What is Lean Management? Definition & Benefits
You have probably heard of the Lean management concept and its growing popularity in the business world. But don’t worry if you didn’t. In the next few paragraphs, you will get familiar with Lean.
Actually, there is no surprise that Lean management is now widespread across industries. Thanks to its core values and positive impact on companies’ overall performance, the Lean concept appears to be a universal management tool.
You can apply the concept of Lean in any business or production process, from manufacturing to marketing and software development.
The Lean methodology relies on 3 very simple ideas:
- deliver value from your customer’s perspective
- eliminate waste (things that don’t bring value to the end product)
- continuous improvement
So now when you know the core idea, let’s dig deeper and get to know the basic principles of Lean management and where it comes from.
What is Lean Management and How Did It Start?
Before you start with the basic Lean principles, you need to realize that the Lean methodology is about continuously improving work processes, purposes, and people.
Instead of trying to hold total control of work processes and keep the spotlight, Lean management encourages shared responsibility and shared leadership.
This is why the two main pillars of the Lean methodology are:
- Respect for people
- Continuous improvements
After all, a good idea or initiative can be born at any level of the hierarchy and Lean trusts the people who are doing the job to say how it should be done.
Currently, Lean management is a concept that is widely adopted across various industries. However, it has actually derived from the Toyota Production System, established around 70 years ago.
Back in late 1940’s, when Toyota put the foundations of Lean manufacturing, they aimed to reduce processes that don’t bring value to the end product.
By doing so, they succeeded to achieve significant improvements in productivity, efficiency, cycle time and cost efficiency.
Thanks to this notable impact the Lean thinking has spread across many industries and evolved to 5 basic principles of Lean management as described by the Lean Management Institute.
Do not make mistake, Lean management was not created in a moment. It was and still is evolving gradually, thanks to many observations and the desire of people for continuous improvement.
So, let’s get to the basic principles of Lean management.
The 5 Basic Lean Principles
What does every company strive to do? To offer a product/service that a customer is ready to pay for. To do so, a company needs to add value defined by its customers’ needs.
The value lies in the problem you are trying to solve for the customer. More specifically in the part of the solution that your customer is actively willing to pay. Any other activity or process that doesn’t bring value to the end product is considered waste.
So you first need to identify the value that you want to deliver and then proceed to the next step.
Value Stream Mapping
This is the point where you literally need to map the workflow of your company. It has to include all actions and people involved in the process of delivering the end product to the customer. By doing so, you will be able to identify what parts of the process bring no value.
Applying the Lean principle of value stream mapping will show you where a value is being generated and in what proportion different parts of the process do or do not produce value.
When you have your value stream mapped, it will be much easier for you to see which processes are owned by what teams and who is responsible for measuring, evaluating and improving that process. This big picture will enable you to detect the steps that don’t bring value and eliminate them.
Create Continuous Workflow
After you mastered your value stream you need to make sure that the workflow of each team remains smooth. Have in mind that it may take a while.
Developing a product/service will often include a cross-functional teamwork. Bottlenecks and interruptions may appear at any time. However, by breaking up work into smaller batches and visualizing the workflow, you will able to easily detect and remove process roadblocks.
Create a Pull System
Having a stable workflow is a guarantee that your teams can deliver work tasks much faster with less effort. However, in order to secure the stable workflow, make sure to create a pull system.
In such a system the work is pulled only if there is a demand for it. This lets you optimize resources’ capacity and deliver product/services only if there is an actual need.
Let’s take a restaurant for example. You go there and order a pizza. The baker pulls your order and starts making your pizza. He doesn’t prepare tons of dishes in advance because there isn’t actual demand and these tons of dishes can turn into a waste of resources.
After going through all previous steps, you already built your Lean management system. However, don’t forget to pay attention to this last step, probably the most important one.
Remember, your system is not isolated and static. Problems may occur at any of the previous steps. This is why you need to make sure that employees on every level are involved in continuously improving the process.
There are different techniques to encourage continuous improvement. For example, every team may have a daily stand up meeting to discuss what has been done, what needs to be done and possible obstacles. An easy way for process improvements on a daily basis.
Benefits of Lean Management
The growing popularity of the Lean principles comes from the fact that they actually focus on improving every aspect of a work process and involve all levels of a company’s hierarchy.
There are a few major advantages that managers can benefit from.
