By Jamie Flinchbaugh
Lean Learning Center
Building Sustainable Business and People Success through New Ways of Thinking
There are far too many definitions and descriptions of lean systems for all of us to be speaking the same language, and so it seems worthwhile to put forward a unifying view of lean systems. Some have interpreted lean as merely a collection of tools, such as 5S, JIT, kanban, and so on.1 Others have described lean as working people harder, working people smarter, kaizen, or Total Quality Management. Some definitions are wrong and some are just inadequate.
So how instead can we describe lean systems? At a very high level, lean systems gives people at all levels of the organization the skills and a shared way of thinking to systematically drive out waste through designing and improving work of activities, connections, and flows.2 By cultivating the skills of a learning organization, creating an environment of real-time learning nearest to the problem or point of impact, all employees can contribute to the robust success of the firm. This simple and universal definition of lean broadens the scope and required skill set beyond traditional views. Many organizations have had great success using lean systems, regardless of how they defined it, towards creating world-class companies.