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A lot of people think that LEAN stands for Less Employees Are Needed and believe that Lean is about reducing head count. This is not true.

The definition of Lean is to maximize value to the customer while reducing waste. People are not a waste. People are an organization’s important asset. People are often wasted on wasteful activities or tasks. Lean is about reducing waste and wasteful activities, not people.

This is the main point of Lean. In order to eliminate waste, it is important to first define who the customer is (or customers are) and define value from the customer perspective. Once that work is done, employees can learn the 8 Wastes of Lean and start to identify where waste exists in the processes that deliver value to the customer. This is when employees start to see with fresh eyes to reduce waste and wasteful activities. Once waste is identified, employees then work to minimize and/or eliminate the waste.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.