Don't take 'Lite' approach to lean implementation

Eric Bigelow

The idea of “Lean Lite” has been written about in many articles and on several online forums. Respected individuals in the industry have even endorsed it. The concept defends the position that it is acceptable for a company to take bite-sized pieces of lean. For that very reason, “Lean Lite” may pose a dichotomy. The “Lite” path may not travel in the same direction as the “Lean” path. It is my opinion that it will ultimately lead those that follow it further away from a lean system and a continuous improvement-based culture.

I admit that “Lean Lite” is a catchy and attractive phrase. It has some very trendy potential. In fact, I am sure it has already worked its way into the vocabulary of many managers. But, there is more to lean than catchy phrases and buzzwords. I believe that “Lean Lite” will only appeal to those who do not fully appreciate and comprehend lean theory. It will, in fact, only appeal to those who fear total lean commitment. It would be difficult to claim a “Lean Lite” success because the expectations of lean are seriously impaired when settling for “Lite”.

“Lean Lite” requires no leap of faith, conviction or confidence in the lean philosophy or tools. It allows management to continue prehistoric measurements and expect futuristic results by adopting only a few small elements of a lean system. This creates the illusion of progress, but just as in lean analysis, just because your moving doesn’t mean you are adding value. Wrong turns, short selling and settling for less can cost you more than money. It can cost time, progress and culture-building opportunity. Without a doubt, this is what “Lean Lite” can lead to. An organization that wants change must have the complete lean vision and provide a strong mental model of the possible future to evolve.

True lean requires integrated, dynamic programs operating at all levels of the organization. An organization cannot select what element it will and will not use in an integrated lean system, as “Lean Lite” suggests. The absence of one system element will hurt the efforts of another and will limit the potential of the employees as well as the maturity of the company.

Each process owner must recognize his or her internal customer and understand that customer’s needs. This all needs to be done with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency. Success will come by the fearlessness and the passion of the employees to change by the values and measurements designed into the system.

I suggest that every company implement “Lean: Extra Strength”. Put an entire system into action and measure everyone on waste and risk reduction in all departments and increase the value-added inputs to the value stream. If failure is a result of the attempt, learn from the failure and attempt again. Every level of the organization needs to increase the value of their processes; that, my friends, does not come in bite-sized pieces.

About the author
Eric Bigelow is an industrial engineer and continuous improvement professional located in Newnan, Ga.He has trained numerous individuals in lean manufacturing, employee development and empowerment as well as managed more than 45 major lean missions. Contact him via e-mail at eric.machead@gmail.com.

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About the Author

Eric Bigelow is an industrial engineer and continuous improvement professional. He is currently a lean coordinator located in Spirit Lake, Iowa. He has trained numerous individuals in lean manuf...