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What's Your Lean Elevator Pitch?

by Tom Ehrenfeld
November 19, 2013

What's Your Lean Elevator Pitch?

by Tom Ehrenfeld
November 19, 2013 | Comments (18)

I’ve only been working on Lean for 8 years, which makes me essentially a novice in the eyes of true Lean practitioners. Yet while I’ve learned a few things, explaining Lean to people who are unfamiliar with this amazing way to make things better in just about any setting remains a challenge.

Here’s my current “elevator pitch” to people. (Notice I say “my” elevator pitch, not THE elevator pitch).

“Lean is a systematic approach to producing more (goods, services) with higher quality by engaging the hands and minds of the people doing the work in a disciplined and commonly understood method of problem-solving. This scientific approach uses the shared creation of standard work as a way to agree on the best way to get work done in the most purposeful way; and it enables people to identify problems as 'gaps' between how the work is being done and how it should be done—which allows a blame-free exploration into why best practices are not happening to occur—and to create a culture where continuous improvement is a mindful and structured mindset that is always present.” 

Having just offered a definition, I must now share misgivings about any rigid definition (Tracey Richardson makes a compelling case that perhaps lean should NOT be labeled at all) and express concern that branding this rigorous practice dilutes some of the dynamic qualities that enabled it to become the powerful approach it is today (not to mention make it the protected, i.e. static, intellectual property of high-brow hucksters).

That said… does this sound vaguely like the Lean you are practicing? How do you describe Lean to people? What’s your elevator pitch?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  management,  management system
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18 Comments | Post a Comment
Lory Moniz November 19, 2013
8 People AGREE with this comment

I would like to share something a little different

"Rooted in Purpose, Process, and respect for People, lean is about creating the most value for the customer while minimizing resources, time, energy, and effort.

A lean approach to work is about understanding what’s really going on at thegemba (the place where value is created), improving the processes by which products and services are created and delivered, and empowering people through problem solving and coaching. Lean thinking and practice helps organizations become both innovative and competitive, which in turn allows them to become sustainable."

Would love to hear how others talk about Lean.



Reply »

Jim Gatto November 19, 2013

We are currently at the ground floor of introducing lean into our organization so I give a similar speech at least twice per week to groups of 6-8 people at a time, and I've been giving various messages to our leadership for the past two years.  In doing so I have learned that my "elevator speeches" while seemingly important to me actually mean little to the listener at the end of the day. 

I don't think there is anything wrong with consistently delivering these messages, but most of the attendees are wondering "What am I doing here?" or the more famous "What is in this for me?"    While I try my best in answering these questions every time based on the context of the question and the particular audience, I think that it will not matter until we do something meaningful that positively impacts their work life.  I realize the importance of hearing this information as a group so we can start speaking a new language, but at the same time I wonder if the message itself is waste without action?  We're certainly not perfect and learning on the fly, but I feel this same hope and frustration simulatneously on a near daily basis.  Regardless, it is worth the effort to better serve our customers and show respect for our most valued resources.     



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Tom Ehrenfeld November 19, 2013
Well said and I completely agree with you! Hence the slight ambivalence in my presenting any definition. Lean is all about learning through doing, so what's the point of defining it without...doing it. 

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Zachary Spiller November 19, 2013
My guess is that if they don't know what lean is and your elevator speech includes "gemba" you've probably lost them already.

If someone asks me what I'm doing, I tell them that what we're doing is applying the scientific method to the workplace, because when we do that, the customer (patient, in our case) gets more value, more benefit, fewer negatives in general. If they want to know more after that, I start asking *them* questions.


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Lory Moniz November 20, 2013
great point!

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Iain January 18, 2018

Lean is a process improvement system that focuses on what the customer values, eliminating waste, and delivering that value. At the heart of lean is enabling people to identify problems as 'gaps' between how the work is being done and how it should be done and then empowering employees through problem solving and coaching. It is based on understanding what’s really going on at the place where value is created, in the process.



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Michael Ballé November 19, 2013
2 People AGREE with this comment
LEAN = KAIZEN + RESPECT

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Bill Robinson November 19, 2013
3 People AGREE with this comment

Lean is a process improvement system that focuses on what the customer values, eliminating waste while delivering that value and empowering employees along the way



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Siggi November 20, 2013
1 Person AGREES with this comment

My favorite way of describing lean succinctly is thus: 


"Lean is a way of producing goods or services where there is a clear understanding of what creates value. The organization then focuses on delivering that value, continuously eliminating anything thad doesn't contribute to it.


