Lean thinking, what is it?

Lean thinking

I mentioned the phrase, lean thinking pretty often.  As I indicated before, the term was coined by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.  It is used to describe the process of making business decisions based on Lean Principles.  

What are the principles of lean?

  1. Customer Value 
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream and eliminate waste.
  3. Make the value-add steps flow.
  4. Let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.
  5. Continuous Improvement 

The foundation of lean thinking

This list of principles is the foundation of the Lean system.  It is a collection of thoughts, behaviors, or propositions that guide what we had known as Lean Thinking.  

All effort directed to improve a process starts with identifying value from the customer lenses.  The continuous improvement goal is to deliver the Customer the highest product or service quality, at the lowest possible cost, in the shortest lead time.  Consequently, the focus of all our decisions is quality, cost, delivery, and people.  In other words, the focus is on those things that the customer value.

Process Improvement and the customer

If the focus is on customer value, then it is logical that the next step is to identify the value stream. That is to say, to identify all the steps from request to delivery and eliminate waste.  Waste is defined as those steps that do not add value.

The third principle is to make the value-add steps flow.  Eliminating delays, waiting time, and other sources of waste, the flow improves.  Therefore, the total process time would be shorter. Once this happens, let them pull value from the next upstream step.  That is to say, that your clients will indicate when they need more inventory.  Continuous improvement is the repetition of the first four principles.  Once you improve one process, standardize, train, and start improving again.

Lean thinking vs. traditional thinking

It is necessary to put aside old behaviors and ways to change the culture by embracing continuous improvement thinking.  To make decisions based on customer value and flow is not what you learned in business school.  Give your team the power to change things is not common either.

The table below presents various examples of each thinking type, side by side.  You will recognize some principles and behaviors that I mentioned in previous posts.  For example, to empower the team to improve their workplace versus bringing external resources.

Lean thinking vs traditional thinking

It takes time to get used to this type of thinking.  However, practice lean thinking every day, everywhere, by everybody is worth it.  Above all, your customers will notice the difference, and your business bottom-line will be better.

What is and how to use a spaghetti chart?

A spaghetti chart or spaghetti plot is a process analysis tool.  This simple and effective tool is to trace the path of a given activity.  You can visualize the flow of people, information, or materials through the system or area.  Its name comes from the similarity in how a noodle dish looks and the diagram.

The continuous flow enables the identification of waste within the system.  For example, you would be able to see how many times a person has to walk to the printing room to get his/her hardcopies.  

How to draw a spaghetti chart

The following are the basic steps to draw the spaghetti diagram.

  1. Get or draw a map of the area.
  2. Define the first and last steps of the process you are going to analyze.
  3. Starting with the first step of the process, draw a continuous line or arrow pointing to the end of that step.
  4. Draw a line or arrow from there to the end of the second step.
  5. Repeat until reaching the last step.

You can support the information from this chart, measuring the distance between steps and adding how many times each station or point is reached during one cycle.  The time it takes to travel between points helps to calculate what percentage of the time the employee is moving between areas, which is waste.  Below you can see an example of a diagram used to illustrate the movements of laboratory technicians while completing one test.

what is an spaghetti chart?