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Lean Management - more than just a technique for the shop floor

It is becoming more and more common that I hear the phrase 'lean management'. This is not as a replacement for the phrase 'lean manufacturing' but I feel it is a realisation for many people that the tools and principles that have been applied to many business' factory facilities over the years can be readily applied to other areas of a business.

As you know, lean is all about the balance of value adding activities within a business against the non-value adding (or waste generating) activities that are also present. Lean strives to engage people to drive out the waste present in their processes and develop more efficient and effective ways for them to serve their customers.

The supporting departments that serve the production aspect of the business (whether it is in manufacturing, services, projects or something else) need to be as efficient and as effective as possible, and you can see the shift in the approach of many businesses who are embracing this way of looking at their operations. The mini-empires that have been created due to inflated budgets over the years are now being scrutinised and the linkages between support departments and primary value adding functions are becoming clear.

There are many tools and methods available under the lean umbrella, most of which strive to remove wasteful activities. Find out more, research the tools, and then come up with ways to apply them to your business. It is the underlying principles that are important, and flexing them and bending them so that they fit your business is how you make them work.

The ideas work, you just need to find a way to make them work for your business.

Giles Johnston
Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer