When I speak with people about Lean programs, I am often asked, “Where should we start?” While this sounds like a very simple question, it actually requires a lot of thought. However, the simple answer is that you must first decide where you want to go before you know where you should start. Think of it like this: If you don’t know where you want to go, it really doesn’t matter if you have a map.

I have a GPS for my car that is pretty high tech. It communicates with satellites that are orbiting thousands of miles above the Earth. It can tell me where I am, give turn-by-turn directions and even tell me how fast I am going. However, with all of that technology, if I can’t put in a final destination, the GPS is pretty useless.

The same is true for Lean, Six Sigma or whatever you call your continuous improvement effort. If you don’t know where you are trying to go, even the best Lean program won’t help very much.

There are mountains of information about Lean, Toyota Production System, and continuous improvement programs. You can read a book a week and probably spend several years digesting just what has been written so far. You can hire consultants that can make a process Lean down to the tenth of a second, and you can save a lot of money. You can even teach some of your folks about Lean in the process. All of these things are good, but they are not exactly what we are after – yet.