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Understand Lean

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Tätä on Lean
Niklas Modic, Pär Åhlström
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 6 minuuttia.

Lean has many different meaning out there in the internet. People also view Lean in different ways. Here is one way of seeing what lean is and where is it used in and what it can allow in your organization. Also we take deeper look into how lean is seened, why it is hard to understand and some examples where lean helped organization.


Definition of Lean

Lean is a management philosophy, that focuses on reducing delays and eliminating waste, to increase quality and lower costs. It can be used in different ways in different processes, but mainly it focuses on growing respect in people and continuous improvement (PMI 2022). Therefore, it shows in different ways in different fields and can be adapted differently.

Another way of describing LEAN is seeing it as a new form of efficiency, flow efficiency. As its name in the flow efficiency, it focuses on the flow of the process to provide it most efficient. There the value is seen as time, time it takes from identifying a need to satisfying it. (Modig, Åhlström 2015)

Because of the various ways of usage and definition people define it in different ways to help their organization understand it. One Finnish company Lean Thinking Oy describes Lean in their website to be; “In LEAN, a goal is like a North Star, i.e. one that gives a clear direction to action, but which may never be achieved.”. This helps their clients understand what the LEAN method broadly provides or how it should be seen in an organization. The company also mentions on their website following things regarding the definition of what LEAN is:

  • LEAN is a philosophy and a way of thinking.
  • LEAN is a management system.
  • LEAN is about understanding and paying attention to customer needs.
  • LEAN is looking at a problem in practice.
  • LEAN is a team effort, and the goal is to grow the entire staff into problem solvers.
  • LEAN is about standardising and visualising work.
  • LEAN is continuous improvement and the management of the above.

LEAN can therefore be seen as a multi-layered value-maximizing way of doing business, that focuses on cutting on waste to increase the quality for the workers, customers, and the process.


Examples to understand

This example is taken from the book Tätä on Lean, ratkaisu tehokkuusparadoksiin by Modic & Åhlström.

Firstly, we have an example of how institution that doesn’t use lean work. After that, we will have the same situation but make it lean.

Example 1

There is a 35-year-old woman Liisa. Liisa has noticed a plumb in her breast and therefore decides to get in contact with a doctor. Liisa chooses to use public health care and calls the health center to book a doctor’s appointment. To call the health center firstly Liisa needs to wait a moment until her call is passed, after that she gets an appointment in a week for a nurse check. In the appointment, the nurse examines her and books her an appointment for an X-ray. In one-week Liisa is able to go to the X-ray and there she is told to wait a week for the results. After a week the results are in, and the doctor calls her to tell her diagnosis. Luckily the plumb is not anything dangerous, but Liisa is still asked to make an appointment with a doctor to make sure what the plumb is. After a week Liisa is able to get the doctor’s appointment and after the appointment, she is done with the process.

This whole process took Liisa about a little over two weeks, and for the appointments, she needed to use her own transportation and take time from work to go to the appointments.

 Example 2

In this example, we have Venla who is also a 35-year-old woman who has found a plumb in her breast. She decides to call a clinic that specializes in breast cancer to book an appointment. She is able to reach the service desk rather quickly and she is informed that she can come either already in the same day or tomorrow. Venla decides to go to the clinic on the same day. She arrives at the clinic, and she is asked to wait a few minutes until her name is called. A few minutes pass and a nurse calls her name to go over with her some of the symptoms Venla has to understand the situation. After that, she is forwarded to the X-ray to get her breast filmed. After that Venla waits around 15 minutes in the clinic hallway for the doctor to call her name to go over with her the diagnosis. The doctor calls her in and gives her the diagnosis and after that, Venla is ready and can go home.

This process took Venla one trip to the clinic and back and a couple of hours of the day.

When we compare these two examples, in example 2 clinic had resources ready and available for the patient to access and get the diagnosis during one visit at the clinic. It only required Venla one trip to the clinic and one workday. In example 1, Liisa needed to wait a longer time to access the treatment and get the diagnosis. She also needed to use more of her resources since it took her three trips to get to the appointments she had because there wasn’t the availability of the equipment and resources to do it during one trip. She also needed to wait longer for the diagnosis, and that can be mentally hard for a person. Liisa needed to miss more work days because of multiple appointments during those two weeks.