The scientific process at the heart of this is PDCA. In practice, PDCA means that a theory (standard) is devleoped for how to optimally do the work required. The organization makes sure all employees have a common understanding of the standard, follow it rigorously, measure its performance and are then fully involved in improving it. This never-ending cycle means that work is constantly being refined to better deliver value and eliminate waste"


Damn! I thought my definition was more succinct! Oh well....I'll assume we're talking about a skyscraper elevator ride :-)  



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Brent Wahba November 20, 2013
2 People AGREE with this comment
I am more partial to a tagline as a starting point - building on it as acknowledgement / interest increases.  A few of my favorites are:

- Creating more value with fewer resources
- Increasing efficiency and effectiveness
- Tastes great, less filling   

The details are then added to satisfy the specific learning needs of the customer of the message.  Or in other words, people have different needs for lean and we need to give them options.      


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Mark Graban November 21, 2013
2 People AGREE with this comment

Lean is such a rich topic and I'm still learning (by doing and by reading) after almost 20 years engrossed in this. Lean is so simple, yet there's so much to discuss.

I usually say, very briefly, that Lean is both an improvement methodology and a management system, that aims to produce the best safety, quality, on-time delivery, and cost, doing so by engaging everybody in the improvement process, treating people with respect, and focusing on customer needs for the long-term good of the organization.



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Charlie Leslie November 30, 2013

Lean is a scientific process of eliminating waste and adding
value by engaging the people who do the work.



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Sherida Harvey March 07, 2014
With over 20 years in Lean, I too am still learning how to effectively describe what I do.  I think you have a stated the "what" very clearly.  My next question would be does it lead them to ask for more detail on the "how"?  I would hope so.   

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Sherida Harvey March 07, 2014

Here is my attempt to descibe how.  I would love your feedback.

What method do you use?

I employ a strategy of management doing “Gemba” (where the work is done) observations of current state processes and procedures.  Those observations are documented in something we call a value stream map.  It is completed from the customer’s point of view.  We specifically look for processes that are creating a blockage in flow.  That is your waste. Then beginning at the output (discharge in healthcare) we build a future state that eliminates waste supporting Safety, Quality, On-time Delivery and lastly Cost and always in that order. 

How long does this take?

That depends. But more important is the question of sustainability.  Seeing the waste becomes easy and 2nd nature once people are trained.  Creating the management system that sustains waste elimination is hard.  It is hard because it shifts the leadership out of their comfort zone.  It takes them out of the boardroom and forces them to the “gemba”.  That takes real leadership.



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Víctor Sierra December 01, 2013

For me your elevator speech is so long but is far the best I have ever heard, I like it and I will use it to describe lean to C´level executives.

In other hand, what about the "marketing campaign" that any iniative should have to show precisely value generation, what about real visual management that shows this.

What I trying to say is that when you start with definitions instead of proves is more difficult to engage people with it, first direct collaboratior and lately C´level executives once the manpower force show a real engagement and concrete actions.


Regards



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Tom Ehrenfeld December 02, 2013
YES! I couldn't agree more that starting with a definition rather than just doing the work is problematic. And I know that some very wise practitioners avoid any terminology when helping others learn lean. So this is an "and" not a "but" type of thing: there are some situations where a brief definition of lean can help someone get the idea, and possibly "frame" how they engage in lean more deeply and experientially. 

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Hawks Fan February 06, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment
Lean is a way to elimate wasteful practices. The creation of waste is negative for many reasons. It's costly (think material being thrown away), its demoralizing (think of thrown away time or energy that is precious and can never be regained), and it's innieffecit (think of inventory and clutter, and malfunctioning equipment)... Once wasteful practices are reduced and eliminated, the important work of bringing value as perceived by the customer can begin. This means transformation raw materal and/or information in an ifficient and cost-effective manner, in which the customer sees the value being added at every step of the process through to finished product or service....

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Ralf Lippold March 16, 2014
"Lean for me is constantly solving upcoming problems, with the available resources, so that the whole value creation process improves sustainably. 

It is questioning the Status Quo constantly, across organizational boundaries."


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