Lean Manufacturing

Working More Efficiently by Tackling Waste

Lean Manufacturing - Working More Efficiently by Tackling Waste

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Adopt lean manufacturing to streamline your operation.

Have you ever had to wait for someone to finish a task before you could start your own work? Or maybe your team has too many meetings, which are taking up valuable production time.

It is unproductive and a poor use of resources to waste time and effort like this. It can affect the quality of your product, which may ultimately result in customer dissatisfaction. So, how can you tackle waste, be more efficient, and keep your clients happy?

Adopting "lean manufacturing" is one possible solution. It is a practical framework that focuses on the elimination of waste and the continuous improvement of production.

In this article, we'll explore the five-step lean process, and explain how it can deliver a sleeker, more efficient workplace.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing was popularized in the 1990 book, "The Machine That Changed the World," by James Womack, Daniel Jones and Daniel Roos.

The term originates from the Toyota Production System, which the Japanese carmaker developed in the late 1940s. The company wanted to introduce low-cost improvements, so that it could compete with the likes of Ford in the U.S.

The lean approach is based on finding efficiencies and removing wasteful steps and practices that don't add value to your product. Its aim is to complete tasks more simply and effectively, and to ensure that your people, equipment and workspaces are responsive to your customers' needs. This is achieved with no reduction in quality.

The benefits of lean include cost and time savings on streamlined processes, and increased customer satisfaction.

This systematic and simple approach is effective across all types of industries, sectors and organizations. Lean leadership, for example, can help leaders in any field to engage their people in the improvements that they make to processes, resulting in increased job satisfaction and staff retention.

Implementing Lean

Figure 1, below, shows the five key stages of the lean cycle, from the identification of customer value to continuous improvement.

Figure 1: The Lean cycle.

The Lean cycle


Let's explore these five stages in more detail.

Step 1: Identify Value

Lean defines value as being anything you do that improves the customer experience, and which they are willing to pay for. Added value isn't just about turning physical raw materials into hard goods. It can include product features, price points, timescales for reducing manufacturing costs, and improved logistics.

For example, a company that offers online financial training can add value by delivering readily understandable, concise learning experiences, rather than in providing raw research and data.

And remember, anything you do that doesn't add value for your customers is "waste."


Your "customers" can be employees of your business as well as external purchasers. Lean processes offer value for the people who work within an organization, as well as those who buy its goods and services, by making sure that workers don't get trapped in non-productive tasks.

Step 2: Map the Value Stream

To map a source of value, or a value stream, review your processes and identify all of the actions that take the raw materials or knowledge through to your end product. You can use a tool such as Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to do this.

VSM emphasizes those parts of the process that add value, and highlights the areas where waste occurs and can be eliminated.  

For example, you might notice that some work passes through the same people at two different points in the production process. This wastes time and effort, when those people could likely carry out both tasks at the same point.

There are eight categories of waste that you can look for, and seek to eliminate:

  1. Overproduction: producing more goods than your customers demand.
  2. Waiting: allowing lag time to develop between production stages.
  3. Inventory: having to store excess raw materials, work-in-progress, or finished goods.
  4. Transportation: inefficient movement of resources and raw materials between the steps of your processes.
  5. Over-processing: duplicating work, or working in any way that fails to add value.
  6. Motion: non-value adding steps of your processes.
  7. Defects: wasting time and resources by making mistakes or producing faulty goods or services.
  8. Workforce: disengaging team members by failing to use their potential efficiently.


The first seven sources of waste were originally outlined in the Toyota Production System, and were called "muda." Subsequent lean manufacturing studies have added the eighth category, "workforce."

Remember, although the aim is to remove as much waste as possible by continuously refining your processes, you probably won't eliminate waste completely.

Step 3: Create and Maintain "Flow"

Flow is about how products or services move efficiently through a process from start to delivery. In a "lean flow" system, value-creating steps take place in a logical, integrated order. The service or product moves through the process as quickly as possible, without damaging quality or customer satisfaction.

Your processes should demonstrate flow after you have carried out VSM, and you can maintain it by using systems like Kanban. In Kanban, cues are built in to your processes that signal when you need to replace, order, or locate a resource.

The 5S System can also help you to create and maintain flow by organizing your workplace as efficiently as possible.

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Step 4: Establish "Pull"

A "pull" system cuts waste by ensuring that there is only ever enough material in a system to complete the next step. Each component is "pulled" through by customer demand, not "pushed" by fixed production targets. "Material" can be services or tasks as well as physical items.

You can sustain the pull model by using the Just in Time philosophy. With JIT, you purchase materials, and produce and distribute products only when the customer wants them.

This keeps your stock and resources to a minimum, and produces small, continuous batches of products to keep production running smoothly and efficiently. You can also monitor quality and correct defects as you go by reducing batch size. This helps to improve the quality of future batches.

Step 5: Improve Continuously

According to lean philosophy, waste always exists and, no matter how good your process is, it can always be better. This commitment to continuous improvement is known as Kaizen, which is Japanese for "change for the good."

Kaizen stresses the value of making frequent small changes to improve processes. In doing so, it feeds back into VSM and drives the lean cycle.

There should be no rapid, irregular changes that are disruptive to the workplace. Instead, you make small and sustainable changes that your people can identify for themselves and then carry out.

The demand for continuous improvement to a process not only provides regular review, but also ensures that the people who are most closely involved with the work are the ones to implement valuable change.

Key Points

Lean manufacturing is a way to optimize your processes and eliminate waste by focusing on value-adding processes. This helps you to cut costs and to deliver what your customers want and are willing to pay for.

Lean makes gradual, sustainable changes that are implemented by the people who are actually working in the process.

With a lean philosophy, you can enjoy the benefits of continuous improvement. And, ultimately, a process with as little waste as possible is much more sustainable.

There are five key steps in the lean cycle:

  1. Identify value.
  2. Map the value stream.
  3. Create and maintain flow.
  4. Establish pull.
  5. Improve continuously.


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