Lean Management - What is it actually good for?

"Make us agile." "We just have to become more efficient." Many companies are struggling in the search for a miracle cure. There is no right method. How can lean management help?


Originally, lean management came from production and became known under the name of lean production. Toyota has been a pioneer here since the 1950s. The aim is to avoid any form of unnecessary process steps, costs or errors. At the same time, the best possible quality and added value should result for the customer. The result is highly efficient processes with a high degree of customer orientation. These processes are designed according to the following criteria:

  • only one approach in the entire company (all departments follow a given pattern)

  • precise, standardized process definitions with clear interface descriptions and responsibilities (avoidance of waste, e.g. clear job descriptions)

  • flexible fulfillment of customer requests (customer involvement, e.g. indigo blue car with parking aid and special steering wheel, etc.)

  • strive for zero error tolerance and continuous improvement of processes (inclusion of employees and their knowledge, e.g. avoiding food waste in retail)

Lean Management is now used in all sorts of areas such as Leadership, Development, Construction, Healthcare, Supply Chain, Administration, Green Management, Laboratory.


Where does the approach reach its limits?

Lean management is not just simply "making processes efficient". It requires a fundamental change in the company. The corporate culture that is tailored to this must be lived by the director Häberli through to the cleaning man Stettler.


In my opinion, lean makes companies flexible, not agile. This is where opinions differ. One thing is certain, agility goes beyond flexibility and proactively anticipates change. In a highly competitive or rapidly and constantly changing environment, the most innovative company wins. However, methods that really promote innovation are hampered by clearly defined boundaries and processes. But maybe a combination is possible...


Do you have to hire an expensive external consultant for the implementation?

Not necessarily. It all depends on the complexity and size of your business. And maybe you already employ internal staff who already have the necessary mindset and method skills? In any case, it is important that lean management is practiced and supported by management. Why should Mr. Stettler live it up if Mrs. Häberli doesn't do it and throws the money out the window?


Who or what is it really good for?

Anyone who wants to focus their company on efficiency and customer orientation is certainly well served. For 18 years this has been one of my main tools in the design and digitization of business processes. The approach is highly process-driven and requires a high level of awareness from all employees to avoid wasting time and resources.


It also connects external customer processes with internal employee processes, enabling a smooth flow. A company becomes super-efficient when it practices lean management in ALL departments, from development to customer service. These so-called E2E processes (end-to-end) have a major impact on a good customer experience and drive sales upwards. Because loyal customers buy up to 40% more.


The next few years will show how well Lean Management is able to cope with the new challenges (e.g. VUCA volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). I personally mix other approaches with the lean-approach. But more on that in the next blog.