Lean Management

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"Before make cars, we make people" Eiji Toyoda, former chairman of Toyota

Lean is synonymous with excellence: efficiency and effectiveness. All succesful businesses today use Lean principles and tools: Just in Time, Value Stream Mapping (VSM), Kaizen (continual improvement), Smed techniques, Proactivity, 5S... The only banks where the state did not have to intervene to save them from financial crisis were the Canadians, through risk sharing and cooperating (like lean philosophy). (See "Financial Times" What Canada Can Teach the world? "By Chrystia Freeland, January 31 / 2010).

The Lean concept  appeared first in the book The Machine That Changed the World "(Womack, Jones, Roos, 1991). In 1996 “Lean Thinking" (Womack, 
Jones) shows the five steps in lean transformation: 

1. Identify the value 

2. Analyze the value stream 

3. Create flow 

4. Establish a pull system, facing a push system 

5. Seek perfection

These are industrial concepts and its origin dates back to the Toyota Production System. In the 1950-1960 periods, Toyota founders learned from American supermarkets and Ford mass production system. They developed their own method of automobile manufacturing from a unique Japanese culture and its small market (an island).

The other Japanese manufacturers copied the system and the rest worlwide automotive industry too. Since the 90s, lean concept is being developed in universities, companies of any sector (with mixed results) and many books and articles are published on the subject. Nowadays,  they don´t just talk about lean for the industry, but  also is present in others sectors, such as: Lean Accounting, Lean Healthcare, Lean Consulting, Lean Logistics, Lean Hotels, Lean Design and of course, Lean Construction.

To introduce the concept of Lean Management there is a scheme that I think is very appropriate; the Toyota's home that is reflected in the book by Jeffrey Liker: The Toyota Way (2003).


1. Goal of the Toyota Production System: Eliminate waste. Value added activities. 

2. Energy, the heart of TPS: People

3. The philosophy at the foundation. 

- Standardized activities

- Pull system. Appearance of internal customer. 

- Heijunka. Leveled production. 

- Philosophy: teamwork (own employees and suppliers), respect, Kaizen (continual improvement), observation of processes and service to society. 

4. JIT. Just In Time: "Producing what the customer asks, in the amount requested, at minimum cost and when he wants"

- Meet the planning

- Create flow

- Supply Chain Management

5. JIDOKA (Automation)

- Standardize operations

- 5S

- Stop and solve

- Unify models in the initial phase of construction (Postponement).

- Create poka-yokas

Today companies are realizing that not only lean tools are necessary, but also training people in lean behaviours. In this regard, "the golden rule"  of Michael Balle, researcher and consultant with several books about lean, seems very appropiate: "Make people first and then make products". 

Note: If anyone is interested in the reasons for Toyota´s crisis at the beginning of 2010, there is an interesting essay in the articles section.      

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