In The Essence of Lean, David Hinds explores what is at the very core of the Lean method. He defines Lean, explores its methods, and shows how it can be applied in any organization to eliminate wasteful procedures and provide the greatest benefit to employees and customers. The book is especially directed toward leaders who are unfamiliar with Lean but who want to seek out new ways to improve their organizations and help them grow. That said, people already familiar with Lean will also find much beneficial information in these pages.
The book’s foreword is written by Keith and Andrew Koenig, the President and Vice President of City Furniture. They testify to how they improved their business by applying Lean principles. In writing this book, Hinds carried out extensive fieldwork with them and with other organizations that have implemented Lean.
Early in the book, some definitions of Lean are provided although there is no truly standard one. In the Foreword, Keith Koenig describes Lean as “the best management system in the world.” Hinds’ own simplified definition is, “Lean is a vision of how to do work and how to treat people.” Both definitions are very accurate.
Hinds himself is clearly invested in the Lean method and believes in its benefits. His background includes owning a wholesale distribution business where he adopted a Total Quality Management program, which incorporated Lean management principles. Years later, after selling the company and retiring from a thirty-year career in industry and government, Hinds earned a doctorate and pursued an academic career. He saw his new career as the perfect opportunity to keep searching for a better way for businesses to operate, which eventually led to his investigation of Lean and his adoption of it as the best method to improve workflow and work culture. He was astonished to discover that Lean was known in manufacturing but not being applied to other organizations or industries. Consequently, he developed the model he shares in this book to show how Lean can be applied to any business or organization to increase benefits to all the stakeholders involved. In the process of creating that model, he states, “My frame of reference was to explore whether or not Lean was truly a better way for any type of organization. I sorted through the many different organization-specific descriptions and problems reported in the Lean literature in order to identify the true heart of Lean—the essential elements that are most important in driving performance. In some respects, I wanted to know the lowest common denominator of Lean.”
Hinds goes on to describe the unique systems model he created that presents Lean’s essential elements from an overall management perspective. He bases the model on general principles of management, operations, and human behavior, which reveal important insights into how and why the Lean system works so well. The name “Lean” refers to the need to get to the core processes and activities of an organization. The goal is to eliminate anything unnecessary or wasteful, which is defined as anything, such as reports or procedures, that ultimately do not benefit the stakeholders, who include the customers but also employees.
Hinds also defines what Lean is not. He compares it to programs like Six Sigma to show how it is different. He also states that Lean is not “lean and mean.” While it is a process for reduction of waste, that does not equate to downsizing or eliminating people’s jobs. It is not necessarily about cutting costs, although cost-reduction can result from eliminating what is unnecessary, but it is primarily about making work processes flow more smoothly and efficiently and the benefits to be derived from such progress for everyone involved.
Consequently, Lean is a system that seeks employee participation and feedback. It is bottom-up management in which the employees and their ideas are listened to and implemented to make the workflow smoother and more productive.
Once Hinds makes these points clear, he talks about the tools and techniques used by Lean to reduce waste. However, he also makes it clear that Lean is not all method but blends method with culture. He states:
“The method provides tools and techniques for continuously learning about how to better produce value for your customers and for your organization. The culture is essentially a way of treating employees with trust and respect that makes them want to be a part of the system. What is most exciting is recognizing how the method and the culture, when working together in harmony, can produce outstanding organizational performance while at the same time leading to a fulfilling and sometimes even joyful workplace!”
Hinds walks the reader through how to create that fulfilling workplace by dividing the book into four sections, each with multiple chapters. Part One provides an overview of the Lean system model and how to apply it to your organization. Part Two gives an in-depth view of Lean’s method and its principles of waste and flow, which support continuous learning—Lean operates on the principle that there is always improvement to be made, so applying Lean is never done or perfect, but simply continuous. Part Three describes how to create a Lean culture based on principles of bottom-up management and trust and respect among all members of the organization. Part Four explores how to apply the Lean method to a 3-5 day event and how to continue on with your Lean journey. In addition, there is an extensive bibliography of books about or related to Lean and a helpful index.
Prior to reading this book, I was familiar with the Lean method and had even gone through a week-long Lean event many years ago, so I understood its focus on waste reduction, but I was not aware of the many other benefits it provides in terms of its philosophy that “you should only do things that your customer cares about.” I also appreciate that “Lean is about doing change with employees and not about doing change to employees.” Consequently, it truly is about building a culture that will benefit everyone.
Any reader who is looking for a better method of achieving goals and creating a positive workplace environment will find beneficial answers in this book. I encourage you to experience Lean for yourself and enjoy the results.