Is Lean Thinking for Everyone?

Deming: “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t know what you are doing”.

Is Lean Thinking for everyone? This question often comes up in Lean discussions. I think it has been best answered by W. Edwards Deming back in the 1950s. Deming stated:

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you don’t know what you are doing”.

He’s maybe a little harsh in saying that businesses may not know what they are doing. However, I would argue that without being able to describe what you do as a process, your clients are probably having a different experience of your product or service depending on who they are interacting with.

Imagine being recommended the roast duck at Emilio’s by a colleague when visiting her town. After relating your mediocre experience next day, she said, “Oh no, you should have waited until Thursday. That’s when Emilio himself comes in and he can make a mean roast duck”. Marvellous!

There’s also been much talk lately about ‘process’ in sports. If any team is unsure of the process, then improvements are simply trial and error as opposed to building on what has already been established as best practice.

So, can we describe Marketing as a process? Finance? Purchasing? Retail? Hospitality? Healthcare? I would argue that any function in any business needs to be understood as a process.

The individuals in that organisation need a baseline process and those individuals need to be supported to improve that process.

Errors, Complaints and Accidents should all be viewed as feedback and opportunities to strengthen the process.

Staff should be encouraged not to accept errors. They should be encouraged to highlight when they are unable to perform their tasks effectively. Everyone should be encouraged not to pass on problems.

This is a brave undertaking for any management team, but it is the start of the Lean journey for everyone!


Steve Halpin is Managing Director of ETAC Solutions - a specialist provider of training, expertise and software solutions in all matters related to Lean and Six Sigma Business Improvement Programmes. ETAC Solutions is a provider to ManagementWorks on our Lean Business programme.