- Focus. By applying Lean, you will be able to reduce waste activities. Therefore, your work force will be focused on activities that bring value.
- Improving productivity & efficiency. When employees are focused on delivering value, they will be more productive and efficient, because they won’t be distracted by unclear tasks.
- Smarter process (pull system). By establishing a pull system, you will able to deliver work only if there is actual demand. Which leads to the next one.
- Better use of resources.When your production is based on actual demand, you will be able to use only as many resources as needed.
As a result, your company (team) will be much more flexible and able to respond to consumer’s requirements much faster. In the end, Lean management principles will let you create a stable production system with a higher chance of improving overall performance.
Lean management is more like a guide for building a stable organization that evolves constantly and helps to identify actual problems and remove them.
- The main purpose of Lean management is creating value to the customer by optimizing resources.
- Lean management principles aims to create a stable workflow based on actual customer’s demand.
- Continuous improvement is a major part of Lean management, ensuring that every employee is involved in the process of improving.
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The Kanban board gives you an excellent overview of your current work situation.
Visualizing work in a team environment simplifies communication and leads to improved productivity.
Stop starting. Start finishing.
Limit your work-in-progress and get more done. Get a better flow on your Kanban board by focusing on completing tasks instead of starting new tasks.
Delivering value more often will lead to reduced risk for your project and put less stress on your team. Your customers will be happier. You will be happier.
Track the time that you spend on your tasks. Use the Pomodoro technique timer or a simple stopwatch timer. Alternatively, you can log your time manually.
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KanbanFlow is simple to use, yet flexible enough for most needs. You will be up and running in a few minutes after you have signed up. That’s how a Lean project management tool should work.
Does your brain always feel like you have a million tabs open? Do you feel like you’re always switching from one task to another, struggling to focus on any one thing for long enough to make progress? Do you feel like you work nonstop, but are never as productive as you’d like to be? Does your team struggle with basic communication, causing issues such as duplicate efforts, defects, rework, and more? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you aren’t alone. A vast majority of knowledge workers struggle with these very same problems. Kanban is a visual workflow management tool that can help you get more done with less stress. Sound intriguing? Read on.
A (Very) Short History of Kanban
In the late 1940s, Toyota found a better engineering process from an unlikely source: the supermarket. They noticed that store clerks restocked a grocery item by their store’s inventory, not their vendor’s supply.
Only when an item was near sellout did the clerks order more. The grocers’ “just-in-time” delivery process sparked Toyota engineers to rethink their methods and pioneer a new approach—a Kanban system—that would match inventory with demand and achieve higher levels of quality and throughput.
So how’d they do all that?
In simplest terms, by better communication through visual management.
Kanban is Japanese for “visual signal” or “card.” Toyota line-workers used a kanban (i.e., an actual card) to signal steps in their manufacturing process. The system’s highly visual nature allowed teams to communicate more easily on what work needed to be done and when. It also standardized cues and refined processes, which helped to reduce waste and maximize value.
A new application of Kanban emerged for knowledge work as early as 2005, and an inquisitive community formed in 2007 around the leadership of David J. Anderson, Jim Benson, Corey Ladas and others. Their resulting body of knowledge was influenced not only by the Toyota Production System but also by the work of management and statistics experts including W. Edwards Deming, Eliyahu Goldratt, Donald Reinertsen and other thought leaders.
How Kanban Works
Today’s workforce may be armed with retina-worthy smartphones and tablets, but plenty of information still comes our way as words on a screen. Emails, spreadsheets, task lists—text is everywhere. While it fits certain scenarios, textual information is not a one-size-fits-all communication vehicle. Its effectiveness is lower than you might think. Why?
It starts with your brain.
A picture is worth a thousand words for scientific reasons: The brain processes visual information 60,000 times faster than text. 40 percent of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are linked to the retina. Visual information comprises 90 percent of the data that comes to our brain, suggesting that our neurological pathways might even prefer pictures over text.
Kanban helps you harness the power of visual information by using sticky notes on a whiteboard to create a “picture” of your work. Seeing how your work flows within your team’s process lets you not only communicate status, but also give and receive context for the work. Kanban takes information that typically would be communicated via words and turns it into brain candy.
Four Core Kanban Principles
Unlike other workflow management methods that force fit change from the get-go, Kanban is about evolution, not revolution. It hinges on the fundamental truth that you can’t get where you want to go without first knowing where you are.
