Lean Principles – Tools & Practices for Lean Thinking

When we talk about thinking Lean, we are not talking about a traditional rationalisation tactic, a traditional cost reduction program or a trendy business coaching fad based on temporarily popular principles. With Lean principles we are enacting a positive way of thinking and acting that allows profitable choices to be implemented across the entire organisation.

In this process of positive implementation and enacting, there are pivotal principles, tools and methodologies that Lean-thinking organisations are implementing to get the best results.

Focusing on Lean principles and tools will direct us towards a plethora of resources Lean thinking organisations currently use to improve their processes and eliminate waste.

While the accepted five-step thought process for guiding the implementation of Lean principles and practices is relatively easy to remember, achieving it is not always easy or straightforward

Benefits to following Lean Principles and methodologies

By following the Five Lean Principles in a continuous flow from one to five and back again, the result is the introduction and maintenance of a strong methodology based on an overriding organisational strategy to constantly and consistently deliver the best results to the customer. With a view to identify, redirect flow and revisit for further improvement, the Lean methodology is one that is never complete, and instead becomes a way of being for the organisation and all who work within it.

While having a solid concept of the Lean Principles and methodologies behind them of continuous improvement and respect for the customer is one thing, it is an entirely different matter to put these principles and methodologies into practice with reliable and comprehensive tools.

Lean Tools to Support Lean Principles

Of all the Lean Tools that are being implemented by Lean thinking organisations, there are some that stand out as being particularly helpful in directing the flow from each Lean Principle to the next.

Identifying customers and specifying value – Tool: Identify Waste

The first point of reference for the overriding Lean principles is to recognise the actions or process that adds value for the end customer, and what actions don’t. Identifying both the valuing adding action and the non-value adding actions that contribute to waste is the principle point moving forward with Lean thinking.

To effectively identity the value we are providing our Customers we can firstly identify the Waste and how we can reduce this waste to improve our value to the Customer, while also providing a safer workplace as many wastes are also hazards within our workplaces.

Once the wastes have been identified their solutions can be categorised into:

  • Just Do It’s – immediate fixes that take little more than time and a little planning
  • Low Cost Ideas – quick fixes which may need “petty cash” and some scheduled time away from the workplace, which could include overtime, which can be approved by a Team Leader or Supervisor
  • Projects – usually requiring a higher degree of investment along with management approval, sometimes as a capital expenditure and some significant timing and planning, potentially scheduling work to be done during a shutdown period

Map the Value Stream – Tool: Value Stream Mapping

In Lean, the Value Stream is the entire set of activities across the organisation involved in delivering a service or product. By identifying the end-to-end process that delivers the product or service to a customer, break down or stalls in this process can be identified and better rectified

This is the stage where we focus on what the end-to-end process that delivers the product or service to a customer is.

  • First we list all the process steps in order in a horizontal format
  • Review the steps, are they all necessary, can any be deleted, which steps are not adding value to the process or the customer
  • Then under each step what are the issues or factors that are potential or actual causes of problems, affecting that process step, use your waste analysis tools to assist in this process
  • Now we identify the actions we can take to prevent these issues from occurring
  • Review how our process steps interact with incoming and outgoing data, cycle times, WIP and FGI stock levels and importantly delivery cycles to the customer.

 Create Flow – Tool: 5S

Upon examining the Value Stream from beginning to end, some Lean thinkers may find that only a small percentage of efforts directly impact the end result that the customers interacts with. Eliminating the waste in this flow and instead replacing it with valuable actions or simplified processes is key with this Lean principle

At this point of the Principle flow, the Lean thinking organisation will be focused on reducing the slack hiding within the existing processes; this is where 5S comes in as a useful tool. The five steps of 5S are designed to identify where flow can be improved between processes and between people:

  1. Sort – Segregate the workplace into necessary and unnecessary contents, remove what can be removed
  2. Straighten – Arrange elements, tools and people together in their place that makes sense for communication and identification
  3. Shine – Make it clean, keep it clean and remove defects
  4. Standardise – Create visual control and guidelines to keep the workspace organised
  5. Sustain – Put training in place to ensure all team members follow the 5S standards

Click here to download the handy 5S Poster. 

Establish Pull – Tool: Kanban

Understanding the nature of the customer’s demand for the product or service is key to establishing a process that responds to this as opposed to works against it

This is the stage of the process when you need to define what material is required and when you want it available or delivered.  Too much product at the workplace has the potential to restrict access and introduce safety issues, too little product and you process in in danger of being stopped awaiting for materials.

To ensure your Pull system works, establish:

  1. How often do you need to replenish materials
  2. How much material needs to be stored on line to meet this time frame
  3. How is the material to be stored for safe and easy access
  4. How to ensure FIFO [first in, first out] is maintained
  5. What are the maximum and minimum quantities to store on line, and
  6. What is your replenishment trigger, e.g.:
    • Visual
    • Electronic
    • Kanban Card
    • Time-bound e.g. 2 hour deliveries

Pursue Perfection – Tool:  Gemba Walks

The pursuit of perfection begins and continues with the comprehension of pull and the directing flow toward the betterment of the overall customer experience. The more dedication and focused the pursuit is, the more layers of waste will be uncovered and converted into a smoother, more continuous flow.

Now you’ve reached this stage, you’ve addressed the big issues, you’ve made permanent change based on KPI data you have collected, now you need to spend more time at the process.  You cannot make an assessment on any process without being there and seeing what is happening, without understanding any frustrations that may be in the workplace.

Talk to the people, ask them how things are going, what are their issues and ideas, your people need to feel they are engaged and valued by you, and that they are a significant part of the improvement process.  Avoid the Yes/No response questions like “Is everything okay?”, use open questions such as “I noticed you were having problems with that part during assembly, what are the issues?” and “How can we make it easier for you?”

Ensure you have “Regular Meaningful Conversations about things that matter”, to help you identify the potential issues and concerns before they become costly repairs and fixes, or worse, customer or consumer complaints.

Visualise your problems on a board or a chart, and set plans in place to implement effective permanent solutions.

At the heart of these Lean principles and the tools that support them, there is always a primary focus on the customer experience and the improvement of this through the elimination of waste, the simplification of process and the implementation of a smooth flow of work toward the ongoing goal of continuous improvement.