The State of Being Lean or Fat is a Matter of Your Own Choice

By MohdBarakat | Excellence Made Easy | 28 Feb 2021

Being lean or fat for an organization is an outcome of its own internal practices. Likewise, the transformation process from one state to the other can be achieved at its own discretion. However, not all fat-lean transformations are healthy. Amongst the three fat-lean transition forms that organizations usually undergo only the fat-to-lean one is the savior leading to survival in turbulent times.

Most organizations which fail transitioning from fat to lean blame on the improvement methodologies they have adopted. Yet, in most cases the fact is not. During my two decades of experience in the manufacturing and service industries I have seen fat businesses embracing lean concepts but would not have trimmed a ‘kilogram’ from their bodies. I.e. they remained fat. And this is the first type of transformation; fat-to-fat.

Fat-to-fat type of organizations usually fail due to ineffectiveness in implementation. For the process of lean transformation to be effective root causes of waste should be eliminated, not the waste itself. For instance, converting defected product to second grade does not trim waste since the root cause remains haunting the manufacturing process, and the waste (defect) will recur. In another scene, clearing the production area from overproduction and stacking it in the warehouse will not do good for your shape as you convert overproduction into inventory, which is another type of waste. Hence, root causes of defects, overproduction, inventory, and other types of waste should be your target in the lean transformation journey.


Lean-to-fat transition is no better than fat-to-fat. It is even worse a case of transition but for a different reason of failure, which is lack of control. People on a weight loss plan must sustain their lean shape when they reach their optimum weight by committing to specific diet and exercises. Otherwise, they will revert to their old state. Similarly, a lean organization ought to deploy rigorous control procedures and standards so that people do not revert to the previous fatty operating model.


The third type of fat-lean transformation, fat-to-lean, is on the other end of the spectrum, and is the ideal transition that secures effectiveness as well as sustainability. Institutionalizing and sustaining a robust transformation process is key to achieving and sustaining a lean state.


This Waste Elimination process embraces the universal concept of process improvement depicted in many other methodologies such as PDCA, DMAIC, and 8-Disciplines. It starts by studying the process under transformation. Then, wastes need to be recognized and measured to form the current state and to have a baseline of improvement. After that, root causes of the wastes need to be identified and eliminated. The last step, which is the most crucial, is sustaining the outcome state of the process through updated procedures, control plans, and standardization.


Lean is a culture and way of life rather than being a methodology. And the recipe for a successful transformation hinges on root cause analysis, sustainability, and continuous improvement. While it is not a rocket science, the waste elimination process can help you kick start your journey towards a leaner state. Besides, my coming post on the Eight Types of Waste will make your life even easier in recognizing loads of fat in your organization.

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