Lean is not an exact answer but rather, it should exist as a mentality within the context of continually advancing the overall organizational health and development of a company and its people. In the pursuit of generating revenue as efficiently as possible, lean is a critical component, but only to the extent that it supports the muscle of performance.
Take the Olympic swimmer as an example. She must first build the strength in her shoulders, legs, arms, and back necessary to propel her mass quickly through the water and endure the length of the race. To be completive she must be strong enough to keep up with the competition. If she only worked on thinning down her physique she would never have the strength to weight ratio to excel in the sport. In the same fashion, our swimmer would not spend endless hours at the gym building her biceps as the muscle group, while important, would be inefficient in isolated development.
Too often leaning out waste is the only focus of operational improvement without the corresponding commitment to strengthening critical support muscle. As complex systems organizations need to take a holistic approach to development and view waste reduction as a singular component of a broader program. This often requires investing in new equipment, training, or hiring of a certain skill set in order to reduce existing waste by leveraging new gains in organizational strength. A true lean program must have a budget to support the efforts of improvement, and not be viewed as a “something for nothing” solution.