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Lean Process Improvement: What it is & How it works in '24

The lean approach is a powerful process improvement strategy for eliminating unnecessary costs and enhancing customer satisfaction. Even though lean methodology was first developed while improving manufacturing processes, it is applied to a wide range of business functions today. With advances in technology, the method now helps companies satisfy today’s higher customer standards and detect unnecessary process steps to reduce costs.

What is the “Lean”?

The lean approach is a strategy for eliminating wasted resources and improving process performance by prioritizing the customer value in a business. The aim is to create more value for customers with fewer resources. The lean emphasizes on what the customer wants and values to improve their products and services and eliminates the wasted resources for increased efficiency. With this approach, businesses reduce their costs and improve their customer satisfaction rates.

Why and how did it get started?

The lean methodology was invented to reduce waste during manufacturing processes since the early days of automobile manufacturing. Labor and resources formed an important part of the cost base and rate of innovation was limited. Therefore, businesses needed to find ways to improve efficiency during manufacturing processes to compete.

In the early days of automobile manufacturing and postwar Japan, manufacturing processes were wasting too many resources like heaps of scrap metal and holding too many items in the inventory. While these costs were damaging manufacturing companies, resources were scarce for the Japanese economy, which started to rise after World War 2.

Taiichi Ohno, an engineer at Toyota, started to introduce new techniques to improve efficiency while maintaining quality, along with other engineers. Those techniques became the main principle of the lean approach: add value to processes by removing things that don’t add value. Today, the lean approach is used in not only manufacturing processes but all types of industries, including service-oriented ones.

Why is it important now?

The lean approach aims to reduce wasted resources while focusing on customer values. As this strategy is first started to eliminate unnecessary costs in processes, it is still a practical technique for businesses today. The lean approach is a useful solution to reach customers’ higher standards and maintain a stronger financial position. Below are the reasons explained:

Better product quality for today’s customers with higher standards

People have higher standards of products today. This means companies need to continuously improve their product quality to satisfy their customers’ standards and increase customer satisfaction. They can achieve this by applying the lean approach to their processes. Focusing on customer value will allow improving their product quality while reducing wasted resources.

More control in unstable economic environments

With today’s unstable economic environment, having full control over costs becomes vital. The lean approach helps businesses to prioritize what customers value while managing different aspects of processes. As a result, companies can improve customer satisfaction, which will also reflect on increased revenue.

After identifying the value, the lean approach ensures businesses to eliminate resources that don’t add value to processes. This elimination allows companies to reduce unnecessary costs and improve process efficiency. With increased profits, companies can find themselves in a stronger financial position in unstable economic environments.

How does it work?

Lean strategies allow businesses to offer what their customers want when they want while keeping costs low, having high flexibility and quality, and fast turnaround times. The lean approach looks for continuous improvement until it reaches the “perfect” process, meaning that it creates no wasted resources. The Lean Enterprise Institute defines 1 a five-step process for the implementation of the lean approach:

Source: Lean Enterprise Institute
  1. Specify the value of each product from your customer’s perspective.
  2. Identify all the steps in the value stream for each product and eliminate steps that don’t create any value.
  3. Create value-adding steps so the product will “flow smoothly” toward your customer.
  4. As you introduce the flow, let customers pull value from it.
  5. Repeat the steps above until you reach “perfection.”

How does the latest technology impact “Lean”?

With the latest technology in AI and machine learning, businesses can identify customer value more easily and accurately. The growing amount of data enables companies to know their customers better, and the latest machine learning algorithms can provide insights about customer value.

Another fundamental impact of machine learning is to understand the processes. As today’s business processes are more complicated, it is harder to perceive the full picture of the situation. Machine learning methods benefit from customer data and event logs to create cause-and-effect relations between different actions and provide what processes actually look like. As a result, businesses that adopt the lean approach can easily detect and eliminate unnecessary steps. 

Explore more on how to pair these process technologies with lean.

Besides machine learning and AI, you can find how process mining technology directly impacts the lean approach below:

Process Mining

Process mining provides data-driven insights about business processes’ actual performance by extracting data from the company’s IT systems. Using these insights, it helps businesses to identify unnecessary steps that don’t add any customer value. Process mining supports lean management to rapidly and accurately detect problems in processes and allow companies to reduce costs.

With process mining, businesses can also understand what steps are missing in processes for success and create value-adding steps instead of eliminating steps for process improvement.

To learn more on process mining, feel free to read our related articles:

Further reading

Discover other methodologies and process intelligence tools that help improve your processes by reading:

If you believe your business need to leverage any tool for process improvement, go over our comprehensive and data-driven process mining, process modeling and business process management software vendor lists.

If you have questions about how lean process approach can help your business, feel free to ask us: 

Find the Right Vendors
Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

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