Lean Article

Mike Richman’s picture

By: Mike Richman

Of all the tools in the lean toolkit, 5S is the one that has proven to be the most effective—and also the most elusive. It’s effective because the actions needed to sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain mirror the deeper, critically important philosophy of thinking about value, waste, and flow with a “big picture” mindset. Once an organization has adapted lean thinking and initiated 5S projects, improvement begins to accelerate in all operational phases.

However, lasting success with 5S can also be elusive because that last “S,” representing the sustainment of the effort, must constantly be nurtured. It has been said, by Quality Digest Daily contributor Mike Micklewright, among others, that the sustain step of 5S is extremely difficult; it is, in fact, probably the hardest step of all. Successful sustainment means the difference between continuous improvement and continual improvement. The former is preferable because it reflects a steady, ever-present attitude of finding ways to do things better. The latter implies a stuttering series of start-and-stop efforts, with lots of ongoing and unnecessary course corrections.




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Chip Johns’s picture

By: Chip Johns

Reducing waste, implementing efficiency-promoting practices, and continuously improving operations are the main goals of lean manufacturing ideology. These tasks may seem daunting for a manufacturer at the start of an improvement program, but there are many concrete steps that can be taken to shift the culture at any company.

For many companies, all it takes to dramatically increase efficiency and reduce waste is a commitment to dive right in and a willingness to try new and creative ideas to find out what works best. If you are able to simplify your manufacturing tasks, increase spatial and workflow organization, take steps to reduce errors, and listen to employees on the manufacturing floor, your company will begin to see reduced waste, improved employee morale, improved efficiency, and a greater ability to manufacture products on a predictable timetable.

The following tips can help send you on your way toward all of these goals and change the way your company operates to be ready for improvement at all times.

Walter Garvin’s picture

By: Walter Garvin

The foundation of lean manufacturing is kaizen, or continuous improvement. Although this principle usually targets manufacturing processes, it can also extend to the people who plan and implement lean projects—individuals that grow professionally and personally as a result of new skills and experiences they acquire by leading or participating in a project.

The award-winning Manufacturing Process Optimization Program at Jabil Shanghai not only showcases how lean manufacturing can cut costs and save time but also highlights how employees benefit from lean projects. By working together on special projects, employees develop a stronger work ethic and an overall better work environment.

Multiple Authors
By: George Chemers, Mike Moutrie, Kimberly Parpala

Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the third largest school district in the United States, decided to review the way it procures items and services throughout a school year with the goal of saving money. At the beginning of 2012, the district’s chief operating officer announced a “lean review” initiative with the goal to uncover wasteful practices and unnecessary complexity, and to suggest actions to rectify them.

There were two main outcomes desired from the project. First was to make doing business with the district’s central offices faster and less expensive for CPS and its suppliers by examining how the procurement process could be accelerated. Second was to enhance the procurement process to capture information to be used by the district when making budget decisions to reduce expenditures by $100 million during the next three fiscal years.

Robert A. Brown’s picture

By: Robert A. Brown

Chances are you are not fully satisfied with the results of your lean initiatives. It’s also likely that lean thinking is not used to improve your employees’ skills in working together. That’s because you are using only half, probably less, of the power of lean thinking.

In 2001, Toyota declared that its success rested on two pillars: continuous improvement and respect for people. However, people in association with waste have been essentially ignored.

It’s easy to observe an assembly worker’s operational processes. What about someone daydreaming during a meeting? Is daydreaming in a meeting a waste to eliminate?

Nonproduction activities use a different kind of lean component. One objective of production is to pass a defect-free output to the next process in the value stream. What is a defect-free output for knowledge work and interacting with other people? That output is not so clear.

By better understanding and employing the neglected half of lean, organizations can have more robust continuous improvement, enhanced lean sustainability, and more efficient employee interactions with clear communication.

Kyle Toppazzini’s picture

By: Kyle Toppazzini

One of the most challenging issues I hear from people within the lean Six Sigma community is how to ensure that a lean Six Sigma project is sustainable. If your lean Six Sigma project is highly dependent on top leadership support to keep it going, there’s a risk of losing the focus and support when that leadership changes.

I have compiled a list of 15 methods you can use to improve the sustainability of your lean Six Sigma efforts:

Michael Ohler, Ph.D., Leo Bloch, and Volker Müller’s default image

By: Michael Ohler, Ph.D., Leo Bloch, and Volker Müller

Value stream or other lean analysis helps identify the main obstacles to  flow in a process. Improvement projects using lean tools in a transactional environment (i.e., office) are often confronted with the following problem: Lean teams lack a methodology to consistently problem-solve how to remove obstacles from a value stream. Especially for the transactional arena, teaching and coaching teams to employ innovation tools can be constructive.

Challenges in the transactional environment

During the past 30 years, lean and Six Sigma methods have been refined, first for manufacturing and then for transactional environments. The challenges for the latter are many, which is why major training houses offer specialized “transactional lean” or “transactional design for Six Sigma” classes.

Pete Abilla’s picture

By: Pete Abilla

Some time ago, while consulting for a huge call center, I took a group of customer service agents for a little gemba walk and a quick activity to demonstrate a few lean fundamentals. What was scheduled for a 60-minute exercise turned out to be an experience that awakened the agents, several of whom went on to create reports based on Toyota's A3 problem-solving method and on the plan-do-check-act cycle (a method for learning and improvement developed by Walter Shewhart), that added value to the customer and the company.

Stand in a circle

I gave each of the customer service agents a pencil and a piece of paper. We then stood quietly in the middle of the call center for five minutes. There was no talking. We wrote down as many things as we could observe during those five minutes.


With a white board, still in the middle of the contact center, I had one of the agents create a tally of the items observed. I showed the team how to create a simple tick sheet and then I asked them, “What’s a good way to visualize this data?”

Stewart Anderson’s picture

By: Stewart Anderson

The 5 Whys is a well-known root cause analysis technique that originated at Toyota and has been adopted by many other organizations that have implemented lean manufacturing principles. Unlike more sophisticated problem-solving techniques, the 5 Whys doesn’t involve data segmentation, hypothesis testing, regression, or other advanced statistical tools; and in many cases can be completed without a data collection plan. By repeatedly asking the question “Why?” at least five times, you can successively peel away the layers of symptoms, which can lead to identifying the root cause of a problem.

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