If you were to search the term “lean”, I am pretty sure you would find a plethora of definitions with regards to what lean is and how to implement or utilize its principles. For example, you may hear or read phrases like “minimizing waste,” “maximizing customer value,” “continuous improvement,” and “respect for people.” Perhaps you even saw some of the lean tools like“5S”, “Value Stream Mapping” or “Kanban.”
For more than a few decades now, people have been trying to define lean by listing its principles or spitting out the names of some of lean’s elements or tools. But what do those words mean and what are these tools doing at their core tenet? That is the question.
I would contend that there is a better definition of lean. That definition would be associated more with the “mindset” than with the “action,” more closely associated with the “blueprint” than the “saw or hammer.” What good is the saw or hammer if I can’t read the blueprint to build the house? What good is the action taken if the mindset behind the action is not taking me toward my proverbial “finish line” or goal? In lean, we may call that goal the target condition. Notice that we are not calling it just a target. Nor are we calling it the target outcome. A condition is a state of being and we are looking to understand what is happening from two standpoints;
“What are we doing?”
“What is the outcome of that action?”
These two questions will help us define our Current Condition and are intricately tied to Pascal Dennis’ thoughts on the lean mindset. In 2006 Pascal Dennis summed up lean thinking (the mindset) in his book “Getting the Right Things Done,” with just a few questions:
“What should be happening?”
“What is actually happening?”
The difference here lies in comprehending that we must understand and explain our current condition before understanding and explaining the gaps between our Target and Current Conditions. The lean mindset lives in this understanding. To begin with, we can utilize the principles and tools of lean to define the Current Condition and address the gaps between it and our Target Condition because we understand the root causes of those gaps.