Monday, June 7, 2021

15 Guiding Principles of Lean


In order to gain a competitive edge, many companies have adopted lean manufacturing (or lean thinking) as a keystone for success in today’s global market. Lean manufacturing has enabled businesses to increase production, reduce costs, improve quality, and increase profits by following key principles:

Identify Value

The first principle of lean manufacturing pertains to defining value. It is important to understand what value is before anything else within the process. Value is what the customer is willing to pay for. It is important to discover the actual needs of the customers. At times, the consumer may be unable to properly articulate what exactly they want, which is common in areas of novel products or technology.

Continuous Flow

Efficient product flow requires items to move from production to shipping without interruption and can be achieved by strategically organizing the work floor. Every factor, from people and equipment to materials and shipping, must be taken into account to ensure products seamlessly move through the production process.

Create Pull

Inventory is one of the biggest wastes within a production facility. The overall goal of a pull-based system is to limit inventory and work in process (WIP) items while ensuring that the requisite materials and information are available for a smooth workflow. A pull-based system allows for Just-In-Time delivery and manufacturing where products are created at a time they are needed and in the quantities needed.

Level the Work

One of the foundational lean principles of lean manufacturing is levelized production. The basis of this principle is that the workload is the same (or level) every day. Most manufacturing companies are at the mercy of their customers for orders. Before producing product, they wait to get orders. This leads to increased delivery lead time which may not satisfy customer requirements.

Eliminate Waste

Waste in the value stream is any activity, which the customer is not willing to pay for since it adds no value to the product or service and often, is consuming resources. The waste can be broken into two categories: non-value added but necessary and non-value & unnecessary. The later is pure waste and should be eliminated while the former should be reduced as much as possible. Waste exists in all parts of the business – front office to the factory.

Kaizen Mindset

Kaizen, a philosophy of continuous improvement, can help businesses with this shift by creating a culture where workers seek perfection. Kaizen focuses on making small, incremental changes and requires every worker, from the corner office to the production floor, to help improve business practices. Over time, Kaizen will result in increased efficiency, lower costs, greater productivity, and better quality products.

Visualize Problems

Visual management aims to make the situation easily understood merely by looking at it. The goal is to get as much information as possible with as little observation or time as possible. Visual management is used to share information, work standards, build on those standards, highlight problems, stop problems occurring and prevent problems altogether. If visual management has been done well, everyone in your factory understands and knows how to fix an issue if something is wrong. Visual management complements well with the idea of going to the real place.

Stop and Fix

It’s so easy to just ignore problems when they pop up because they keep you from being productive. Truth be told, it’s easier in the long run to stop and fix the issue right away because you’ll be doing whatever is necessary to make sure the problem will NOT re-occur.

Use root cause analysis and the five-whys to figure out why a problem occurs, figure out what can be done to make sure the problem won’t come back, and make that fix. The more you attack problems and fix them, the more the organizational culture will begin to see the simplicity in doing so and the benefits realized by not having as many breakdowns or repeated repairs. This will build momentum toward a change in culture of not tolerating problems and continuous repairs.

Creativity Before Capital

Simply put, this principle demands that we think more about making our improvements by utilizing what is nearby without spending capital dollars. Dr. Shigeo Shingo preached to engineers not to become a "Catalog Engineer". Catalog Engineers spent all of their time looking for solutions in a catalog and buying a quick fix. He would say to throw out the catalog and go to gemba. Creativity before capital is the lost principle of lean in America.

Standardize Work

Standardized work is the name given in lean manufacturing for documenting the steps of a job task and the sequence in which those should be performed. You can think of standardized work as defining who does the task, when they do it, and how they do it.

The documentation of standardized work should be done in a collaborative process with people who actually do the job task as part of their job as well as others–including perhaps engineers and supervisors.

Standardizing the work adds discipline to the culture, an element that is frequently neglected but essential for lean to take root. Standardized work is also a learning tool that supports audits, promotes problem solving, and involves team members in developing poka-yokes.

Built in Quality

Another key lean manufacturing principle is Quality Built In, or Jidoka. The idea behind this principle is that quality is built into the manufacturing process. Quality is built into the design of the part. Quality is built into the packaging. Throughout all areas of the product, from design to shipping, quality is built into the process.

Jidoka builds quality into the process through detection or prevention.  Each lean manufacturing process will be designed to highlight any abnormality so that the employee can stop the process.  Stopping the process so that the problem can be fixed is a key part of the Jidoka lean principle.

Develop People

In order to fully realize potential, you’ll have to add knowledge, skills, and experience. Don’t expect your people to do their best if you don’t equip them with the training they need to perform. And don’t expect your potential to spring forth in a final draft; it takes time to hone your skills and build your confidence. This could come from formal schooling, from the school of hard knocks, or from both. Either way, your education is the house your realized potential will live in.

Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company's philosophy Empowerment happens when employees use the company tools to solve problems. Build cross functional teams to improve quality and productivity. Work hard to reinforce the company culture and assure it is followed over the course of years.

Respect for People

The most valuable resource to any company are the people who work for it. Without the people, businesses do not succeed. The respect for people principle is made up of Respect and Teamwork.  This approach allows the company to leverage and utilize the collective problem solving capability of the employees to drive improvement. Most people want to perform well in their jobs. The employees want to earn a decent living and have a sense of worth while working. They want to feel like they have contributed to the company goals, like their work and effort has meant something.

Go See For Yourself

Data can tell you a lot of the story, but it can’t tell you the whole story. Going to see the process or activity yourself lets you gain a better understanding of what’s truly happening, information that can transcend the data. Solve problems and improve processes by going to the source and personally observing and verifying data rather than theorizing on the basis of what other people or the computer screen tell you.

Seek Perfection

While seeking perfection may seem straightforward, it is often one of the most difficult principles to successfully apply in the workplace. Seeking perfection requires companies to continuously improve their practices and often requires a shift in the workplace culture. All employees should attempt to strive toward perfection while delivering products based on the customer needs.

These principles of lean manufacturing can help companies to operate more efficiently. Implementing lean concepts is beneficial for the bottom line since greater efficiency leads to better profitability. It also creates a positive customer experience which improves overall satisfaction and enhances your brand’s reputation.


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