Monday, August 7, 2017

Is Lean a Set of Principles or a Set of Tools?

By Pascal Dennis (bio)

“What is your thinking way, Pascal-san?”

Thanks all, for your thoughtful replies to the above question. Fine insights from many good people.

I’m reminded of a gemstone, that when held to the light reveals an array of color.

I suggested that Lean is a set of principles that turn into methods & tools, and that the latter may vary with the application.

Principles are ideas; methods are the action that bring them to life. To quote my friend & colleague, Skip Steward, “Principles and methods work hand in hand. Without one, the other will fail…”

A core principle like ‘Make Problems Visible’ will entail different methods in different situations. Different methods in, say, a consumer goods supply chain, than in a hospital pharmacy.

Much of my personal practice entails coaching senior executives. I start with the principles, which immediately gets their interest. Underlying message: “Lean is a transformational strategy, hard to do, but a game-changer.”

Starting with tools sends a different message. “Lean is like a skilled trade – helpful, useful, worth doing, but not a game-changer.”

Many of you wrote that Lean is a culture, a way of thinking. Well said, and I would add: we create a culture when a large group of people understand, absorb and consistently practice a set of principles.

Our Toyota senseis emphasized principles above all. A common question: “What is your thinking way?”

Lean principles (thinking) are the road to transformation. They open the door for elegant, intuitive and useful Lean methods, and help senior leaders understand Lean’s full potential.

Best regards,


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