Lean means “eliminating waste.”
A lot of companies have different types of waste (inventory, work in progress, transportation, etc.). It’s important that these companies eliminate this waste, which is made possible through lean culture. First and foremost, it’s important that lean culture see a commitment from management. Without a top down commitment from the managing team of a company, a change like lean culture has a tendency to be viewed as a trend or the “flavor of the month.” In order to push past the idea that this change is important and here to stay, follow through must be made, from the top down.
That said, it’s not just management that should be involved in this culture adjustment. It is very important that everyone in the company become committed to lean culture. In order to make the culture successful, managers and employees need to be aware of waste within the company and be prepared to attack and eliminate it. Making sure that the employees are empowered to do this, not just pushing the job off on someone else, is imperative in the proper function of lean culture. This is best performed when employees work in cross-functional teams. For example, a team could consist of someone from sales, someone from finance and someone from operations. This team would look into a process within the company, they would map the process, identify the areas within the process that are creating waste, and then brainstorm ideas on how to eliminate the waste.
When a company takes on a lean culture, the process of reducing and eliminating waste will also increase the quality of the company (and its product). While there are other strategies to help with increasing quality within a company, like Six Sigma, working a lean culture can help set the wheels in motion for additional future improvements.
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Dr. Sue Abdinnour is a Professor and holder of the Omer Professorship in the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University. She received her Ph.D. in Operations Management from Indiana University, Bloomington. Her teaching specialties include operations, technology, and decision making.