Kanban is gaining traction as a way to smoothly implement Agile and Lean management methods in tech and non-tech companies around the world. Throughout this fresh take on Toyota’s manufacturing process, Kanban’s core elements have remained rooted in the principles below. (Note: There are many ways to define Kanban. Our intent in listing the core elements in this manner is not to introduce a new definition but to distill the common principles.)
How Kanban Works
1. Visualize Work
By creating a visual model of your work and workflow, you can observe the flow of work moving through your Kanban system. Making the work visible—along with blockers, bottlenecks and queues—instantly leads to increased communication and collaboration. You can learn more about why flow matters here.
2. Limit Work in Process
By limiting how much unfinished work is in process, you can reduce the time it takes an item to travel through the Kanban system. You can also avoid problems caused by task switching and reduce the need to constantly re-prioritize items. You can learn more about the benefits of limiting WIP here.
3. Focus on Flow
By using work-in-process (WIP) limits and developing team-driven policies, you can optimize your Kanban system to improve the flow of work, collect metrics to analyze flow, and even get leading indicators of future problems by analyzing the flow of work. You can learn more about Kanban and Lean metrics here.
4. Continuous Improvement
Once your Kanban system is in place, it becomes the cornerstone for a culture of continuous improvement. Teams measure their effectiveness by tracking flow, quality, throughput, lead times and more. Experiments and analysis can change the system to improve the team’s effectiveness. You can learn more about continuous improvement here.
Get Started in 5 Steps
We created the Kanban Roadmap to help teams like yours get started with Kanban. Use the activities in this ebook to move your team from basic visualization to developing a true Kanban system.
Download your free copy of the Kanban Roadmap here.
Kanban (Mandarin Chinese 看板, Kànbǎn, «dashboard») is a lean method to manage and improve work across human systems. This approach aims to manage work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks.
Work items are visualized to give participants a view of progress and process, from start to finish — usually via a Kanban board. Work is pulled as capacity permits, rather than work being pushed into the process when requested.
In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process-management system which aids decision-making about what, when and how much to produce. The underlying Kanban method originated in lean manufacturing  (inspired by the Toyota Production System  ) it is now used in software development and technology-related work [ citation needed ] and has been combined with other methods or frameworks such as Scrum. 
David Anderson’s 2010 book, Kanban,  describes the method’s evolution from a 2004 project at Microsoft  using a theory of constraints approach and incorporating a drum-buffer-rope (which is comparable to the kanban pull system), to a 2006-2007 project at Corbis in which the kanban method was identified. In 2009, Don Reinertsen published a book on second-generation lean product development  which describes the adoption of the kanban system and the use of data collection and an economic model for management decision-making. Another early contribution came from Corey Ladas, whose 2009 book Scrumban  suggested that kanban could improve Scrum for software development. Ladas saw Scrumban as the transition from Scrum to Kanban. Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry published Personal Kanban,  applying Kanban to individuals and small teams, in 2011. In Kanban from the Inside (2014),  Mike Burrows explained kanban’s principles, practices and underlying values and related them to earlier theories and models. Kanban Change Leadership (2015), by Klaus Leopold and Siegfried Kaltenecker,  explained the method from the perspective of change management and provided guidance to change initiatives. A condensed guide to the method was published in 2016, incorporating improvements and extensions from the early kanban projects. 
Although Kanban does not require that the team or organization use a Kanban board, they can be used to visualise the flow of work. Typically a Kanban board shows how work moves from left to right, each column represents a stage within the value stream.
The image below is a typical view of a simplified Kanban board, where work items move from left to right. In some cases each column has a work in progress limit. This means that each column can only receive a fixed amount of work items with the aim to encourage focus, and make system constraints evident.
Software development Edit
The diagram here and the one in the Kanban Board section shows a software development workflow.  The boards, designed for the context in which they are used, vary considerably and may show work item types («features» and «user stories» here), columns delineating workflow activities, explicit policies, and swimlanes (rows crossing several columns, used for grouping user stories by feature here). The aim is to make the general workflow and the progress of individual items clear to participants and stakeholders.
Other uses Edit
Although it is usually used for software development and software teams, the kanban method has been applied to other aspects of knowledge work.  . Business functions which have used kanban include:
- Human resources and recruitment 
- Organizational strategy and executive leadership