Q3. How is Lean different from other ways to improve productivity?
Typically when companies look to improve productivity, they look at the big value added things they do, such as machining metal or treating patients. Then they look to find ways to make these steps more efficient. While this is a piece of the Lean process called “point improvement”, it won’t meet its full potential in isolation. In contrast, Lean companies look at the “value stream”, which is the whole process a mechanical part or a patient travels through in a plant or medical centre. By analyzing the value stream, from order taking to delivery, it becomes more apparent where value is created and where waste is diminishing the system. Understanding the whole process enables companies to identify where efforts will have the greatest impact on reducing waste, and subsequently on increasing productivity.
Q4. Isn’t Lean just a collection of tools such as 5S and Six Sigma?
These tools are a very important part of Lean; they provide the methods through which companies can improve productivity. They are also highly visible and therefore easily recognized. But Lean is about the bigger picture. Lean thinking involves taking a holistic view of productivity; it moves away from point improvements and moves toward improving the whole process. A Lean company is driven by continuous improvement.
One important Lean tool is the value stream map. Value stream maps are used to identify the fraction of each step that adds value, the fraction of each step that represents waste, and the targeted ways to improve.