What is it?

Lean production is a production methodology focused on eliminating waste, where waste is defined as anything that does not add value for the customer. Although Lean's heritage is manufacturing, it is applicable to all types of organisation and all an organisation's processes. While the origins of Lean principles are not clear, Toyota has been instrumental in the development and application of Lean, and many tools are derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS). The tools are rooted in "The Toyota Way," which is focused on improving the flow or smoothness of production by eliminating unevenness in the production process. Lean methodology is not concerned with workarounds but with getting to grips with the root causes of waste. Lean defines seven types of waste, called the "Seven Deadly Wastes." These are:

Waste What is it?
Lean tool

Production ahead of demand.

  • Kanban: "Pull" system of logistical control.
  • SMED: Single Minute Exchange of Die. Quicker setup enables shorter runs.
  • Takt: Matching the rate of production with the rate of demand.

The cost of defect production and the effort required to monitor for defects.

  • Poka Yoke: Mistake-proofing. Any intervention that prevents mistakes happening in the first place.
  • Jidoka: Automation with a human touch, or "autonomation". Line stops when a defect is detected.
  • Kaizen: An opportunity to improve something. "Having no problem is the biggest problem of all." – Taiichi Ohno.

Production interruptions or time spent waiting for the next step of the production process.

  • Heijunka: Production levelling.
  • Standardised work.

When people must move more than necessary for their part of the production process. For example, moving pieces between a remote bin and machine.

  • 5S: Optimise the ergonomics of the place of work ("gemba").

Stocks of finished goods or work in progress not being processed.

  • Just-in-time (JIT) logistics.
  • Heijunka: Production levelling.

Excessive movement of materials, work in progress or finished goods.

  • Value stream mapping.
  • Ergonomic design of production line.
Over Processing

Processing to compensate for poor design or production processes.

  • Kaizen: Customer-driven improvements.

What benefits does the process provide?

  • Improved on-time delivery.
  • Improved quality.
  • Improved customer service and satisfaction.
  • Simpler production process and, therefore, simpler production management.
  • Reduced defects.
  • Reduced resource consumption.
  • Increased efficiency.

Implementing lean production? Questions to consider

  • Is the current production system fully documented?
  • Has the proposed production system been documented?
  • Have senior leaders accepted the business case for change?
  • Is the business case based on the wastes identified in the current process?
  • Does the business case ascertain the Lean tools appropriate for the identified wastes?
  • Have senior leaders and key implementation personnel been trained in applicable Lean techniques?
  • Has implementation been fully planned and resources approved?
  • Have the measures of success and targets been agreed?
  • Are incentives in place to encourage buy-in to kaizen?
Actions to take / Dos Actions to avoid / Don'ts
  • Be realistic about what's achievable.
  • Lean depends on people – so educate all personnel.
  • Empower people in the work place – they know best.
  • Embrace kaizen principles and philosophies. No innovation is too small.
  • Don't try to be too ambitious.
Related and similar practices to consider Further resources
  • 5S
  • 7 wastes (muda)
  • Just-in-time (JIT)
  • Mistake proofing (Poka yoke)
  • Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED)