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Living Lean: How Applying to your Business can Drive Growth


Many of us are familiar with the concept of lean: the systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing system. But did you know that the movement is derived from a management philosophy established by Japanese auto giant Toyota many decades ago?

Here Keith Edwards of the Toyota Lean Management Centre in Deeside, discusses all things lean, and how it’s not just a manufacturing buzzword, but a system that can be applied to businesses, little and large, in any and all sectors.

The term ‘lean’ was first coined by hugely successful auto veteran, John Krafcik, in his 1988 article, “Triumph of the Lean Production System”, based on his master's thesis at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). During his studies, Krafcik led an analysis of 37 auto assembly plants, where he witnessed the Toyota Production System (TPS) in action and realised its superiority. This was something he was likely already aware of as he had been a quality engineer in the Toyota-General Motors joint venture in California before joining MIT for MBA studies. Interestingly Krafcik is now the CEO of Google Self-Driving Cars, perhaps taking lean to its most extreme form yet, by cutting out human beings entirely out of the process of driving a car.

toyota-stock-imageryAnyway, I digress, the lean way of doing business is a philosophy that Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Deeside is keen to share with the wider corporate community in the hope that they will embrace the lean way of life. So much so, that as well as producing upwards of 200,000 engines and 40,000 engine set parts every year, that are exported to all four corners of the globe, we are also home to the Toyota Lean Management Centre, which was formed to share knowledge, understanding and over seventy years of lean experience with organisations that have a desire to develop their people and processes, and look to grow.

So what is lean?

Lean is often regarded as the set of ‘tools’ that assist in the identification and steady elimination of waste. Toyota has identified seven areas in which businesses often fall victim to waste: over production; inventory; waiting; motion; transportation; re-work; over processing.

However, for Toyota, it’s not just as ‘simple’ as eliminating waste, for lean to be truly successful, it’s also about improving the ‘flow’, or the smoothness of work, thereby eliminating ‘mura’ (unevenness) through the system. And so lean is not entirely a waste reduction concept, it’s about achieving a stable process. Although clearly the two ideals go very much hand in hand.

Why go lean?

How does reducing waste, cost and effort while at the same time increasing quality, efficiency, and profitability sound to you? For any business person creating better value for less work is quite simply the Holy Grail. It is the bedrock of growth.

In terms of sustainable growth it is necessary to focus on the area of the process where value is added. In our case, this would principally be our factory floor via our manufacturing processes, and indeed, lean is a concept largely tied to the manufacturing sector, but in reality it can be applied to all types of businesses, from manufacturing to retail, hospitality and certainly within the public sector, where waste can be a real problem. Our Toyota Lean Management Centre has in fact been working with a number of schools in and around Flintshire to bring a business approach to schools; a great example is Gwynedd primary school in Flint which has really embraced the lean approach to deliver a better product to their customers – the children.

Developing a culture

Of course, the most crucial element of lean is people. In order to successfully implement a lean philosophy in your business, you need to develop a culture that harnesses the buy-in and support of your employees through solid management behaviour and proactive employee development and empowerment.

Fundamentally, most of the concepts of lean are straightforward, but their application needs to be achieved by people. And so lean is not just about practical processes and tools, but about how to profoundly alter your culture by engaging your workforce in the lean philosophy. Ultimately, it’s about people power.”

Toyota Motor Manufacturing is taking part in Business Wales Growth Week (February 27th – March 3rd) where they will be hosting an exclusive event on Wednesday 1st March. Guests will hear about the concept of lean manufacturing and discover the ways in which the practices applied by the Toyota Lean Management Centre can help their businesses.

Business Wales, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government, supports the sustainable growth of small and medium size enterprises across the country by offering access to information, guidance and business support. Visit or for further information.