All we are doing is a looking at a timeline from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point we collect the cash. And we are reducing that timeline by removing the non-value added wastes”

Taiichi Ohno – Founder of the Toyota Production System

A lean organization understands what it’s customer value, and focuses on the key processes to continuously improve it. The goal is to create customer value through a process with zero waste. This is achieved through identifying and eliminating waste throughout the entire value stream. Doing this creates processes requiring less effort, space, capital, and time at far less costs and fewer defects.

One of the powerful aspects of applying lean is the ability to experience real benefits where YOU are. You don’t need to be the CEO or head of the business to apply lean thinking. Lean can be easily implemented across many aspects of one’s daily life, and transformation lean improvements are best led by line managers.

Incremental Improvement

  • Small risk, small reward
  • Creates value through making things better
  • Utilizes existing technology
  • Many projects with small scope
  • Very small investment

Innovative Leaps

  • Higher risk, greater reward
  • Creates value through making things different
  • Dependent on new technology
  • Few projects with large scope
  • (Typically) large investment

Where to Start,

Value Stream Map,

Generate a value stream map by selecting a single value creating process, and map each step within that process starting with the supplier and ending with the customer. This map is called the “Value stream”, and will be a helpful resource and you make improvements. An additional method to map a value stream is through utilizing a SIPOC/COPIS.

When completing a value stream map, include ALL actions, both value and non-value added, required to deliver the product to the customer. The value stream map can be recorded as a current state map or as a future state map. See below for an example value stream map.

We can see from this map, we can see the total time for this process is 159.5 hours, the first pass yield and takt time (time actually spent on the action), and quite a bit of additional valuable information of the process.

Helpful high level steps for improving a process using lean are,

  1. Define the process and background of this value stream
  2. What is the current state. include cycle time, waiting time, defects, scrap
  3. What is your goal?
  4. Analyze and generate opportunities through identifying waste
  5. Deploy improvements
  6. Results, iteration, and next challenge

Eliminating Waste,

While assessing your process through the above high level steps, continually define the value added to the process. Value is defined by the customer and addresses the need(s) at a specific time and often for a specific cost to the customer. Categorize value into two areas: Value Added and Non-value Added. Value added steps change the fit, form, and function of the product or is something the customer is willing to pay for. Non-value added steps include everything else.

Non-value added steps and processes is waste, and waste can be defined as necessary waste(minimize this) and unnecessary waste(Eliminate). There are 8 types of waste: Defects, over-production, inventory, motion, Transportation, Over-Processing, Waiting, and . Details on the 8 wastes can be found in The Eight Wastes resource.

Other Process Mapping Tools

Physical Process Map (Spaghetti Diagram)

A spaghetti diagram is a tool to visually track where a product or person moves during a process. The diagram illustrates how smooth or rough a process flows. Based on the image at left, what insights can you draw from how this person moves throughout their office?

Virtual Process Mapping

To see how different departments and teams function in a virtual world, you can utilize a map like this to see where information flows through the process.


Flow is the movement of a product or transaction through the value stream. The most efficient process will be continuous, where any stop or reverse in flow is waste. Flow reduces cycle time and is the ultimate goal for a lean production. In processing, two common types of flow are batch processing and single piece flow. Batch processing leads to long lead times because each process step must wait for the other parts to complete before the next process step can begin. Alternatively, single piece flow will reduce product lead time and cash required for production due to a significant reduction in inventory and work in process (WIP) as compared to batch processing. See the below video of how Boeing employed single piece flow and lean on the manufacturing and assembly of the 737 aircraft. This innovation reduce WIP by 50% -freeing up $500 Million in inventory!


5S is a tool for achieving an organized workplace and is a basic foundation for continuous improvement. The 5S method provides stability for a lean process leading to world class manufacturing. Additionally, this often leads to improved quality and safety, and facilitates a visual management system so workers can readily identify abnormal conditions.

  • Sort: Clearly distinguish between needed and unneeded items and eliminate the unneeded.
  • Set in Order: Organize the needed items for quick and easy utilization.
  • Shine: Maintain a clean work area
  • Standardize: Create procedures to standardize the first 3 S’s
  • Sustain: Make a habit of maintaining and abiding by the procedures

Methods that will help achieve 5S are,

  • Point of Use: The practice of locating tools, materials, and information at the location (point) where and when they will be needed. These materials will be in the proper quantity, orientation, and sequence in which they will be used.
  • Visual Management: A communication method so that anyone can readily see if there are any abnormal conditions or if production is proceeding normally. Displaying key metrics in a SQCDP chart is one method of visual management. SQCDP stands for Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery and People – and will align the metrics associated with each on a chart.


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