Tag Archive | Lean definition

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 (http://www.lean.org/):

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: http://www.lean.org

What Lean is all about


Check out this tweet by Michael Ballé!

This is a damn good definition of Lean: “satisfying customers by developing people”. Great improvement from old-time definitions about “improving processes”, “eliminating waste” or the horrifying “cutting costs by firing people” (well, this has never been a serious definition, but sadly many people interpreted lean methods like that).

Please, don’t take me wrong: improving your processes and eliminating waste (mercilessly) are great things to do, but they are means, not a goal. Cutting costs is fantastic too, but it must be more the result of your efforts to create value and satisfy your customers than a goal by itself. And firing people, well…  Developing people so that they can satisfy your customers is the only recipe to long-term success, which is the ultimate goal of any company.

The spirit of Lean

Sometimes it is hard to explain what Lean really means. When talking to people new to this world, it can be really hard to make clear that tools and techniques are not the most important part. It is more about cultural transformation.

This article explains really well some of the more important aspects:


  • Lean needs a purpose. People must know why you are in business. You have to know too. Don’t go Lean until you know why you exist. You create value for your customer, this is where you must excel.
  • Lean is learning: teach your people continuously, let them try and fail. Don’t hide your problems, use them instead as a learning tool. Improvement is done best using baby steps.
  • Lean is about the process: a great process can only produce great results (value). Watching the process (at the gemba) is the only way to learn.
  • Lean is not about the money: Yes, money is important, but it is rarely the most important thing. Time (lead time), safety (ergonomics) or quality (defects) have typically more impact in customer satisfaction. Money can take care of itself.

“What is Lean?” is not easy to answer. Learn more from the experts:



Myth: Lean is a set of tools

Swiss knife

Sometimes it is much easier to define something saying what it is not. Remember:

Lean is NOT a set of tools

Many Lean masters and experts struggle to write a good definition of what Lean is. Some say that Lean is a “set of principles”. Others say it is “culture”. I’m not sure about the best definition, but I am certain that “just a set of tools” is a wrong one.

It’s always a good time to read about Lean principles, some information here:



Picture from: http://www.swissarmy365.co.uk/swiss-army-knives-c44/fishing-t40