In conclusion in example one the organization used the typical recourse-centered approach, where the primary goal is to optimize the allocation and utilization of these resources to achieve objectives such as maximizing productivity, reducing costs, and enhancing efficiency. This means all the resources of clinic 1 such as the x-ray machine and doctors are being used as much as possible to maximize their efficiency and productivity. It shows negatively in a side that there are long waiting times to access the resources because of their constant usage. This can be seen as good for the business or organization since the investment they make is used as much as possible to gain value, but from the customer’s point of view, it can be time-consuming and not optimized. In example 2 the clinic was practicing lean, meaning they tried to reduce the customers’ time consuming in the process. By having resources available depending on the need, they can be utilized to provide faster service for the customers. This way it is more pleasant to the customer and more flowy.

Steps to Lean

Lean can be often mixed with the thought that it would be a tool or mix of different tools together, when actually it is part of strategy and how a company makes decisions and operates. It is not only about using tools like VSM, A3, FiFo, Takt time, etc. it is how the benefits of lean thinking show in your organization. Because the gain of lean doesn’t show up directly on data straight away but more over time in the feedback of customers and employees as well as the working ways of the organization. Lean is also never a ready product, it is something that helps the organization evolve and move forward. But what company can do to start? Janne Jääskeläinen mentioned that for an organization to change they should consider the next things. (Jääskeläinen 2018)

  1. Map out the work
  • Using time in the organization to understand all the work processes and how much time they can take. This is to help managers and workers really understand what it takes for certain tasks to be done. In this part, it is very important that all the work gets mapped, even the “little” tasks.
  1. Identify bottlenecks
  • Bottlenecks are places where work gets stuck, or it takes an inefficient amount of time for the process. If these bottlenecks can be identified organizations can figure out how could they be made more efficient or how the process can deal with them while not wasting time on waiting. For example, if making a candle one process is waiting for the hot wax to cool down. Is there something that can be done to speed up the cooling down process or maybe during the cooling down process the packages of the candles can be made?
  1. 5 wastes in business
  • Overproduction, meaning work that is made but not used. Such as the just-in-case something happens work, work that is done too early, or work that is done but not used. For example, an email is sent to too many people just to ensure that all the specialists know about the thing being discussed in the email.
  • Unfinished work, meaning work gets suspended. This means when employees gets suspended overtime for small things and therefore it is unfinished and slows down the process.
  • Waiting, meaning work can not be continued until something is approved. Typically in business, there is a need to wait for someone to agree on a matter to continue with the work, this takes usually an unnecessary amount of time from the working time because people take time to respond.
  • Pointless movement, meaning movement that affects the work being done. This has usually something to do with the way offices are made and how accessible resources are or how long it takes to access them. Sometimes it can also be a practical way of moving things in the process, these are sometimes things that can only be thought of or practiced after gaining experience on the job.
  • Mistakes, meaning not talking about the mistakes and avoiding them. If mistakes are in the organization not talked about and avoided, people spend more time trying to avoid them in every term possible or trying to hide them, so they are not seen for others. Instead of allowing to organization to learn from them.

(Jääskeläinen 2018)



Lean is part of strategy in business and organization. It helps employees to feel more satisfaction in their work as well and it saves time for customers and time used in the processes.  Lean is often mixed with different tools that are used in lean way of working. But Lean is more than tools it is a way of doing work. It is something that is not achievable because lean aims to improve the way of doing work to better.


Niklas Modig & Pär Åhlström. 2015. Tätä on Lean – ratkaisu tehokkuusparadoksiin. Rheologica Puplishing.

Janne K. Jääskeläinen. 2018. LEAN-ajattelu asiantuntijatyön ja projektien johtamisessa FULL. YouTube.

PMI-Project Manangment Institution. March 2022. What is Lean? Published in PMI webiste blog.

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