Lean is much more than a toolkit, it is a philosophy. This fact is often repeated in many Lean books, but it is rare for those books to go deep into the value base of Lean, to reduce Lean to its bare core, and to build it back from there. Yet, that is exactly what I want to do now.
There is one rather simple question about values that is at the core of Lean. Your answer to this question determines for the most part whether Lean is for you or not.
The ultimate question
The question is this: Do you believe that the perfection of the system and of all individuals within it is the ultimate goal?
The question consists of two components, the perfection of the system and the perfection of the individuals. Both of these elements are vitally important, because perfection of the system alone would not result in the wide involvement of people that is Lean and perfection of people alone would not result in the strong system that is Lean. If you only want to perfect the system, then Taylorism has some attractive features for you. If you only want to perfect the individuals, the individualistic cultures of companies such as Supercell and Netflix should be interesting.
It should be noted that Supercell and Netflix, for example, are quite successful companies. You do not have to be Lean in order to successful, even though Lean is one path to success, and perhaps the most obvious one for large enterprises that build highly complex products. Ultimately, it is still a choice of values, not of means, that is at the core of being Lean or not.
All of Toyota’s values are based on perfection
Toyota has defined the Toyota Way as two groups of values: respect for people that consists of respect and teamwork and continuous improvement that consists of challenge, kaizen, and genchi gembutsu. All of these values are ultimately based on perfection of both the system and all the individuals in it.
Challenge is about long-term vision and realizing one’s dreams. This is simply striving for perfection: it is not achievable in a short period of time, and it is the ultimate dream state. The factual claim added here is that perfection is not instantly achievable.
Kaizen is continuous improvement. This is also motivated by perfection, building the system closer and closer to perfection one step at a time. The factual claim added here is that it is not possible to build a perfect system in one go.
Genchi gembutsu means going to the source to find the facts. The factual claim added here is that the scientific method is the means by which to move toward perfection.
Respect and teamwork are about attempting to understand one another, building mutual trust, and growing together. The factual claim added here is that cooperation is needed for the best results.
Other common Lean values are also based on perfection
The Lean Enterprise Institute’s definition of Lean expands Toyota’s stated values with two important goals: maximizing customer value and minimizing waste. Both of these are also based on perfection. The factual claims are that a perfect system maximizes customer value and that the perfect system includes no waste.
Is Lean for you checklist
In summary, Lean is for you if you accept the following statements:
- The perfection of the system and of all individuals within it is the ultimate goal
- The perfect system maximizes customer value
- The perfect system has no waste
- Perfection is not attainable in a short period of time
- It is not possible to build a perfect system in one go
- Scientific method is the means by which to move toward perfection
- Cooperation is needed for the best results
Photo: Pink perfection cherry by Wendy Cutler @ Flickr (CC)