Lean management, despite the use of the Anglo-Saxon term lean, is not a simple cost reduction method, but a process ofcontinuous improvement. It is based on the mobilization of teams to converge in stages towards optimal methods for better production.

The origin and principles of lean management

The methods used (and the concept itself) come from Japan, even if they are known in France under this American name. This process of optimizing productivity through team involvement was formalized in the Toyota factories. toyotism“. It is therefore absolutely not a simple method of reducing expenses, as some “cost killers” have argued: it is significant that this approach was first used in the country of lifetime employment, where it was unthinkable to lay off certain employees! The goal is to reduce unnecessary costs, but first and foremost to eliminate waste. It is a question of avoiding energy losses, by annihilating everything that is not useful for production: no useless stocks, no oversized lines, no supply delays, etc. The ideal to aim for is “just-in-time”, enabling the production of exactly the product required at the time required with the necessary resources. One of the key elements is not to try to impose changes: you have to involve the people concerned by taking them with you and not just by inviting them to purely formal meetings. This participatory approach obviously makes it easier to obtain the support of the personnel, but above all it is a way to benefit from their knowledge and expertise.

A sustainable development approach

Lean management should not be conceived as the good idea of the year, implemented on a one-off basis and quickly forgotten afterwards. It is a continuous system for identifying problems and solving them in a sustainable way. Whatever the tools and methods used (kaizen philosophy, gemba method, use of Six Sigma, etc.), it is essential to take a long-term view: the improvement of the system must be continuous and sustainable. The participation and involvement of the employees contribute to this sustainability: if the employees in charge of the work have been listened to and their feedback has been heard, they will easily comply with the new standards. If not, they will soon forget what they see as an employer’s fad, and return to the bad habits of yesteryear! The implementation of adequate indicators (e.g. monitoring of actual stocks) makes it possible to verify that the asset is well maintained over the months. Successive iterations are a way to refine the result: it is natural to first implement the most efficient actions to quickly reduce costs and waste, and then continue with the development of other more marginal ways to improve productivity. The process thus leads to a gradual convergence towards optimal production. The cyclicality of the process allows both the follow-up of previous iterations and the resolution of possible new problems.

A tool to implement

a continuous improvement process?

The principles of the kaizen approach

This Japanese term can be broken down into two words meaning respectively “change” (kai) and “better” (zen). From an etymological point of view, it is simply a change for the better! The principle is to involve all the actors in this continuous optimization of work: each employee thus becomes an actor of the approach, instead of being the executor of reforms decided by the leaders.

This real and effective involvement of all staff is the real driver of success: each employee often knows much more than they think, and even than they think themselves, and can contribute to good practice. By being willingly involved, he will be more productive and more faithful to what is desired. There are practical tools that can be used to get you fully into this virtuous cycle of improvement. It is possible, for example, to use the Deming wheel of the PDCA approach.

The acronym PDCA (Plan, Develop, Control, Adjust) is a handy way to remember the necessary cycle, to ensure that the good ideas of the first hour are not forgotten along the way and that they actually produce the desired effects. Six Sigma, on the other hand, consists of monitoring the deviations observed in relation to the optimum, in order to minimise them and, in an ideal world, to reduce them to zero: it is thus possible to progress towards perfect standardisation, i.e. towards the “zero defect” which has made the success and reputation of the largest Japanese companies.

The monitoring of the defined indicators is also an essential means of ensuring that the approach is indeed producing the desired result: this will allow for rapid rectification if necessary, but also to note the concrete effects induced. These observed and materialized benefits are in fact the equivalent of the return on investment (ROI) of marketing: they allow us to reassure ourselves as to the real effectiveness of what has been done! They can even be used to calculate a collective bonus to reward staff for their effective involvement.

The kaizen continuous improvement method is a step-by-step optimization approach. This variant of lean management allows to fight against waste and to optimize the global performance of the company.