Lean management for continuous improvements. (© Coloures Pic - Fotolia.com)
Lean management for continuous improvements. (© Coloures Pic - Fotolia.com)

An important term in the marketing and advertising world is lean management. In fact, you could say that this was one of the most important terms in business because of what it stands for. In this article, we will explore

  • the history of lean management,
  • the philosophy behind it,
  • and how companies can use the system to improve nearly everything about their organization.

What is Lean Management?

Lean management is a term that describes a philosophy or methodology of management that promotes continuous improvement within an organization through a series of small changes. While every organization wants to improve, not every organization takes the opportunity to do so. Lean management is a “cutting away of the fat,” so that all that is left is the best of the best company-wide.

The History of Lean Management

The term lean management actually comes from a different term known as lean manufacturing, sometimes called lean production. Lean manufacturing works the same as lean management - a method for getting rid of waste, in other words. The methodology began with the Toyota Company in the 1990s. Toyota was responsible for the Toyota Production System, or TPS, and the term came to light because of how impressive it was that Toyota grew from such a small company to the largest auto manufacturer in the world.

How Does Lean Management Work?

The way that lean manufacturing works is by ensuring that everything that is done in production has a purpose and will have an end result for the consumer.

Lean manufacturing optimizes

  • workflow
  • and gets rid of the unnecessary.

Lean management does the same thing in theory. It is only the practical application that differs.

The first step in implementing lean management within your company or marketing plan is to look at your current process. This isn't just a committee review that will last a week or so. This actually has to be an in-depth, empirical study of the process which identifies every single element and lays the process bare for everyone to study.

From there, you look at everything that comes up in that empirical study and

  • determine what factors are unnecessary.
  • Then you can begin to eliminate them one at a time,
  • carefully reviewing your changes to ensure that you are not compromising the end result.

Examples of Lean Management in Action

Imagine that you were doing lean management review for an auto parts store. During the course of your review, you discovered that employees were spending an additional hour a day putting new products on the shelves, because they were taught by a previous manager that the store had a policy of first-in-first-out. While this is necessary in a food-service organization, in an auto parts store it is not very important.

The item with the shortest shelf life in an auto parts store is

  • probably motor oil, which can stay on the shelf for up to five years.
  • Everything else can remain indefinitely.
OpenPR tip: If you were able to show that items would get sold eventually without any compromise in quality due to expiration (whether you use the first-in first-out method or not), then the store could eliminate that policy and those employees could spend that extra hour doing something more productive.

The Lean Management Controversy

There are some experts who have written about the lean management method, claiming that it simply doesn't work. This is led to a fairly widespread skepticism about the method.

But if you delve into the topic and track down these experts, you will find that there is a rebuttal to their argument that makes it clear that lean management does work when implemented properly. For example, there are four factors in manufacturing that make up the lean manufacturing methodology.

The first is the

  • engineering behind the production lines,
  • second is logistics
  • and the controls behind the production;
  • third are the people that make up the organization, including the management;
  • while the fourth is metrics and analytics.

When people began to implement the Toyota Method in the United States, they did not use all of these factors in their lean management strategy.

In fact, most of them only use the last two, while a few others incorporated some parts of their logistics. But the true lean management method requires the entire system to be implemented for it to work.

Basic Ideas to Make Lean Management Work

While you will not be able to fully implement lean management with just the ideas listed below, any change that a company makes for the better that they are not currently making is a good thing. Here are some suggestions on how you can dip your toe into the water of lean management.

  • Become a lean management expert or hire someone who is to be able to keep people on track and educate you on the process
  • Ensure that all members of your organization are implementing lean management into their work day. Lean management is the continual Improvement of an organization in small ways with every member participating
  • Start with technical changes, but then teach every team to take on the methodology themselves, become self-directed, with each member dedicated to the lean management goal
  • Create communication channels where everyone knows what everyone else is doing and feedback can be easily exchanged
  • Make sure that everyone from the top down knows that this is a long-term strategy and the change does not have to happen overnight
  • Take steps to and prevent the inevitable push back from middle-management during the implementation of lean management
  • Ensure that metrics are clear, easy to understand and necessary; lean management should begin with eliminating metrics that aren't useful to the methodology
  • Let data drive the changes that you're making and not personal opinion or any other reasoning
  • Track overall performance as well as individual performance and post that information so that everyone can see the results in the changes that are happening


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