Myth Busters: tackling the biggest misconceptions about Lean

Those of us who help companies implement Lean thinking know the methodology is often misunderstood at the onset of an engagement. It’s regularly the case that “Lean” is considered to be just another industry buzz word, associated with cost cutting exercises. And, indeed, the word itself is misleading. By definition, to make something lean is to cut back, to trim the fat. But in the business context, Lean does much more than that; it provides a well-rounded approach to business processes and resources, to find ways of doing things better.

Below, we’re debunking some of the top myths we’ve heard during our many years helping companies go Lean.

Myth #1 – Lean is only for manufacturing companies

Companies not in the manufacturing industry often believe Lean is a tool used for businesses with conveyor belts and production lines. Yes; the Lean philosophy was born out of a manufacturing environment (Toyota), but the ethos can be adopted in virtually every situation – business or personal. Because the “work” is harder to see in non-production processes, the visibility Lean brings often leads to greater improvement. Consider it in this way: if there is a process, Lean can help. From processing a customer query to filing invoices, writing a thesis to cleaning dirty laundry –all involve a series of steps to successfully complete the task. These tasks can be assessed, reviewed and, where possible, improved to make them more efficient.

Myth #2 – Lean = Job Loss

People are a key pillar, at the heart of the Lean philosophy –focusing on their improvement is key to implementing Lean successfully. Lean is not a job cutting exercise and, when done correctly, it helps stabilise the business, avoiding a “hire when demand is up, fire when demand is low” attitude. Reviews may identify that some workers are inefficient or that roles are impacting a company’s bottom-line, but this highlights areas of opportunity. Lean supports staff development by identifying training and mentoring needs; ways to fill knowledge gaps and areas for improvement to develop a highly-skilled, dependable workforce.

Myth #3 – Lean is stressful for staff

It’s not Lean which is stressful for people; it’s change. Lean brings clarity, simplicity and less stress. In our experience, the clear direction, clarity of roles and responsibilities and a clear understanding of performance take stress out of the job. Being creatures of habit, we often tend to have a natural aversion to change. When rolling out a Lean programme it’s imperative to be inclusive and to support change with effective, two-way communications. For Lean to succeed, buy-in from staff of all levels is required – driven not only from the top, but from within.

Myth #4 – Lean is a temporary solution

Lean isn’t just a temporary fix, something to add to a to-do list, or to help you reach your goals and then ta-da, you’re finished. For real success, Lean must become a new way of doing, transforming behaviours to make things better. Think of it like a diet – the results might come fast, but unless you commit to changing your habits, the success will be short-lived. Lean is as a journey, something done habitually over the long-term to create sustainable behavioural changes and continuous improvement for your company.


Any other Lean myths that need to be busted? Send your favourite to jenthompson@lbspartners.ie and we’ll post a follow-up to debunk any further mistruths.

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