Getting Lean – it’s about more than just waste

Zen, bamboo, flowing waterLean is often regarded as simply targeting cost reduction through the elimination of waste. A quick-win approach may focus on eradicating the prime culprits in a piecemeal fashion at the tactical or, often, operational level. However, this was not the original intent and the need to regain a more strategic perspective seems obvious. For a more impactful and sustainable result a broader systems thinking approach should be adopted; one that integrates Lean principles with those of project, program and change management.

“Improvement usually means doing something that we have never done before.” – Shiego Shingo

 It’s not simply about eliminating waste (muda); that’s just an easy place to start. Overburdening (muri) people, systems and equipment is an important consideration since it correlates with issues in health, safety, quality and reliability. This is where many of the frustrations and problems associated with the workplace reside. Standardising outputs and processes can help reduce the flow of material and information to optimum levels but must be supported by systems and infrastructure. Variability (mura) in flow results in a system being designed to accommodate the peaks and, therefore, introduces waste when operating below this level. This is usually countered by implementing a pull-based ‘just-in-time’ system. However, whilst it is desirable to design a system for regular, predictable workflow this may be quite difficult outside of a manufacturing environment. Regardless, it should be easy to see that all three ‘M’s (muda, muri and mura) are interconnected and need to be treated holistically.

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