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What Are Lean Principles?

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Cutting Waste, Improving Efficiency

What do we mean when we talk about “lean”? Short answer: Lean methodology is about cutting waste and maximizing efficiency on the job. It’s that simple… and that complicated. While lean principles are emphasized in manufacturing and supply chain functions, they’re also broadly applicable to any industry or any task you can imagine—from organizing your garage tools to managing a restaurant. 

 

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Paul Nied teaches MM3305 Sustainable Lean Manufacturing and gets a lot of satisfaction from educating students about lean principles, because he knows how valuable these applied skills are. Every semester he tells his class that, if he does his job well, he’ll change the way they see the world. 

Nied helps his students develop a special type of vision for spotting unnecessary waste in systems and processes. What’s more, he also teaches them how to cut out that waste, saving businesses time and money. 

"What we’re really looking at is this: To get the material or communication to move through the system faster, we have to identify where the waste is in the system. Once you identify it, then you can improve it."

What exactly do we mean by waste? Waste can be anything that stretches out a task to take longer than it needs to. Nied gives a simple example: “Think of the flatware drawer in your kitchen,” he says. “You probably have a divider with special compartments for the forks, knives, and spoons. That organization makes it very efficient for you to open the drawer and locate exactly what you need. Now think of the drawer where you keep your spatula, can opener, vegetable peeler, etc. Chances are that’s very cluttered. It takes you longer to find what you’re looking for—wasted time. A lean solution would be to put a utensil divider in that drawer, too, to save time and make cooking more efficient.”

As promised, Nied’s lessons about lean principles teach students to see their work differently, but not only that: after studying lean, many students start to see their entire lives differently. 

“In manufacturing you don’t put effort into something that doesn’t pay back, and you limit the waste,” says Kezele Livingstone, who took Nied’s course on lean principles. “Customers are only willing to pay for activities that will add value to their product. I take that into my own life, especially when it comes to time management. I’m only doing things that will add value to my life.”

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This is what Nied means when he says students may start to see their lives differently.

“Halfway through the semester, you start to see it clicking,” says Nied. “What we’re really looking at is this: To get the material or communication to move through the system faster, we have to identify where the waste is in the system. Once you identify it, then you can improve it.”

Nied teaches from a lifetime of experience, which his students benefit from. He’s the Quality Manager of Continuous Improvement for Danfoss Power Solutions. He loves to observe and analyze systems and processes, tweezing out opportunities to save time and money by implementing lean principles. 

“It’s a journey,” Nied says. “The destination is to continue to be in business.”

 

Learn more about Nied’s course here.