The Goal of Lean:


I was talking to my friend at work, who I consider to be very knowledgeable and wise. He told me something that I have not heard before.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better, and your better is best.”

I looked this up, and I saw that this quote is attributed to St. Jerome (347-420 A.D). This succinctly summarizes the idea of kaizen. Kaizen is Japanese for “change for the better”. It is not asking you to change from good to best, overnight. It is asking you to change from good to better, and then from better to best. The advice of “never let it rest” indicates that it is an ongoing process. The best is always yet to come.

It is a Journey:

I have often heard about lean being a journey and not a destination. This means that you are not to look at lean as an end goal. It is about improving little by little and is never ending. It is an ongoing journey where your goal is to simply improve from the day before. Counter-intuitively the goal of lean is not to set a goal that is attained and to stop doing lean. The goal of lean is to just do lean.

In this regard, lean does not talk about setting goals. It focuses on creating a self-sustaining system – a never-stopping engine that keeps moving towards the ideal state. Lean is based on long term thinking, and in reality it never reaches the ideal state. However, the ideal state (true north) gives lean a direction to move towards.

I have written about “continuous improvement = kaizen + wisdom”. Instead of setting goals, we should focus on developing our people so that they are engaged in the continuous improvement philosophy. We should focus on setting up processes to ensure kaizen – working smarter and not harder. Develop your people to be aware of waste, and challenge them to improve their processes from where it was yesterday. This single system ensures that your organization keeps on moving towards the ideal state, referred to as True North by Toyota.

It is your job to lay the framework to make them good. Then it becomes their job to make it better. Finally it is both of your jobs to make it the best.

The Story of the Boy and the Jelly Beans:

I will finish this post with a modified version of a story I read a while back:

Once a boy went to a grocery store with his mother. The boy was very well behaved. The shopkeeper was very impressed with his gentle nature. He looked at the boy and pointed towards the glass jar of jelly beans and said.

“Dear child, you can take a handful of jelly beans out of this jar.”

The boy was very fond of jelly beans. He was very happy. He reached in the jar and grabbed a handful. He thanked the shopkeeper politely.

The next week, the boy again returned with his mother. He was again very well behaved. This time too, the shopkeeper invited the boy to take a handful of jelly beans. This time the boy hesitated and looked at his mother. His mother also said, “Take the sweets dear.” The young boy still did not do anything. He simply pointed at his mother. His mother thought that he was being shy and grabbed a handful for the child, and gave the handful to him. The child started smiling again, and thanked the shopkeeper.

Another week went by, and the boy returned to the shop with his mother again. The shopkeeper saw him and offered the jelly beans again. This time too, the boy did nothing. His mother offered to grab a handful. The boy stood still and then shook his head. Seeing this, the shopkeeper offered to grab a handful, and the boy slowly put out both his hands. The shopkeeper gave him a handful of jelly beans. The boy was again smiling and thanked the shopkeeper.

His mother was very curious about the boy’s behavior since she knew how much he loved jelly beans. When they got home, his mother asked him to explain his behavior over the weeks.

“The first time I grabbed a handful, and held your hand I realized that your hand is much larger than mine. I knew I would get more if you grabbed a handful.”

“This time, I saw that the shopkeeper had a larger hand than yours. So I waited until, he would give me a handful. See how much more jelly beans I got?”

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was The Mother of Modern Management.

3 thoughts on “The Goal of Lean:

    • Hello Langerman Blog,
      The concept of waste in TPS stands for no-value or Muda. Eliminating no-value increases the value density. The focus on Muda is treated as the first step of improvement. Theoretically one could say that problem = current standard – some combination of Muda(s). This is the motivation for kaizen.


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