Understanding Lean Principles
The 5 Lean Principles are guiding points for correctly implementing Lean.
These 5 principles are:
In this article, we’ll take a look at how each principle works and how it can benefit your business. We will also give you pointers on getting started with Lean principles.
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A Quick Note About Lean…
Lean enables you to work more efficiently on an individual, team, and organisational level.
The goal of Lean is to eliminate waste from processes, resulting in higher levels of productivity, streamlined processes, a more cohesive, motivated team, and sustainable savings.
Correct application of the 5 principles of Lean enables you to achieve these benefits.
Want to know more about Lean and how it works?
Download our Essential PDF Guide to Lean or take a look at our article, “What is Lean Six Sigma?”. This article will take you through the origins and main characteristics of Lean. It also looks at Six Sigma, a methodology regularly combined with Lean.
Where do the 5 Lean Principles come from?
James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, founders of the Lean Enterprise Institute championed the 5 Principles of Lean in their books “The Machine that Changed the World” (1990, with Daniel Roos) and “Lean Thinking” (1996, and second edition 2003).
5 Cleverly Sequenced Principles
You’ll notice that some of these principles line up quite nicely with the stages of the DMAIC Cycle, which is at the heart of how Lean works.
You’ll also find that they run in sequence. This is important, as to gain maximum effect from the process improvement techniques of Lean, you will need to apply the principles at every step of the way.
Product or Service?
Although, like Lean itself, these principles originate from a manufacturing mindset, they are equally relevant in all sectors and areas of business and industry.
To keep things simple, we’ll use the word “product” as we discuss the 5 principles. However, you can interchange it with the words “service” in every instance, as the following 5 principles apply just as much to services too.
The 5 Principles of Lean Explained
1. Establish Value
Begin by looking at a product and asking yourself, “what value does this provide, and to whom?”.
Look at your product from the perspective of the customer or end user. What are the benefits they receive by using it? What is the unique value of this product?
2. Map Value Stream
Once you know what value is provided, the next step is to begin looking at what’s involved in creating your end product. What are the steps in the process?
It’s worth taking plenty of time with Value Stream Mapping, as this is one of the most valuable tools in a lean practitioner’s kit. Leave nothing out as you map the journey of a product from start to finish.
3. Create Flow
Armed with your Value Stream Map, you can now begin to analyse the process or journey of your product from start to finish.
Use your Lean tools (more on how to acquire these tools below in "Applying Lean Principles in Real Life") to evaluate all stages involved. Begin to assess what’s truly necessary to achieve the end goal (the value), what could be streamlined, and what’s just causing wasted resources, time and money.
4. Establish Pull
This one’s all about timing, strategic thinking, and understanding the customer’s needs. Establishing pull relates to meeting demand.
Knowing when your customer will need your product enables you to time production in-line with those needs.
5. Pursue Perfection
Bringing home one of the key elements of lean thinking, pursuing perfection is focused on continuous improvement.
No matter how well your processes are working, there is always room for improvement. Anyone who wants to “be more lean” must always be ready to start the cycle all over again.
Return to the principles of establishing value, mapping out the processes, and identifying areas for improvement.