Agile Reading Glasses: Lean Thinking

Lean thinking has an extreme focus on clients and value. It aims at reducing the amount of wasteful activities by focusing on what is necessary to fulfill clients’ expectations.

To get a better idea of this approach we have to go back to Japan in the 1920’s.

Toyota, the company you might know for building cars, didn’t start in the automotive industry, instead their main field of knowledge was the production and construction of automated looming machines to produce fabrics.

Their main questions was how to increase value of fabric and the answer pretty much ended up in two major areas: increase the density of the threads and reduce the amount of failures.

In order to increase density of the threads they needed to modify the machine in order to reduce the distance between the threads, and in order to reduce defects they had to find a way to detect them faster. To achieve this they started invented the concept of Jidoka which is a way to improve the work of men, through the automation of machines and a continuous improvement cycle. The main goal is to accelerate the feedback loops and allow to detect failure faster so that men can intervene when necessary.

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In this process they identified three major sources of possible waste, which they called the three M’s: So first there is Muri. It stands for overburden or overload. Mainly meaning the overburden of a person or the overload of a machine, being stressed and producing with less quality.

So every time a Muri-situation occurred, they stopped the process, sat down with the team and tried to identify solutions to remove the overburden. Fixing defects after is much more expensive than fixing it on the spot.

Second is Mura. Mura means uneven Flow or unnecessary variations in a workflow. In order to normalize the flow it is necessary to split the larger chunks into smaller ones to reduce the variations. This process implicitly increases the knowledge of the workers, because in order to split larger chunks it is necessary to develop knowledge and share it with others. In this way the flow of work will be normalized and people will be able to adopt good and best practices to approach work more effectively.

And the last one is Muda, meaning wasteful activities. In general this means everything which doesn’t add value to a product or to the client. It can be better identified during work breaks when the flow is stopped and everyone involved can analyze the processes thoroughly. The usage metrics and indicators is a fundamental steps towards identifying possible wastes.

Lean thinking is about focusing on the clients and removing everything which doesn’t add value for them.