Lean management: Definition and tools

lean management
March 3th, 2020
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Lean management is an approach to managing and organising work that aims to improve a company's performance.

In this post, you will find the answers to all of your questions about lean management:

The definition of lean management

Inspired by the Toyota Production System, lean management is a method of managing and organising work with the aim of improving a company's performance, particularly the quality and profitability of its production processes.

Lean management helps optimise processes by reducing non-value-added activities (unnecessary operations or transport, waiting, overproduction etc.), poor-quality costs and complications. This method relies heavily on a management strategy that allows employees to work in the best possible conditions. Ultimately, the approach has two main objectives:complete customer satisfaction and employee success.

Formalised by American researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the key to lean management lies in its name. This idea of something "fat free" or even "just enough" suggests a method that strips something back to the bare essentials, with anything unnecessary eliminated. 

To do this, lean management relies on four key principles:

  1. Understanding customers' needs
  2. Reducing production times
  3. Analysing, understanding and resolving problems
  4. Uniting employees and raising awareness

The different lean management tools

Lean tools are often described as tools for learning and experimentation. Employees take ownership of these tools and work together on them as part of a process of continuous improvement.

There are a multitude of tools available, including:

  • The 5S method (sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain) to improve the working environment and reduce wasted time
  • The Six Sigma method to improve process quality and efficiency
  • Visual management to share information and solve problems
  • The Kaizen method to continuously improve processes
  • The SMED method to reduce changeover times
  • The Kanban method to optimise inventory management
  • The Value-Stream Mapping (VSM) method to analyse processes and identify obstacles

Although it began in the automotive industry, lean management has now spread to organisations of all sizes and business sectors. The concept is also frequently evolving and several variations exist, as is the case with lean purchasing, which focuses on operational excellence for procurement departments.