Lean manufacturing and creating a LEAN culture has always created a lot of discussions in the supply chain and manufacturing world as a way to create an efficient company who is able to achieve high customer demand all while controlling organizational costs. In my first focus in my LEAN series I focused on creating a lean initiatives program by over-viewing what is lean and continued further on explaining what is 5S. In today’s LEAN post, I will focus on how to create a lean environment and culture by knowing and eliminating the 7 wastes, as well as an introduction to continuous improvement often called KAIZEN.

What is a LEAN environment?

What should we attempt to become LEAN in our business? Overall, we want to BANISH WASTE AND CREATE WEALTH. We have to SHED FAT AND BUILD MUSCLE as a team.

lean environment eliminate wasteWhy should we become LEAN and create a LEAN environment? We buy lean meat to eliminate the fat which may cause a problem in the future. We become lean to be faster, feel better and improve the quality of our lives. In business, we become lean to exceed our customer’s expectations by increasing through-put to our customers, streamlining our supply chain operation, decreasing lead times, being more flexible, and improving the quality of our goods and services. Profitability should increase as well because your cost of goods sold should be reduced as an overall goal. After all, you are in business to serve your customers and increase profitability.

Is this a LEAN environment a new concept? No. The roots of lean thinking go back to the manufacturing innovations of Henry Ford in the early 20th century. But lean manufacturing really got its start after World War II at Toyota Motor Company, which developed the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS’ goal is elimination of all waste.

There are seven (7) basic kinds of waste

  1. Overproduction: manufacturing items before they are required
  2. Waiting: leaving goods in work-in-process before they are needed for the next process
  3. Transporting: excessive movement and handling to get goods from one process to the next
  4. Inappropriate processing: using equipment that is more sophisticated and expensive than actually needed
  5. Unnecessary inventory: holding goods that are not flowing through any process
  6. Unnecessary or excess motion: allowing bending, stretching, walking, etc. that is not strictly needed to do the job and can  jeopardize workers’ health and safety
  7. Defects: allowing quality deficiencies that result in rework or scrap.

What about the office?

  1. Clean up all office clutter
  2. Move file cabinets around to improve office efficiency
  3. Use 5S to sort pens, pencils, paper, staples, scissors and any office tools
  4. Are desks in the right position for office processing?
  5. Clean paper piles off desks, put them in your desk drawers for future follow-up on the dated you will use them
  6. Maintain and sustain these changes to the office and use continuous improvement to increase efficiencies
  7. Make sure there are no underused employees and level the office load
  8. Examples of lean in the office? Self-billing invoicing, automatic invoicing, and back-to-back purchase orders

These wastes in the production area, warehouse or office, contribute to excess inventory, fail to add value to the customer, and limit supply chain capacity, quality and velocity.

Where should you focus to implement a LEAN environment? We do it for ourselves and our customers.

An Introduction to KAIZEN to Create a LEAN Environment

lean environment kaizenLet’s start with defining daily Continuous Improvement or KAIZEN: Keep our theme in mind: There is always a better way to do anything. When you come in every morning and do your routine work, look for ways to improve anything you do. Look at your work differently. Take the blinders off and try something new that might help productivity, efficiency, improved product flow or throughput. Ask, “Why are you doing this?” Is it because you always have, then rethink what you are doing. Are you measuring what you can, but not what matters? Are you persisting on what doesn’t work? It is critical to understand the importance of flexibility in a process, because customers demand it.

KAIZEN and continuous improvement or somewhat interchangeable.  Kaizen means small steps of continuous improvement. Continuous improvement should be monitored and implemented daily. It is the continuous search for imperfections by all employees. They both take daily discipline. All employees must embrace it. So there is a learning curve, but once adopted there is no turning back. It can mean as much as a 10% increase in productivity and quality. Management will look to employees for daily ideas on how to improve their jobs to increase throughput and velocity to the customer. Teamwork and achievement are created by implementing Kaizen. The use of cross-functional teams to look at areas, audit them for 5S or KAIZEN is critical. Cross-functional teams look at things differently due to their diverse backgrounds and come up with some great ideas…

What tools can be used for Kaizen to Create a Lean Environment?

The Five Whys5 Whys Examples

Problem Statement: Customers are unhappy because they are being shipped products that don’t meet their specifications (this is a violation of the LEAN philosophy). 

  1. Why are customers being shipped bad products?
  2. Why did manufacturing build the products to a different specification than that of sales?
  3. Why does the sales person call the head of manufacturing directly to start work instead of following the procedure established in the company?
  4. Why does the form contain an approval for the sales director?

In this case only four Whys were required to find out that a non-value added signature authority is helping to cause a process break down.

In the next LEAN series articles, three (3) and four (4) we will discuss: KANBAN pull systems and LEAN Six Sigma.


What are other wastes YOU/your staff can eliminate from your business in order to create a LEAN environment? How about meetings? Poor or verbal communication? OTHERS? You know other wastes: think about them! Let us know your thoughts.

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