What is the Lean Enterprise?

what-is-the-lean-enterprise-821025-edited.pngMy brother is a psychologist in the amazing northern gold mining town of Timmins, Ontario. We often try to spend time together in the south so he can enjoy some sun.  Recently, we were hiking in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and, at one point during our hike, he stopped me to let me know that I wasn't actually hiking with him. His observation was that I was thirty-feet ahead, and it appeared as if I was ruminating. I had to ask him what ruminating meant. 

He let me know that ruminating is when you cycle through a concept or problem in your mind repeatedly, over and over, as if in an endless loop.

I couldn't disagree that I, in fact, tend to ruminate. It was neat to learn that the technique has an actual name. However, I needed to ask him, from a psychologist’s point of view, whether ruminating was a good or bad habit to have?

His answer was that it can be helpful until that point where you ruminate without any new facts coming into the rumination. That without new facts, it is simply a circular process that tends to yield no results other than continued worry or concern over the particular matter causing the rumination.

When we got back to the lodge that night, I looked up the definition of ruminate. One definition is connected to a cow chewing its cud ... to ruminate ... to chew again and again what has been slightly chewed and already swallowed.

Ugh.  I’m a ruminator!

I like the word, though. And in some way, I can take pride in my newly recognized skill. And so, with my new awareness in tow, my ruminations turned to what do I tend to ruminate about? Are there shared themes, common denominators to where I like to spend time in circular thinking, constantly searching for new facts to extend the longevity of the rumination?

I concluded one place where I spend a lot of my mind’s time is ... what is the Lean Enterprise? How do you define it?

This is a question that I (and others) am asked often and, I know firsthand, the question can elicit passionate and excited debate. However, just like many great mysteries in the universe, some questions don't have definitive answers. Some questions have different answers depending on the circumstances, the timing of the question, and by whom the question is asked.

Is the Lean Enterprise a learning culture where we learn through solving real business problems with a highly participative lean leadership structure?  Is it a culturally aligned organization that focuses on people development and process management as its core priorities to maximize customer value and eliminate waste? Or perhaps it's an organization who believes flow and stability are the operating principles that should drive manufacturing and supply chain activities across the extended value stream. Or maybe it's all of these things, and another hundred characteristics not listed.

At times, it feels like a paradox bordering upon a juxtaposition.

Which leads to the rumination. If we can't define something objectively and specifically, how do we hope to achieve it? Herein lies the challenge and the opportunity for all Lean practitioners.

The work of defining what the Lean Enterprise means to an organization is, in fact, the gold that is mined throughout the process of determining the definition. In other words, you mine valuable gold in smaller nuggets while searching for the motherload.

The value is in the journey and the destination.

There is equal importance on the process and the result.

It is about leveraging what we know and embracing what we don’t know.

It is about experimenting with new ideas and learning each and every day.

Therefore, it is about living a rewarding life and striving to reach our full potential.

And so, for your organization, what would it mean to be a Lean Enterprise?


Posted by Robert Martichenko

blog author

Robert is CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group. He is also a speaker and award-winning author of several business books - including "Discovering Hidden Profit" and his first novel - "Drift and Hum." Robert has spent over 25 years learning and implementing lean and operational excellence with a focus on end-to-end supply chain management across a wide array of industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and an MBA.

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Lessons in Lean : Lessons in Leadership - The Blog

There is no question that building an organizational culture of continuous improvement is a progressive evolution that takes time. In this blog, Robert Martichenko discusses his lessons learned while building these cultures in our new world of constant disruption - sharing key knowledge that will lead today’s business leaders down the path toward discovering hidden profit. 

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