What is your first association with lean?

Often I ask people what their first association is with lean. I invite you to answer that question for yourself. What is your first association with lean?

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The answers I get usually are synonyms  for 'reducing waste' or 'improving efficiency'. That was also my first association when I started to dive into lean. By now I regret it. My first association is now 'value'. I'd state that if you don't take 'value' as the starting point of lean, your efforts sooner or later will work against you. A personal anecdote:
As a physiotherapist, my mother often treated people at their homes. When I came out of school, I often went with her. One day, we visited a woman that was not able anymore to move her fingers well. My mother asked her what she would like to do again with her hands. She said shet would love to play bridge again with her friends. My mother asked whether she had a deck of cards in the house en I got them. Then my mother invented exercises with the cards.
Care providers connect to a person asking a personal question. They try to understand what is of value for this person. It does not make much sense to reduce waste if this process is not well understood. It can be useful to consider two types of value:
  1. The reason why someone asks a question to a care provider. What's happening to me? What should I do? Why? Activities that help answer those type of questions add value, for example a consultation, diagnostic research and an operation.
  2. That what is important for a patient during the process. Comforting a restless patient, touching a confused patient, giving attention during vulnerable moments. These are not activities that help answer the questions that the patient came for to the hospital, but at that moment they are of value.
If we reduce waste without first understanding value we start of the wrong side. The risk is real that reducing waste will become a goal in itself. Perhaps the biggest risk of introducing lean is becoming anorexic. Few people working in healthcare have a passion for reducing waste. They want to be of meaning to other people. From that motivation, they are willing to improve processes and to reduce waste so that they can spend more time on valuable activities. But in that order.

I'd state that the effects of lean should not be measured by how much waste is reduced, but how much more or better value is created.

What was your first association with lean? How does that relate to value? I invite you to share your association!

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