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One often reads that Lean Management is about eliminating waste. While it is true that identifying and eliminating, or reducing, waste is usually a quick win when starting out with process improvement work, the first principle of Lean Management identified by Womack & Jones in “Lean Thinking” is value, and to understand what is of value to your customers.

leaper_mappingIn fact it is impossible to accurately identify waste before you understand what your customer values because waste is defined as any effort or resource that does not create value. Too often we assume we know what our customer values without consulting them and then our waste elimination efforts end up fixing the wrong problem.

Even more unfortunate is that we may miss opportunities to create new value because we are not sufficiently aware of what customers actually want. This in turn presupposes that we need to know who our customers are.

LIA’s new mission statement reads: “Building the community of lean practitioners through action research and knowledge sharing, to help organisations serve their customers better.” So we have chosen to focus on “lean practitioners” as our immediate customers, but we also recognise that we are all here to serve end customers.

Although LIA supports all lean practitioners with thought and practice leadership, we have found that we work a lot with people and organisations that are starting out on their lean transformation journey. Over the years we have realised that this set of customers have a particular need that we have been trying to understand and devise ways of addressing.

We have noticed that they face a dilemma in that they’ve heard about the spectacular results that Lean Management can bring about, but they have also heard that it is a long, complicated and difficult journey. So they end up hesitating because they are uncertain whether and how to start the journey.

The challenge for LIA has been to find ways to create value for this particular set of it customers.

We have come to understand that we need to make it easier for these customers to start their journey by reducing the uncertainty they face when contemplating the decision to go down the lean road. Fortunately, what makes lean management work has become better known in recent years. We now know that lean management is more than a collection of tools and techniques. And that doing improvement projects alone does not give you sustained performance improvement. What is needed to get to the promised land is a comprehensive, integrated Lean Management System (LMS).

A LMS is a qualitatively different kind of management system from the traditional management system that we have known until now. I often get the feeling that people don’t really get what I’m saying when I say this. It is not like tweaking your current management system. It is like a new operating system for your computer. And we all know how painful it is to make that change.

To help our customers that are starting their lean journeys LIA has started developing a model of this new LMS. It is informed not only by our years of experience in the field, but also the collective wisdom of other pioneers in the field, e.g. the Lean Transformation Framework (LTF) that has been developed by John Shook. We have also found recent white papers by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and by Thedacare helpful.

The new LMS will in turn be used to inform LIA’s new service offering, and will set out what is necessary to sustain the lean transformation journey, i.e. to sustain the improvement trajectory lean practices provide. Whether this management system turns out to be helpful for this purpose remains to be tested in learning experiments with our partners: an exciting learning journey with which we invite you to engage.

Some of the new services under development by LIA in pursuit of our purpose to create value for the aforementioned customers are:

An extension of the portfolio of workshops that LIA offers to provide more in-depth insight and learning about particular applications of the LMS:

  • We have teamed up with the Centre for Coaching, a sister institute also based at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), to do a deep dive into the finer arts of coaching. This will be tested in a forthcoming Lean Leadership workshop.

LIA has received numerous requests for a credible qualification as a Lean Manager/Coach and therefore we are exploring two possibilities to serve this need:

  • We have secured the agreement of the Dutch Lean Institute (LMI) to facilitate the very successful Lean Practitioner Programme (LPP) here in South Africa.
  • Last but not least we are working on a locally developed Lean Management Development Programme (LMDP), in response to requests for capability building of lean managers and facilitators.

FRegister for the Lean Summit Africaor more information on any of these initiatives, please contact LIA by commenting below, or emailing Keep an eye on our website for more information, and sign up to receive our newsletters if you haven’t already, as we will be going into more detail in future editions.

Kind regards,


P.S. Following our recent release of our Lean Summit Africa draft programme, registrations are coming in fast. Register now for the African lean event of the year and secure your place alongside other leading lean practitioners. You can register and find out more about the Summit on our website: