If you are new to the concept of Lean in business, welcome! If not, you will doubtless already be aware of the versatility of the Lean toolkit – a set of processes, behaviours and attitudes that can inform, enhance, and streamline your business operations. There are several tools within the Lean toolkit that are of specific use for eliminating waste and within these, there are hundreds, if not thousands of variations that can be adapted and tailored to each business/project.   

When talking about Leanprocess improvement tools, many turn to the tried-and-tested concepts of  Six Sigma or Kanban. However, what many people forget is that Lean also offers a highly practical approach, based on the use of tools to improve processes in an agile way, aiming to reduce waste and create a more streamlined, “lean” operation. 

To follow is a whistle-stop tour through the main Lean tools that we regularly use in our projects.  You don’t need to be an expert to use them, but understanding what they are and where you can apply them for your own purpose.  

Lean Tools 

Seven wastes (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005)1 

To identify areas of waste more easily, you need to consider seven areas. You can remember these areas by thinking about the acronym, TIM WOOD: 

  • Transportation – Excessive moving of raw material or inventory
  • Inventory – Building or storing excess raw material, WIP or finished goods
  • Motion – Human motions that are unnecessary or ergonomically incorrect
  • Waiting – Process delays, down time, bottlenecks, no parts
  • Over Processing – Adding extra value that the customer does not require
  • Over Production – Manufacturing product before it is required
  • Defects – Reprocessing, inspections or correcting work

Five Ss (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005)

This Lean-based tool focuses on workstations. Specifically, it dictates how teams should organise materials and keep work areas “clean” to maximise efficiency. The five Ss are:

  • Sort (remove any unnecessary materials)
  • Set in order (arrange materials so they are easy to find and access)
  • Shine (clean the workspace regularly)
  • Standardise (make the previous three S’s standard use)
  • Sustain (institute regular audits)

JIT (Just-In-Time) (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005) 

This process is based on the concept of making only “what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed”. The goal is to achieve a continuous flow and JIT aims to ensure efficient production of quality products with a short lead time. The strategy is to arrange the orders of raw materials in such a way that the goods are only ordered when required for production. This is achieved by aligning the orders placed by the customers with the orders placed for the raw material.  

Kaizen (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005) 

Taken from the Japanese word for improvement or continuous improvement, the concept of Kaizen has evolved since the 1950s into a business strategy of making small, but continuous changes for the better. These changes can range from manufacturing steps to productivity, inventory or quality control matters. Kaizen involves every employee and strongly encourages suggestions for improvements, which are examined and implemented if useful. 

TaktTime (Kanbanize, 2020)2 

Put simply, TaktTime refers to the amount of time a manufacturer has per unit to produce enough goods to fulfill customer demand. Remember, though, that Takt Time is not the number of man-hours put into creating a product. It refers to the entire time span needed to create a product, from start to finish, ensuring that continuous flow is achieved and customer demand is satisfied. The time available for production should reflect the number of hours employees spend working on the product, minus variables, such as meetings and breaks.  Customer demand is a measure of how many products a customer expects to buy. Both variables should be consistent over the same time frame, such as one day or a week. 

Standardised work (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005) 

By standardising the most efficient way to perform processes, standardised work reduces variations in output to make work processes and times more predictable. Thus, quality, costs, required inventory and delivery times can all be anticipated and managed more effectively. 

Ensuring that your employees are using the best practices is one of the best ways to increase efficiency. If you want to promote a working environment characterised by standardised work, you need to ensure that your standardisation requirements are reasonable and have scope for improvement and adjustment, as necessary. 

FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005) 

Failure Mode and Effects Analysis is a method designed to not only know about, but fully understand potential failures and their causes.  It also works by recognising the potential effects of those failures on the users.  FMEA adds risk levels to potential failures identified and helps inform corrective action.  

FMEA supports the building of a set of actions that will reduce risk for any process you are working on and help bring it down to a reasonable, acceptable level.  

Value Stream Mapping (Bicheno & Catherwood, 2005) 

This is a well-used tool used to help visualise and analyse the current process, taking it step by step from the beginning right through to the very end. By using a visual representation, such as post-it notes on a wall with different colours for different processes, users can understand where improvements can be made, either by eliminating waste or adding value.  Value Stream Mapping is a team event and requires employees at all levels to be involved to achieve success on a larger scale. Successful value streams offer continuous improvement across systems because they allow for optimisation.  Team members are better equipped to identify and remove waste and ultimately focus on building product/services that add value for the customer.  

SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Dies) (Moinuddin, 2010)3

One of the core principles of making a Lean system work is SMED. It is a concept supporting the reduction in setup time to improve flexibility and responsiveness to customer changes.

Depending on which book you read, or consultant you talk to, there are generally around seven steps to be followed when improving changeovers:

  1. Observe the current process
  2. Categorise internal and external activities
  3. Convert internal activities into external activities
  4. Make the remaining internal activities flow
  5. Optimise the external activities
  6. Document new procedure so it can be repeated
  7. Continually look for new improvements.

In conclusion 

While these different tools and approaches offer valuable structure, ideas and motivation for facilitating change and eliminating waste within a business, it is ultimately up to you to decide which advice to follow and how to put Lean concepts into practice. It is important to understand that these tools are intentionally wide-ranging to enable you to make them as complex or simple and as adaptable as you require. Some of them might not be needed in your business at all, or they may actually be what you are crying out for, but you just haven’t recognised it yet. That’s why we are here and why we are looking forward to working with you soon.  

For more information on Lean Tools and how to apply them to your business, get in contact with us: team@penmark.co.uk  


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