There’s always a more efficient and effective process — and the lean management approach aims to help your team find it.

Increased efficiency and efficacy mean teams are more productive while delivering a higher-quality product. That’s the ideal business goal, and organizations that want to reach it must implement a culture of continuous improvement so every employee knows how to evaluate and refine workflows. The lean management method helps leaders foster this culture, maximizing output quality while minimizing waste.

What’s lean management?

Lean is a management method that focuses on continual process improvements that result in higher product quality and customer satisfaction rates. The central goal is to reduce waste, like task redundancies and ineffective technologies, while adding product value.

The lean management system originated in Japan during the late 1940s as Toyota focused on reducing waste in their production process while prioritizing product quality. The idea was that teams didn’t have to only focus on scaling and increasing ROI to save money — they could also eliminate waste and create better products. Toyota had such success by implementing this model that the lean management system is now a core process and production-improvement approach worldwide.

The 5 key lean management principles

Teams implementing the lean management approach align themselves with the following five principles.

1. Identify product value

You can only offer a valuable product or service if you know what your target audience wants. Determine what you have to offer, how this compares to competitor offerings, and if there are any gaps you can fill. Then, make this company offering visible throughout shared workspaces and team meetings to ensure everyone keeps this customer value proposition in mind as they work toward completing initiatives.

2. Conduct value stream mapping

Value stream mapping involves creating process flowcharts that showcase the following:

  • Product material flow
  • Information flow
  • Where customer demands come in
  • Where suppliers come in

The aim is to better understand how products make it from inception to customer, finding ways to increase customer value throughout.

3. Create flow

Value stream mapping also helps you audit processes for improvement areas. Use these visualizations to pinpoint and mitigate bottlenecks, delays, and inefficiencies to create better workflows.

4. Develop a pull system

In a traditional push-style task system, leaders create tasks and assign team members. But this can lead to employees sitting around waiting for work or contributing lower-quality efforts because they’re overworked. Instead, establish a pull system where employees can “pull” tasks from a backlog when they’re ready. This also involves only having items in the backlog when there’s customer demand, so employees always work on necessary items and not extraneous work.

5. Continually improve

Lean’s most central goal is to promote a culture of continuous improvement. You can foster this workplace environment by:

  • Encouraging employee feedback about more efficient methods
  • Creating a process auditing schedule where assigned employees review and adjust current flowcharts
  • Scheduling frequent meetings where teams can discuss inefficiencies and frustrations
  • Sending out client and customer surveys to gain feedback on product and service value, quality, and timeliness
  • Having project managers focus on balancing their project management triangle throughout planning and execution

Lean versus agile management

Both lean and agile methods focus on continuous improvement and flexibility, but there are a few important differences.

Lean management’s core goals are:

  • Eliminating activities that don’t enhance customer value
  • Reducing resource waste (including time, costs, and materials)
  • Boosting performance and product quality
  • Constantly improving workflows

While still improvement-minded, agile management focuses more on flexibility and speed, with the core goals being:

  • Creating a workable product quickly
  • Delivering frequent customer value through features and updates
  • Breaking projects into smaller sprints or product increments
  • Slowly scaling agile as an organization grows

While these methods differ in core goals, they’re not mutually exclusive, and you can adopt a lean-agile approach to create a waste-free and strategic team that continuously delivers high-quality products and features to customers.

Pros and cons of the lean management approach

Adopting lean management principles helps teams create an efficient work environment and increase productivity and quality. Here are a few more advantages of this operational style:

  • Intelligent business processes: Implementing a pull system means you and your team only do the work required to meet customer demand.
  • Increased focus and value: Because lean management decreases wasteful activities and resources, you and your team can concentrate on the tasks that produce value.
  • Enhanced productivity and efficiency: Through lean management, you streamline activities and eliminate waste, helping teams become more efficient by producing more with the same or fewer resources.
  • Better quality: As lean management emphasizes identifying and eliminating wasteful procedures, more time is available to improve products and features.
  • Continuous overall improvement: Lean encourages employees to keep their eyes peeled for weaknesses, meaning your organization constantly improves as it grows.

The lean management approach offers valuable benefits like increased customer satisfaction and improved product quality. But it’s not perfect for all teams and situations, as it suffers from the following challenges:

  • Could be met with resistance to change: You may encounter resistance to the lean management system from team members and managers who find their traditional management and production models more comfortable.
  • Takes time to implement: Onboarding a lean management system can be challenging and complex, as it requires an overhaul of your infrastructure and a significant amount of time training stuff and fostering this culture shift.
  • Might be over-focused on data: This approach leans heavily on data to determine performance improvements and find inefficiencies. When implementing this method, you’ll want to find ways to consider more qualitative data, like employees who feel frustrated by a slow process (even if the data “says” it’s fine), to keep your team satisfied.

Industry-specific lean management examples

Some industries enjoy lean management’s advantages more than others. Here are a few industry-specific examples showcasing the lean management style in action:

  • Software development: Developers can use value stream mapping to pinpoint redundant coding, poor QC testing procedures, and non-valuable success metrics.
  • Accounting: An accounting team might “be lean” by developing a process to track only the financial data and metrics that matter and making financial reporting more relevant and easier to comprehend.
  • Healthcare: Working with lean management principles in mind might help healthcare professionals improve patient care, shorten wait times, and cut costs by eliminating unnecessary bottlenecks and administrative tasks.
  • Manufacturing: The progenitors of lean management, manufacturing companies follow lean principles and practices to reduce material waste and produce by demand instead of creating a product backlog.

Let Tempo’s tools ease the implementation process

You’ve decided to implement a lean management approach — now you need efficient tools to streamline this process. Create an implementation roadmap with Roadmunk by Tempo so everyone understands what this transition will look like. Then, track timelines and progress with Timesheets by Tempo.