Becoming a Lean Company

As January comes to a close and February begins, many of our well- intentioned New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside. Even if we have had less than stellar success, we needn’t completely give up. This year we can show improvement if we exert even some effort.


A common resolution for many of us is to lose a few pounds. Many companies also have on their wish list becoming “lean”. Of course while these two goals are different, a similarity may be that like a person, a lean company is healthier.

Lean companies are healthier and sustain a competitive advantage not only by keeping costs down; they’re also responsive and adaptable to customer demand. By continuing to focus on shorter cycle times and consistent product and service quality, they increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. The emphasis in successful lean companies is on continuous improvement.

The goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate non-value-added activities or waste. Examples of waste are: over production, inventory, over processing, defects, scrap and rework, excess motion and transportation, and waiting time.

As a consultant with exposure to different companies with different situations, it has become easier to zero in on where waste is occurring in a company and what steps would most quickly eliminate that waste.

The time required to convert traditional companies to lean ones varies across industries, and even across firms in the same industry. There is no one way for a company to implement lean. Some companies train their employees in lean principles and then phase in implementation. Other companies bring in lean experts to get quick results.

Many companies have implemented ISO 9001 or are considering it in the short term. Lean manufacturing and traditional quality programs are actually very complementary processes. ISO is from a process perspective, and Lean is from a small-lot or “pull” production perspective.

ISO requires companies to look at every process and procedure with one basic goal in mind: to produce a quality product. The most fundamental goal of ISO is quality, and when companies implement ISO properly, they meet, and exceed, that goal. Lean manufacturing looks at every process to find and eliminate waste. Quality improvements are a requirement of lean manufacturing.

Leap to lean!
Leap to lean!

It’s amazing how few companies are willing to take the leap into lean. Some years ago I spoke to an MBA class at UC Berkley on the topic of “Alphabet Soup, what acronym to use”. The students were interested in the message as it came from someone actively practicing many of the JIT, TQM MRP acronyms during my tenure with Black & Decker. Now as a consultant I play an important role in helping my clients sort out and successfully apply the appropriate acronyms.

Of course, improvement in companies doesn’t come from applying strategies like lean or ISO. It really comes from analyzing your own situation and figuring out where you need help and what strategies will work with that.

So, be conscious as you start to look at these strategies. You have to fit what is right for you. I don’t think companies are different, but each company is certainly unique, and they have to look at what’s available and say what is going to work best. Ask, “Where are the priorities in our organization?”

By AEM Consulting Group, Inc.