What is Lean?

Lean is a business technique used to improve the way we work. The Lean approach identifies and eliminates unnecessary steps, streamlines processes and ultimately improves value for the end users: our clients and customers.

The Lean approach works because it invites collaboration between employees responsible for carrying out the work, customers, and other stakeholders along the way. All of these groups provide input to ensure a smooth process to deliver goods and services.

The Government of Saskatchewan has introduced Lean to continuously improve its service delivery to the public. Employees around the province are embracing the Lean way of thinking to improve systems and processes, and to streamline their work.

Lean is intended to increase customer/client service and operational capacity. The term “Lean” refers to a basic absence of waste. It’s not an acronym.

Where did Lean originate?

The concepts of Lean has its roots in the Toyota Production System of the 1950s and 1960s. Toyota’s system is renowned for its focus on the reduction of seven different types of waste in the workplace to improve overall customer value. It came about through experimentation, trial and error, and an evolution of ideas that shaped Toyota’s structure and management system. Lean has been credited for catapulting Toyota from a very small manufacturer to a leading player in the automotive industry, as it has enabled the company to consistently produce efficient, cost-effective automobiles while maintaining a safe, productive and positive work environment.

Why Lean?

We believe the Lean initiative will help improve our service to the people of Saskatchewan. It’s a business philosophy that has proven time and again that it works to improve processes.

What distinguishes Lean from other improvement efforts?

Three things:

  • Focus on the client or customer,  and what they value, in order to reduce or eliminate waste.
  • Engagement of employees to seek ways to work better and smarter: no one knows a process better than the front line staff directly involved in it.
  • Rapid improvement: The Lean process has been proven to deliver rapid results. Depending on the commitment to the work required, employees can start to make improvements in as little as a couple of months.

Is Lean being used to cut positions? Is it part of the workforce adjustment strategy?

No, Lean is not tied to workforce adjustment. Lean is not about job cuts or reducing the size of government, it’s about improving the way we do our work and providing better services to the people of the province. Savings in time and money that are identified through Lean are reinvested back into the system, which creates even more value from a taxpayer perspective.

Is there an end date to Lean?

No. The Government of Saskatchewan is working toward establishing a culture of Lean in our workplace. This means that, eventually, all managers and employees will understand the concepts and methodology of Lean, and can apply them in their daily work.

Is this only for Ministries that deliver service to the public?

No, Lean is being incorporated into work throughout the public service, in all ministries and in addition to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Association, Water Security Agency, and Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation. As well, Lean is being introduced into the education and post-secondary education sectors. And Lean has been playing an integral role throughout the province’s health sector for a number of years. .

What is the support for Lean within the Government of Saskatchewan?

Premier Wall is very supportive of the Lean initiative, and frequently references Lean successes in speaking engagements and in government materials. In addition, a Minister Responsible for Lean has been established to ensure oversight and guidance on the program into the future. 

Is there an overall governance structure for Lean in the public service?

Yes, Lean in the Saskatchewan public service is overseen by a formal committee of deputy ministers called the Citizen First Committee. Current members of the committee include Champions Dan Florizone, Deputy Minister of Education and Barry Lacey, President and CEO of Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority and members Doug Moen, Deputy Minister (DM) to the Premier; Ken Acton, DM of Social Services; Dale McFee, DM of Corrections and Policing; Jerome Konecsni, CEO of Innovation Saskatchewan; Rupen Pandya, President and CEO of SaskBuilds; Max Hendricks, DM of Health; Lin Gallagher, DM of Parks, Culture and Sport; Louise Greenberg, DM of Advanced Education; Bryan Richards, President and CEO of the Global Transportation Hub, and Clare Isman, DM of Finance.

In addition, the steering committee is supported by the Ministry of Education’s Corporate Projects Group, which is responsible for providing central oversight of the Lean initiative across the public service.

What is the interest in Lean from other jurisdictions?

Other public sector jurisdictions across North America are very interested in learning more about Saskatchewan’s advances using Lean. They recognize that we are one of the first public sector workplaces to incorporate the methodology, and the first public sector workplace to incorporate it across the public service!

Lean terminology

What is a VSM?

