Archive | May 2016

Myth: Lean Manufacturing = Just in time

Lean concepts like Value Stream Maps, 5s, SMED, Flow or Pull have become so popular that many people assume that Lean manufacturing equals Just in Time. This is a huge simplification. Just in Time is a very important part of Lean Manufacturing, but not the only part, and it needs many other components to work.

Lean Manufacturing (or Toyota Production System) is commonly explained using the picture of a house that represents how the different parts of TPS work together. This is one example by the Lean Enterprise Institute (

TPS house2.jpg

The house explains the key ideas of Lean manufacturing: The goal, the 2 main pillars and the basement. Please, take your time to read it. You will notice that Just in time is one of the pillars, without it Lean won’t work, but Just in time is as important as Jidoka (Intelligent automation), Heijunka (Balancing), Standardized Work (Procedures) and Kaizen (Continuous Improvement). The VISION (Goal) is definitely the most important part of the house, because if you don’t know where you are going, nothing else matters.

Let’s get some more detail from the house components:

  • Goal: Become competitive (Quality, Delivery, Cost) through customer satisfaction.
  • Pillars:
    • Just in time: Providing the right product in the right quantity at the right time
      • Flow: Moving products through a production system without separating them into lots
      • Pull: A method of production control where downstream activities signal their needs to upstream processes
      • Takt time: The available production time divided by customer requirements
    • Jidoka (Built in quality): Providing operators or machines the ability to detect when an abnormal condition has occurred and immediately stop work
  • Basement:
    • Standard work: Documenting the work sequence paced by takt time, the positioning of equipment, standard work in process and various quality and safety checks on several documents and then follow this routine until a better standard is found
    • Heijunka: Leveling the type and quantity of production over a fixed period of time
    • Kaizen: Continuous improvement of an entire value stream or an individual process to create more value with less waste

Please be aware that Lean Manufacturing is not the same as The Toyota Way, but the concepts are close enough to be easily mixed up. The Toyota Way refers to the management principles of Lean, which can be summarized as:


This is a great post by Michael Ballé showing the difference and sharing his insights: link


Pictures from:


Lean principle #6: The right speed


One frequent question when working with Lean is “are we going too fast/too slow”? Changing is always uncomfortable and it is normal to question yourself if things are going as they are supposed to be. Well, speed matters in Lean but, as usual, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer here. Each situation is different and needs different approaches, so what to do? Let’s see the problem from its 2 sides:

  • The risks if change goes too slow: people feel that problems are not solved, people feel their work is not bearing fruit, higher probability of rumors, higher probability of “I told you it wouldn’t work” and other similar sentences. In summary, Lean loses momentum and looks like “the improvement initiative of the month”
  • The risks if change goes too fast: people feel that things are changed with too little analysis, risk looks is higher, there is a higher feeling on improvisation, the valuable ideas of those who don’t speak up easily (introverts, new employees…) may be lost. In summary, Lean looks like something imposed from top management.

Yes, practicing Lean might be complicated. My proposal is to move “as fast as possible”. Start slowly to make sure a) everybody is on board and b) the first “projects” are a success. Then increase speed incrementally. When everybody has been exposed to the cultural part of Lean (we all know people will be respected, lay-offs will be the last option, speaking up is safe…), it is better to go a little bit too fast than a little bit too slow because speed will help create quicker PDCA cycles and learning happens (obviously) also quicker. Change will be evident and everybody will feel it. Always get people’s feedback: the sweet spot is where people feel challenged without being scared.

Lean Speed

Lean is like riding a bike: moving either too slow or too fast will make you hit the ground. Start slowly and increase risk and speed as you gain experience.