I am often asked questions around how to implement Lean manufacturing programmes.

Is this a question that you have asked?

There is no right or wrong way to transform your business using Lean tools. That said, let me share with you a handful of ideas to help you get started.

Understand what value is

The starting point when you come to implement Lean manufacturing is understanding value. Value is, in essence, what your customer is willing to pay for.

If you define this for your business, you will likely determine a simple definition.

For a machine shop this might be ‘cutting metal’.

For a bakery it might be ‘baking bread’.

Value, as a definition, is simple.

Understand what waste is

Waste is thus anything that isn’t value. If ‘baking bread’ was the value statement then everything else you do is potentially waste.

At this point we have another definition to make. There are two types of waste. Anything that has to take place to create value is a essential waste. Anything that you can do without is a non-essential waste.

When you implement Lean manufacturing you aim to maximise time spent creating value. You also aim to cut non-essential wastes from the business. At the same time you look to minimise essential wastes.

A good definition for wastes is as follows:

  • Defects – activities that are done incorrectly.
  • Overproduction – doing too much of anything.
  • Transportation – moving items around unnecessarily.
  • Waiting – delays found within processes.
  • Inventory – impairing the business by having too much or not enough stock.
  • Motions – tiring people out through poorly designed working methods.
  • Processes – not having the most efficient and effective way to carry out tasks.
  • Untapped Human Potential – failing to engage with your teams, and their ideas.

Start some conversations

Now that you know about what value and waste is, it is time to act. Using the waste definitions above you can start to look for opportunities to improve. Sharing the list of wastes with your team and starting a conversation is a great place to start.

In essence, this is all you need to do implement Lean manufacturing. Know what you need to maximise / optimise your time doing (value) and what you need to do less of (waste). Start small with your improvements and build on them. This approach is the Kaizen approach and it can work wonders. You don’t have to make Lean manufacturing any more complex than this.

Research some basic tools

Once you have gained some confidence from your early wins it is time to look for other tools. With a quick look on this website, or anywhere on the web you will find other tools, including:

  • 5S – optimising your workplace organisation for efficiency, effectiveness and safety.
  • SMED – quick changeover between setups.
  • Waste Walking – walking around your business, with your team, spotting wastes.
  • Process Flow Analysis – streamline your processes by finding the gaps and breakdowns.
  • CCC – convert concerns into effective actions by determining the root cause.
  • KanBans – synchronise production with your demand with this advanced pull production method.
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Follow the Lean journey

Womack and Jones wrote a book in the 1990s called Lean Thinking. In this book they outlined the five steps for a Lean transformation:

  1. Identify what you create as value – as discussed above.
  2. Define your value stream – the steps you take to create value (all the steps!).
  3. Make your processes flow – by removing wastes and balancing out your ‘production’ process.
  4. Move to pull systems – synchronise your production activities with your customer demand.
  5. Aim for perfection – embrace continuous improvement.

As I write this post, approximately 25 years on, it is still a great model to follow.

Tie it all together with PDCA

Whatever route you take, you can use the PDCA model to tie it all together.

PDCA stands for Plan, Do, Check and Act.

To use this approach you can:

  • Plan to improve an element of your business (using any of the methods listed above, or something else).
  • Do some improvement work.
  • Check the results and evaluate the efforts.
  • Act in a different way going forward, to get better results.

When you implement Lean manufacturing you don’t need to worry about the path taken. Instead, focus on the engagement with the journey and follow the results.

If you follow this article as a very basic route for your journey, you won’t go far wrong!

Download my free guide, if you want some more ideas to help you implement Lean manufacturing.

Enjoy your journey!


Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their productivity and on time delivery performance. Giles is also the author of What Does Good Look Like? and the co-creator of the StreamLiner business improvement software program.