Unfortunately, this 15 point “FAQ” doesn’t appear in the official Scrabble dictionary (I looked it up).  Fortunately, we are here to help with the five most common lean questions.  While the concept of lean isn’t new, it’s easy to get lost in the mountain of rules and strategies surrounding the topic.  Sometimes, it helps to get back in touch with the basics.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing is the strategic and intentional process of reducing waste within a company and becoming a learning organization.  Non-value-added activities are considered waste.  There are at least seven common types of non-value-added activities, or waste, in every organization.  The goal of lean manufacturing is to reduce or eliminate this waste.  Waste reduction must be paired with the desire to become a learning organization and adopt a lean, continuous improvement mindset, where improvement is an ongoing journey and not an end state.

How and when do I implement lean manufacturing?

Start with your organization’s current state. Where are there leaks? Where is there room for improvement? Once you’ve identified where you are, you can more easily identify an ideal future state. From there, you can organize the company workforce and implement lean strategies that will help you achieve this future state.

What are the rules of lean?

Lean manufacturing has adopted four basic rules:

  1. Structure every activity. All tasks should have instructions so specific and detailed that any employee would be able to execute them.
  2. Clearly connect every customer and supplier. There should be a clear line between the customer/client and the supplier. Essentially, this rule aims to cut out any ambiguity for customers and clients.
  3. Specify and simplify every flow path. Ensure a simple and effective flow path by eliminating excess handoffs and unnecessary checkpoints.
  4. Improve through experimentation. Coming up with a hypothesis to deal with problematic processes enables continuous learning and provides direction toward an ideal state.

What are the most common mistakes in implementing lean operations?

The biggest mistake companies make when implementing lean concepts is overlooking the way it will impact company culture. Lean is a mindset that requires long-term buy-in from every level of a company or organization. It requires methodical planning and ongoing experimentation to implement truly impactful changes, and everyone needs to be on board for these changes to be successful.

This highlights the next most common mistake: unilateral decision making. While it makes sense for leadership to decide to move toward lean manufacturing, problem identification and process adjustment decisions should be discussed with the folks on the front lines. After all, these are the folks working with inefficient machines or processes every day. Involving them in the decision-making process will bolster buy-in and result in more impactful changes.

What are the benefits of Lean Manufacturing?

The most significant benefit of lean manufacturing is the reduction of waste. Whether that be energy overuse or workforce inefficiencies, lean processes do a brilliant job of identifying and thoroughly defining the root cause of all problems, then developing the best way to address them. With these issues addressed, it’s common to see an impact on the bottom line: cost reduction. And while cost reduction is important, there is also a link between lean manufacturing and employee satisfaction. All of which result in a thriving company culture.