What is Lean?

Here are the five lean principles, which we have tried to summarize into an easy to understand format. Please contact us if you have any questions.

1. Identify Value: Start with the customer. They are the ones who define what product or service you offer is valuable to them. Once we know what is valuable, we can work on eliminating or reducing the activities that are non-value added.

2. Map the Value Stream: Understand and map the entire process, from the very beginning of your process all the way to when your customer uses your products and services. This is the value stream. This map will help you see how long it takes from the time your customer requests your product or service, and when you deliver it. What you will find out is that most of the total time is waiting and delays. The percentage of the time where people were actually working on the product or service is often a small percentage of that time. These delays and waits are opportunities to streamline the process. The goal is to optimize the whole system, not individual processes or tasks that can actually make the overall system inefficient. Your customer only experiences the overall value stream, and they don’t care how efficient each individual process operates.

3. Create Flow: Once you can remove the waiting and delays, you can shorten the time from request to delivery of your product or service. We accomplish this through the elimination of the 8 forms of waste, or TIM WOODS.

  • Transportation – Moving parts, products and people unnecessary. Moving does not add value, and takes time and resources to complete.
  • Inventory – Having more than the minimum amount of work needed to pull the work through the system. Inventory is not ideal because it is waiting to be worked on, you have already spent money or effort but it’s not needed yet, and it can become outdated or have to be updated. When it is physical inventory, it can take up floor space and may require packaging, transportation and someone to manage it. These all lead to excessive costs.
  • Motion – Movements that are straining or unnecessary, such as looking for items, having commonly used items further away from you.
  • Waiting – When your customer, or the next process is waiting for information, parts, or help to arrive.
  • Overproduction – Working on a task before it’s actually needed by the next process or customer.
  • Overprocessing – Performing unnecessary, redundant or incorrect tasks.
  • Defects – Errors, mistakes, and variation, that will require rework and could lead to extra time and costs to fix the issue.
  • Skills – Putting people into roles in which they are overqualified, or not aligned with their passions and skills. Often times, organizations do not fully utilize the brains of their employees and volunteers, they only use their hands. You may need to separate out certain products and services into their own value stream, as the type of work may vary significantly. Move towards a one piece flow mindset, where only one product or service is being worked on at a time (not batching or putting multiple items through the process at once). You may also need to increase inventory in certain areas, in order to keep things moving. Although inventory is a form of waste, having the right inventory in the right areas is a good short term plan to get to flow. Later on, we will work to eliminate the inventory. In many organizations today, there is inventory, but it’s not planned, it just shows up where there are constraints and bottlenecks in the process. One thing to keep in mind: The goal is to move the product or service through the process, not make people productive. Therefore, you will have times where people are waiting and non-productive.

4. Establish Pull: Once you have consistent flow in the process, then you have a good idea how long the process actually takes (when the waiting and delays are reduced). Instead of pushing the work through the process, we now transition to a pull system, where each step in the process only pulls the work when it is ready. This prevents inventory from stacking up in the process, especially when there are problems. To control the work, you will need ways to limit the workload, and signal when the next step is ready for the work. If you can’t complete the task soon enough (before the next step runs out of work), you may need to have some inventory in place to reduce delays

5. Seek Perfection: Lean tools and concepts are setup to make problems visible. If your organization is not open to dealing with and talking about problems, then you will struggle with this approach. As the lean system exposes problems every day, and your organization works to solve these problems, you will continually improve. Over time, your organization will be striving towards perfection (which cannot ever be achieved), but you will be increasing value and shortening response times with your customers, which will make your organization more successful and sustainable. The 5 lean principles model is a circle. Values can change over time, so we need to always go back to step 1 (value), to see if the customer still feels we are providing the right value, or if we need to transition to something different.

You can also learn more about these concepts through Lean and Six Sigma training programs, or consider pursuing a Lean or Six Sigma certification.