Lean Process Improvement: What Is It?

Toyota developed the concept of lean process improvement to reduce the time from receiving an order to delivering it. Although the introduction to lean process improvement techniques is most commonly discussed in a manufacturing environment, it can also be applied to healthcare, technology, government, and other areas.

Imagine a marketing department with multiple people working on the exact same project, but not communicating. Instead of each person handling a particular aspect of the campaign individually, multiple people can handle the same task and leave the other tasks to others.

Although it’s not a typical production environment, the team could still benefit from creating a simple process that looks at the end product and determines the easiest way to get there.

This way of thinking is based on the idea that if you look at the whole picture you can find ways you can eliminate waste whether it’s time, money, or physical or employee energy that could have been spent elsewhere. It may take some time to implement this concept, but that’s OK. This is not a quick fix, but a shift in the mindset and culture of an entire business.

What are the benefits to lean process improvement?

The introduction to lean manufacturing techniques is a shift that can bring many benefits to businesses. These benefits include:

  • There is less waste
  • Inventory reduced
  • Productivity increases
  • Better quality
  • Happier customers
  • Lower costs
  • More profits

Your bottom line will improve if you eliminate redundancy, reduce waste and streamline processes. Customers who receive their products faster and with less hassle will be more satisfied and likely to recommend you to others. Your bottom line will increase once more customers.

This is how you can see improvement in your company. Read on to find out more about lean process improvement.

How can I implement lean process improvement in my business?

There is a process for improving lean manufacturing processes and techniques, as you have probably guessed. To achieve this level of efficiency, there are nine steps that you will need to take. Let’s look closer at the steps involved in improving lean processes.

1. Reexamine the process that you wish to improve.

This is a crucial step because you will not know what to focus your efforts on if you don’t know what to do. Talk to your employees at the front lines to find out how you can do this.

Companies make the biggest error in this process by not speaking with the people who actually do the job every day. Ask your frontline employees what isn’t working in their day.

2. Identify the areas that need improvement.

Once you have identified the problem, it is time to bring your team back together. There’s a very good chance that they already know how to fix the problem and just haven’t been able to implement it because of a “That’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it” mindset.

3. Make the changes suggested.

What will you do to put these changes into practice? Make sure everyone is on the same page and understands the plan. This is the best way for your organization to succeed.

4. Keep an eye on how these changes affect your efficiency.

Although it would be wonderful if your first attempt at the execution was successful, once it is tried in the field it will need to continue refinement. This can only be done by constant monitoring and re-evaluating. You can address new issues as they arise and make necessary changes.

5. Identify the activities that add value.

These steps will help you evaluate every action and every aspect of your process. You will need to evaluate each activity and determine if it adds or subtracts from your process. You should remove any activity that is not necessary and test the process without it.

6. Limit your risk

Inherently risky activities in production and business are common. This is the time to identify and remove risky aspects or activities from the current process. This could involve automating or changing the method of execution.

7. Standardize the process.

Document your progress as you refine and create the process. This will allow the process to be replicated by other employees, or, depending on the process, by other departments or teams within your organization.

8. Assure compliance

Lean process improvement should not be an organizational change. However, your industry and governing bodies may have specific metrics, procedures, or standard measurements you must follow. Efficiency does not require compliance to be maintained.

9. Enhance the customer experience

Marketers use the customer experience as a measure of success in assessing if a lean process improvement plan is successful.

Tools for improving lean processes

There are many tools that you can use to help you on your journey. These tools will help you organize your thoughts and identify problems, as well as implement your plan. These are just a few of the many tools that you can use to get support.

Like any other tool you use, the one that you choose should be appropriate for your current job. You can always try another one if you don’t like the one you have.

  • Why Analysis – Asking ” Why? repeatedly will help you identify the root cause of the difficulties you are experiencing.
  • Ishikawa diagram: Also called a “Fishbone” or “cause and effect diagram”, this allows you to look at a problem from many angles including measurements, materials, people, machines, and the environment.
  • Affinity Diagram – This is a great tool for the initial stages of lean implementation. It can sort and organize large quantities of data. Find out what value you can bring to the customer, and then identify the problems in your current processes.
  • FMEA Analysis (failure mode & effects): Identifying problems early can save you money and eliminate waste. This tool will allow you to analyze your flow and spot problems early.
  • 5S Dashboard This method can help you organize your workspace to maximize efficiency. The original tool had five S’s based on Japanese terms. Many businesses have added a sixth practice. These are:
    • Sort
    • Place everything in the right order
    • Shine
    • Standardize
    • Maintain
    • Safety
  • Plan Do Check Act, (PDCA): Continuous improvement is achieved by constantly analyzing a problem and testing a hypothesis. Then, review the results and analyze them. Finally, put the plan into practice once it’s been successful.
What is the introduction to lean manufacturing?
What is the introduction to lean manufacturing?

Lean Process Improvement and Manufacturing Techniques

The introduction to Lean process improvement and manufacturing techniques can be achieved using a variety of methods. As with the tools, it is important to choose the right approach for your project. Take, for example:

Six Sigma (DMAIC Model)

Six Sigma aims to reduce variation in processes and increase customer satisfaction through standardizing workflow. The DMAIC Roadmap is for:

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. Improvement
  5. Control


These boards can be used to visualize your workflow. You can also use value stream mapping (to break down your workflow into stages) to do this. A visual representation of your workflow, and all its activities, can help you identify inefficiencies.

This board can be shared with the entire team to help you stop the process if a problem arises. It is now up to everyone to find a solution.

WIP Limits

WIP Limits, or “Work in Progress Limits” are a concept found within Kanban boards. A column represents each stage of a Kanban board workflow. WIP limits require that you limit the number of work items per stage. You can set this limit per person, per stage, or for the entire project.

These limits ensure that tasks are completed before new ones start and help to complete activities


Final thoughts on the Introduction to Lean Process Improvement and Manufacturing

You now know how important lean process improvement is to a successful and efficient organization. It’s time to remind everyone that it is an ongoing process. You will fail to transform your entire organization in a matter of hours and make things worse.

You must identify the biggest sources of inefficiency within your business and then target them one by one until you have a functioning business.

Remember that employees are your greatest assets. They do the dirty work every day. It is like trying to solve problems without their input.

Have you started to implement Lean Process Improvement in your projects?

Let us know in the comments.