What is the True Essence of Lean?

The Lean community, like anything else lately, has its share of critics. There are those who vehemently oppose Lean in general (or TOC, or Six Sigma…), whilst lauding some other form of continuous improvement (or TOC, or Six Sigma…). Still other refuse to entertain that maybe, just maybe, TPS and Lean are basically the same thing.

It’s exhausting sometimes, and a turn off all of the time.

Tune out the Lean critics

I’ve (finally!) learned to ignore the people who can’t seem to understand that there are more factors to consider than the ones they happen to know about. I’m not exactly sure what their motivation is, to be honest. They never seem to want to learn anything about differing points of view – they just seem to want to endlessly argue over semantics. In fact, I ended up blocking a bunch of people on LinkedIn after I published this blog post about Lean transformation failure rates. THAT ONE got some folks big mad!

The true meaning of Lean

I think that the true “secret sauce” of Lean is that there is no set playbook. Maybe that’s the juxtaposition of Lean that so many seem to struggle with. Lean methods like Standard Work and Continuous Improvement are based upon finding the “one best way”, and then building upon that to make it better again. Maybe that’s where this notion should stop. Kaizen, Kata and PDSA (or PDCA if that’s your thing)… all circle around a central idea of “let’s try it and see if it works, quickly. If it doesn’t – that’s okay. We just won’t do it that way anymore”.

I’m not sure one can embrace that mentality while also maintaining that there’s only a certain path that all must follow along one’s Lean journey. There’s more to it. For me, that’s the fun part of the process. And shouldn’t this be fun?

At the end of the day (as I talked about here on the New England Lean Podcast), it comes down to time, and what we spend it on. Yes – we need to add value; to our customers, to our products, and to our employers. BUT – we also have to add value to ourselves, and I’d argue that that should come first, as it will enable all the others. When we feel valued; when we feel like what we are doing matters, that’s when we can really do our best work, and deliver the best value – for everybody.