The Lean Way
“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker
Efficiency. Effectiveness. Elegance in action. That’s the Lean way.
I’m a fan of borrowing principles, patterns, and practices where I can from other disciplines, to improve whatever I do. Lean is a production practice, largely from Toyota’s manufacturing approach, focused on less work, better results. It’s a way to achieve efficiency, effectiveness, and elegance in action. Lean is a great discipline with a rich history and proven practices to draw from. If you want to tune your work or life, take a look at Lean, and if you’re a minimalist, Lean is right up your alley.
A Lean Way of Life
To lean down on things, I focus on reducing waste in my life, while flowing value. I flow value to myself, to others, to my work. By focusing on the end-to-end flow, I get the kinks out, reduce friction, and spend my energy in more meaningful ways. Rather than get things done through heroic efforts, I have the system on my side.
Lean in a Nutshell
Lean is focused on eliminating waste (think "leaning down.") In terms of Lean, waste is spending energy or resources on any goal other than value for your end customer. If you’re applying Lean to your life, that customer can be you. My colleague James Waletzky has a good post on applying Lean principles to software engineering. I think he summarizes a key concept very well:
"You let quality drive your speed by building in quality up front and with increased speed and quality comes lower cost and easier maintenance of the product moving forward."
4 Goals of Lean
The four goals of Lean are:
- Improve quality
- Eliminate waste
- Reduce time
- Reduce total cost
7 Key Principles in Lean
James writes about 7 key principles in Lean:
- Eliminate waste.
- Focus on learning.
- Build quality in.
- Defer commitment.
- Deliver timely.
- Respect people.
- Optimize the whole.
For me, optimizing the whole is a key one. I don’t want to optimize the little things, when bigger things are getting in the way, and make more of a difference. I think the trick with any principles is knowing when to use them and how to apply them in context.
James gives an example of how Toyota defers commitment until the last possible moment:
“Another key idea in Toyota’s Product Development System is set-based design. If a new brake system is needed for a car, for example, three teams may design solutions to the same problem. Each team learns about the problem space and designs a potential solution. As a solution is deemed unreasonable, it is cut. At the end of a period, the surviving designs are compared and one is chosen, perhaps with some modifications based on learning from the others – a great example of deferring commitment until the last possible moment. Software decisions could also benefit from this practice to minimize the risk brought on by big up-front design."
At Microsoft, I see deferring commitment all the time. I see teams prototype multiple solutions to a problem and then pick the best fit. The anti-pattern that I’ve seen is committing to one path too early without putting other options on the table.
7 Types of Waste in Lean
Taiichi Ohno, Toyota’s Chief Engineer, identified the following "seven wastes":
- Defects (don’t meet the expectations)
- Inventory ( more inventory than you need for current demand)
- Motion (extra steps due to inefficient layout)
- Over Processing (rework and reprocessing)
- Overproduction (occurs when production should have stopped)
- Transport (unnecessary movement of materials)
- Waiting (periods of inactivity)
I think reducing wasted motion is especially interesting. This is where you can really focus on your deliberate practice or Kaizen. Economy of motion is the name of the game. I’ve heard that swimmers that break new records, complete their performance in less strokes than previous records. As their performance goes up, the strokes go down, as they improve their efficiency and effectiveness of their technique.
How can you use Lean principles in your efforts? … your organization? … your life?
Photo by Randy Son of Robert.