stock might create risks in some industries, particularly in the face of unpredictable or high impact demand. 

In Practice

Toyota and lean manufacturing.

The obvious example since they pioneered and literally wrote the book on lean, and even inspired broader agile methodologies. The Toyota Production System captured their approaches and led to increased customer satisfaction and reduced waste in their production process. It still champions this approach, incorporating automation and their just in time model of delivery. 

The BBC and lean software development. 

This academic case study outlines the experience of BBC applying lean software development approaches. This was combined with other agile methodologies including scrum, and led to continuous improvement, reduced risk through iterative delivery, better code, and actual business value.

Lean in healthcare. 

The ThedaCare hospital used lean principles to increase nurse time with patients by 70%. This in turn increased patient safety (the ultimate customer value in their context). It was in part achieved by optimising their processes, including keeping record-keeping systems and medications inpatient rooms. 

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

Lean thinking is a broad term that informs lean manufacturing, lean software development and lean management. As a set of principles it aligns with agile methodologies and has broad application to a range of industries. 

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave lean thinking into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • Agile methodologies: which serves as a broader framework encompassing kanban, scrum and lean development. 
  • Scrum: an approach that is often combined with lean thinking. 
  • Kanban: particularly useful to optimise flow as part of lean thinking. 
  • Black box thinking: to support continuous improvement. 
  • First principle thinking: cutting to the core of delivering value and shedding the rest. 

Complementary models: 

  • Zawinski’s law: challenging design bloat with a lean approach.
  • Red queen effect: the challenge of simply improving processes, when competitors are striving to do the same. 
  • Lock-in effect: considering what would create greatest lock-in as a frame to establish customer value. 
Origins & Resources

Lean Thinking roots can be traced back to Henry Ford’s approach to production lines and the ‘flow production’. However, like kanban and even agile methodology, lean thinking owes much to the innovative work done by Toyota which continued to build on Ford’s contribution. 

These advances were led by Shigeco Shingo and Taiichi Ohno from the 1930s. In particular, they shifted the focus from individual machines to the broader production process and captured this approach in the Toyota Way. These approaches were subsequently given the title of ‘lean’ by John Krafcik in this 1988 article entitled the Triumph of the Lean Production System

Soon afterwards, James P. Womack, Daniel Roos, and Daniel T, Jones published the Machine that Changed the World that further documented and outlined the foundations of lean thinking. 

Finally, lean thinking was supported by mainstream management approaches when it was applied to software development. A key step in this process was the 2003 publication of Lean Software Development by Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck. 

As with most complex mental models, lean was originated through an evolutionary process of practice and thought. In our diagram, we attribute it to Taichii Ohno and  Shigeo Shingo, given their significant contribution to just-in-time processing and waste reduction — but it’s never as simple as that and we really could have credited several alternatives.      

My Notes

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