What Is Lean Management?

K.C. Bruning
K.C. Bruning
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Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Lean management is the continuous process of eliminating and avoiding waste in an organization in order to save resources and produce a better product. Also known as lean production, or simply lean, it can be used in any kind of business but is most commonly found in manufacturing, where the system originated. The philosophy of lean management, which was developed by Toyota, is based on the idea that three primary kinds of waste must be reduced in order to smooth the flow production and improve the quality of the resulting product. They are mura, or unevenness, muri, which means overburden, and muda, which is non-value-adding work.

By adhering to the three principles of lean management, an organization can reduce material costs, labor costs, and the amount of time needed for production. The absence of waste can also improve the ability of an organization to manage quality control, thus resulting in a more uniformly high-quality product. By applying these ideas to the whole system, rather than focusing on individual problems, it can be easier to see how the elements of an organization relate to each other and what is necessary to enable them to interconnect in a productive way.

One of the key elements of successful lean management is flexibility. This includes a willingness to continually change systems in order to ensure that they are optimized for current needs and future productivity. It also requires that management accept input from all levels of the organization, rather than enforcing rigid control. The overall goal is to improve processes by humanizing them with the use of organic logic rather than strangling progress with systematic restrictions.

Another important element of lean management is the reduction of inventory. If systems are operating at optimum efficiency, inventory should be low to non-existent. In addition to ultimately lowering costs, a reduced inventory requires less management and thus prevents waste of workforce resources. There should also be as little waste as possible during the process of and as a result of production.

While the basic principles of lean management have endured, Toyota’s philosophy of a smooth work flow has been modified and refined by several organizations. Over time, more resources have been focused on building tools and processes that reduce and eliminate waste. This is accomplished by targeting problem areas in addition to making system-wide improvements. Ultimately, the methods of lean management have varied widely, but the final goal of eliminating waste has remained constant.

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