It’s All About The People


By: Ronette Kersting

The most important Lean discipline is the challenge of creating and sustaining the commitment and engagement of the people doing the work.  Mastery of the technical details of Lean thinking is never enough. The Lean principles of continuous improvement, respect for people, and a relentless focus on delivering customer value are making teams and organizations rethink practices that have guided them for decades.  A new, transformative approach to working requires a transformation in leadership as well. Practicing Lean management principles could require a shift in mindset, from that of a supervisor to that of a teacher or coach.  Lean management is not a set of defined methods, tools, or practices.  It would be more accurately defined as a management philosophy, a long-term approach that systematically seeks to improve processes and products through incremental changes. As Peter Drucker said, “The essence of management is not techniques and procedures. The essence of management is to make knowledge productive.”  Here are some Lean management principles that can help obtain their full potential.



The role of a Lean leader is that of a coach. They encourage continuous improvement, experimentation, and learning. They align their teams around a common goal that should help guide every decision.  They provide the team with tools for success and encourage them to make decisions. Guidance and leadership are provided as needed; however, they trust in the skills, knowledge, and experience of the team.



Lean leaders create an environment that fosters continuous improvement, by asking guiding questions, supporting teams as they test hypotheses, and celebrating improvements.  The role of the leader is not to do the work, or to micromanage the work; it’s to lead teams toward prioritizing the right work, which will result in the most value for the customer.



To maximize customer value, it is critical to understand how value flows through your organization, from the moment the work is requested until it is received by the customer. Lean is often equated with the elimination of waste (as defined by the customer).  Waste is anything the customer is not willing to pay for.  Lean leaders are relentlessly focused on eliminating any activity or process that does not directly benefit the customer.



Lean management allows leaders to build sustainable, healthy companies built on a foundation of respect, learning, and continuous improvement.  For long-term sustainment, it is important to develop lean leaders who understand both the how of doing Lean, as well as the why behind the tool. True Lean transformation is achieved and sustained when people have successfully changed how they operate, think, and learn.

To learn more about Lean Six Sigma, click here.