The Five Lean Principles

Lean started from the evaluation and optimization of manufacturing processes. More recently, lean practices have expanded to include knowledge work, management, analytics, and development. Any process that would benefit from a continuous improvement approach applies for lean and the five core principles. As Womack and Jones defined them in their book “The Machine That Changed the World”, the five principles are widely used to improve workplace efficiency.

The Five Lean Principles are:

  • Defining value
  • Mapping the value stream
  • Creating flow
  • Using a pull system
  • Pursuing perfection

Define Value:

To accurately define value, one has to know what value is. In a nutshell, value is what the customer is willing to pay for getting their business needs fulfilled. Understanding the needs of the customer therefore is very important. At times, customers may not know either what they need or how to describe the parameters. Using qualitative and quantitative tactics like interviews, analytics and surveys, what customers need, what they value and how they want the service to be delivered can all be identified.

Map the Value Stream:

Mapping the value stream takes the customer’s value and uses it as a reference point to define the activities that contribute to these values. Activities that do not provide value to the customer are defined as waste. These waste activities break down into two types: necessary non value add and unnecessary non value add. The first should be reduced as much as possible while the second should be eliminated completely. Minimizing and removing both types of waste helps ensure customers get what they want and reduces production costs of that product or service.

Create Flow:

Once the waste activities are dealt with, the next step is making sure the flow of the remaining steps of the process is uninterrupted and smooth. Tactics and strategies to aid in a smooth flow derive from the production process, but also the personnel, what their job roles are and how teams work together toward common goals. Some examples include training personnel to adapt quickly and apply multiple skills, changing or redirecting steps of the production process, adjusting the workload balance and developing cross functional teams.

Establish Pull:

As one of the most common areas of waste, the inventory process should be evaluated in any production system. The aim of a pull system is to enhance the smooth flow of work by working to limit inventory and work in process (WIP) items. This facilitates approaches such as Just in Time (JIT) production and delivery of products when they are needed and in just the quantities needed. By following the value stream and working backwards through the production system, the customer’s needs will be fulfilled.

Pursue Perfection:

Some would argue this fifth step is the most critical of them all. If the pursuit of perfection is always top of mind for those involved, that will help instill the necessary culture based on lean principles and continuous process improvement into the organization. Companies should be learning organizations searching for ways to improve each day.

Principle Application:

The five lean principles offer a roadmap for creating an efficient organization. However, it only matters if it is implemented fully and maintained effectively within an organization. By practicing all 5 principles, an organization can remain competitive, increase the value delivered to the customers, decrease the cost of doing business, and increase their profitability.

Please contact us to get your company started on this process today.

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