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Lean Principles: What Are They and What Do They Do?

You might have come across the phrase ‘lean principles’ in many different fields or industries and be unsure as to what exactly they are and what they do. In short, lean principles are concerned with reducing waste and improving value to customers. Here are just a couple of the basics about lean principles, what they are, their functions and how you can incorporate them into your life and work.

What are Lean Principles?

Lean principles are a concept that has been around for many years. The Venetian Arsenal is a good example of the early use of the principles, especially material flow. Instead of building an entire ship in once place on the docks, just the hull was built. The ship was then moved onto the next location for the next part of building, until the completed ship left the arsenal. This allowed multiple ships to be built at once, creating a constant flow of movement, material and production, almost like a giant assembly line on the water. 

In 1914, Henry Ford introduced the concept of the assembly line when producing cars, and this was considered the first form of mass production. The principles are often commonly associated with Toyota, and many of the terms used are Japanese. Lean principles were further described by Daniel Roos, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones in their 1991 book ‘The Machine That Changed the World’. This book was based on an MIT study that looked into industrial competition and the future of the automobile and it made the concept of lean production more widely known the public. Nowadays it is used in many different industries and fields and is concerned with reducing waste and improving value to customers, cost reduction and optimizing resources.

In terms of lean production, waste is defined as something that does not serve the customer, which can include physical waste but also wasted time. The aim is to improve efficiency of a business or process by reducing elements that make it ineffective. These principles can be used in any industry or working environment, from large engineering projects to organizing your desk. There are five lean principles that are applied in order to achieve the aims to reducing waste and improving value.

1. Define Value

The value is defined by whether the customer needs a product and what they are willing to pay for it. This stage is similar to market research, as sometimes the customer does not actually know what they want and therefore techniques such as surveys and website analytics are used to discover what customers find valuable. 

2. Map Value Stream

Here, the value stream needs to be identified and then mapped. This is done by using the customer’s value as a reference point, and then identifying activities that contribute to the value. Anything that does not contribute to the value is considered waste, and the waste can be put into two categories; non-valued but necessary, and non-valued and unnecessary. Any waste the is not necessary and adds no value should be completely removed from the process, while waste that is necessary should be eliminated as much as possible.

3. Create Flow

Once the waste has been removed, you need to ensure that the process of the remaining principles will still operate smoothly and this can be done in various ways depending on what waste you removed. This could include training staff to have multiple skills and breaking down or reconfiguring production steps. 

4. Establish Pull

This stage is mostly concerned with inventory management and producing just the right amount of product that is needed in order to reduce wastage. The aim is to make sure that inventory and work in progress are limited, while the necessary materials and information is available to keep the flow smooth. Just-in-time is a technique that is used at this stage in order to make sure that just the amount of product required is produced just at the right time at the right level of quality.

5. Continuous Improvement (Kaizen)

Also referred to as pursuing perfection, the final stage is the most important, as it concerns making these principles a constant part of organizational culture. The entire company and each employee should be striving for perfection every day, constantly learning and finding new ways to improve. 

Types of waste

In the TPS (Toyota Production System) there are three categories; Muda, Muri and Mura. These mean wasteful activities, overburden and unevenness respectively, and were identified by Taiichi Ohno as three roadblocks that can negatively impact a company’s work processes. As the principles are concerned with reducing waste in manufacturing, organization and industries, there are seven different types of waste that have been identified. 

1. Transportation

Unnecessary movement of materials can cost money and damage quality, as well as using valuable time and effort.

2. Inventory

It may be tempting to overstock in order to cover unexpected demand, or other issues such as production delays, but often this does not meet the customer’s needs or values, and increase storage and depreciation costs. 

3. Motion

Unnecessary movement of employees or machinery can result in injury, delays or other issues, and ideally an environment and process should be created in which the employee has to do as little as possible to complete their job.

4. Waiting

While unnecessary motion and transport is wastage, so is unnecessary waiting time. Whenever a product or task is not in motion, waiting time is increasing and so is wastage. This can include scenarios such as products or documents awaiting approval, delivery or repair.

5. Overproduction

Overproduction and exceeding customer demand is wastage, because value is only what the customer is willing to pay for. Producing more than is needed not only increases production costs, but can also trigger the other six forms of wastage. 

6. Over-processing

This refers to doing work that does not increase or bring in additional value. It increases costs and time, but does not actually add any value to the product, as the customer did not ask for it and is less likely to use it. 

7. Defects

Defective work produces a lot of waste, as it will often have to go back into production, which uses time, money and effort, or even scrapping.

Where are they used?

Originally used a lot in manufacturing, lean principles are often now being used in the medical industry by trying to reduce common wastages in this industry. These include waiting times, improve management of inventory and eliminating overproduction, among many other things. The lean principles can be adapted to fit into all industries and businesses, helping to reduce waste, increase customer value, efficiency and productivity. Click here to find out more.

The concepts are flexible and can be adapted to suit your business needs and goals. For example, in a non-manufacturing environment such as an office, lean principles can still be applied, as there is still work being produced. It can also be used to increase employee satisfaction, simplifying work processes and prioritizing tasks. 

Lean principles in daily life

You can also adapt the lean principles to make them work for your everyday life. If you are looking to simplify your life, reduce wastage, become more efficient, flow better or reach your goals, you could benefit from introducing some of the lean principles into your life. By using the five principles, you can work out what is value added for you personally. In this case, you are the customer, and things that do not add value for you can be removed or reduced. Once you have identified these different areas, you can work out whether this new routine or activities actually work, before creating your own personal pull system. You can then continue to learn and make improvements in your own life until you find what works for you.

The lean principles are all about streamlining and focusing on value, whether that is in a factory or in your kitchen. Maybe you can reduce waste by keeping all of your workout gear in one place, to reduce excess movement and travel, or by becoming better at multitasking and reducing the amount of work in progress you have. There are plenty of ways these principles can be adapted to your everyday life, and that great thing is that you can implement them as much or as little as you want. 

What are the benefits?

The main benefits of the lean principles, in whatever industry or section they are applied to, are the reductions in wastage and costs, increased customer and employee satisfaction and a boost in efficiency and productivity. It also keeps employees engaged and on the same page, as there are clear processes and outlines that need to be stuck to. Making sure everyone is on the same page can help make meetings and work more efficient, as guesswork is removed, processes are shared with everyone and the source of value is known to everyone. Lean manufacturing and management also promote constant learning and improvement, meaning that there is always something to work towards and achieve. 

Lean Principles: What Are They and What Do They Do? Reviewed by Zannnie on 10:06:00 AM Rating: 5
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