VSM stands for value stream mapping. A VSM is typically a week-long event that enables a team of employees, managers, and often clients to take an in-depth look at a workplace processes and determine improvements that could be made. Nothing is taken for granted, and every aspect of a work process is questioned. Work during a VSM includes problem solving and physical transformation of the process.

You’ve likely seen the meeting rooms of people with sticky notes across the walls. Those sticky notes are the “map” of the process being discussed — every action that is undertaken within a process. Each one is examined during the weeklong VSM and questioned to determine relevance. By the end of the week, a new process map is created (more sticky notes on the walls!) and a plan to move forward is created.

What is a Kaizen?

Sometimes not all issues or challenges can be resolved through a VSM, and so further events, called Kaizens, are initiated. A Kaizen is an incremental improvement that will help a VSM team continue with continuous improvement. Think of it as a smaller VSM, and a necessary part of the larger outcome. Key elements of a Kaizen include simplifying tasks and making them easier to perform; increasing the speed and efficiency of a work process; maintaining a safe work environment; and constantly improving quality.

What is 5S?

5S is a philosophy and tool to simplify, clean up, and organize a workplace and work materials in order to reduce waste and optimize quality and productivity. By maintaining an orderly workplace for work materials, standardizing work, and using visual cues, employees are able to achieve more consistent results. A well-ordered, effective workplace, including work materials and work products, is the foundation of improvement. 5S stands for: sorting, set in order, systematic cleaning, standardizing, and sustaining.

What is 3P?

3P stands for Production Preparation Process. It’s the act of rapidly designing processes and equipment to ensure capability, built-in quality, productivity, and ensuring the customer/client receives service in an efficient manner. The 3P minimizes resources needed such as capital, tooling, space, inventory, and time.

What is Hoshin?

Goals (with targets) and the means for achieving them in order to address business priorities to move the organization to a new level of performance; variable from year-to-year; could also be multi-year; and is developed by executive management.

What is a Lean Leader?

Each ministry, agency or crown has designated one or more people to be Lean Leaders in the workplace. These Lean Leaders are responsible for delivering introductory Lean orientation, providing advice to senior leaders and Lean Deployment Champions, and helping to facilitate a culture of Lean. They are also responsible for leading teams through VSM and Kaizen events.

What is a Lean Deployment Champion?

A Lean Deployment Champion provides leadership and drives Lean within a ministry, agency or crown. He or she is responsible for establishing governance (such as a Lean Steering Committee) in the organization, and develops a Lean deployment strategy, which will include selection of VSMs, staff engagement, improvement targets and a training strategy. The Deployment Champion also reports progress to the Deputy Minister/Executive and to the Lean Steering Committee.

Who is PwC?

PwC (formerly PriceWaterhouse Cooper) Canada is the third-party consultant hired to assist the public service with its Lean initiative. PwC has played a hands-on role in helping to incorporate Lean into our workplace.

Using Lean in the workplace

How do I know my idea is a good one?

Every idea is worth considering. Talk to your manager or a Lean Leader in your organization to learn more about how you could approach your idea.

Who can initiate a Lean event? Is it only for head office staff or is it only for frontline staff?

Any employee can suggest a Lean event. Speak to your supervisor or contact a Lean Leader or Lean Deployment Champion in your organization to discuss your idea and how best to approach it. Together, you may decide to recommend the organization undertake a VSM of the project, or you may find other ways to improve processes with help from your Lean Leader, or other Lean experts.

I know of a process that takes too long. How can I improve it on my own?

Please refer to our “Lean Thinking” information sheet.

I don’t want to do a formal event, but I could use some Lean help. What resources do I have available?

Talk to the Lean Leader(s) in your ministry, agency or crown to see if there are further resources available to you. Your Leader(s) can help you talk through a project and determine what next steps you can take. As well, the Corporate Projects Group at the Ministry of Education is here to assist with Lean initiatives. If there are improvements that you want to make to your own work processes, go for it!

Who can I contact for more information about Lean?

If you are interested in learning more about the overarching Lean initiative in government, please contact the Ministry of Education Corporate Projects Group for further information. For more information about your organization’s Lean projects, please contact a Lean Leader or Lean Deployment Champion, listed in the Contacts section of the ThinkLean website.

Visit our Contact page to see a full list of Lean Leaders and Lean Deployment Champions.