What is the point of lean?

Business is business right? The Goal (Goldratt) is to make money, it’s very true, because if a business does not make money, then it cannot survive. This is where lots of organisations have actually missed the point of lean (and or six sigma in fact). 

Many of these organisations see lean as a way to make more money, which is actually an abuse of the tools and methodologies. Lean, in itself, was actually developed to reduce the time between customer order and being paid by the customer, not to increase profit. The tools can have the effect of increasing profit, definitely, and of course there is nothing wrong with that in itself. The problem comes when lean ends up abusing the business, paring it down beyond the bone and negatively affecting the business itself and the people in it.

The latest incarnation of lean is starting to really focus on people, unfortunately, this has not yet hit ‘mainstream’ lean facilitators or big consultancies. I have observed that lean in so many organisations I have worked in, is seen primarily as a cost saving effort, rather than a cultural effort. My view is that this relates to most modern business being much more short term focussed than those who take the cultural aspect as the key driver. Take a look at Simon Sinek’s book ‘The Infinite Game’ if you want a deeper understanding of the thinking here.

All that said, business is business and The Goal is certainly to make money, but I think there is a need to find a balance and for business not to be solely financially driven, we must also consider our people and show them the respect they deserve. Organisations are about people, they are about much more than making money, every business actually has a purpose (besides The Goal), the money is the fuel to achieve the purpose, not the other way around.