Lean management: Waste-free value creation processes

Lean management is a philosophy of holistic thinking and action aimed at designing and executing value creation processes with as little waste as possible. Waste includes not only excessive use of materials and energy, but also unused time, e.g. idle time, and avoidable (intermediate) transport.

The Lean Management concept has been taken up by REFA (German authority for time and motion studies) methods. With these time and motion studies methods, work systems can be analyzed for their efficiency. In this case the aim is to shorten process times without compromising quality. Often, work processes that are carried out by employees interact with work processes that are carried out by machines. The trick is then to use the given machine cycle times to prepare further workpieces for machine processing, to rework processed workpieces or to carry out logistical work. For expensive machines, the optimization should consist of keeping the machine in production all the time. If the machine is purely a tool and the employee is the more expensive resource, the machine should support the employee in the best possible way.

However, beyond the pure consideration of closed work systems, as REFA puts it, it is above all the material flow in the overall process that should be optimized. In some cases, certain concessions to efficiency in one work system can improve the entire operational flow. Ideally, you also include supplier- and customer-side processes in this flow. The precise definition of processes and interfaces is a requirement of lean management.  This is how you achieve high overall efficiency. However, make sure you keep your organization agile and adaptable despite defined processes.

You should always strive for lean structures in any case. However, the importance of coordination tasks increases with complexity. Therefore, organizations in complex environments will no longer be able to be managed as leanly as was the ideal in the early 1990s.

Efficiency is not the highest good. In a dynamic-complex world, consider stability as the first goal. With “Lean Thinking” you reach your limit here. This is why Lean Management is occasionally even dismissively referred to as “neo-Taylorism”. And that is not entirely wrong. Lean management is not the all-purpose weapon that can solve all problems. Above all, you also need flexibility and adaptability, which unfortunately usually decreases with increasing efficiency. Good management is a balance of both goals: efficiency and stability. For this ongoing balance to succeed, an effective feedback culture is essential. Leadership can significantly help to achieve such a feedback culture.


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