Lean Thinking Overview

The Five Steps of Lean Thinking 

As introduced in Continuous Process Improvement, Lean Thinking was conceived as a process improvement tool to eliminate waste in order to save the Toyoda Motor Co. which made medium sized trucks after World War II in Japan. This organization later became the Toyota Motor Co. and indeed the methods of Lean Thinking became the foundation of the Toyota Production System (TPS).

1. Value 

Define value according to the end customer. This is often called “The Voice of the Customer.” This means that it is the end customer, not your next customer, that defines the value of your product or service. Usually this stipulation applies to manufactured goods more than service operations because the end customer of a service usually is the final consumer of the service operation, but not always. Unlike service operations, manufactured goods typically cross multiple companies sometimes on different continents before they reach their final consumer. “Value” states that if the end consumer will pay for something then it is something you should do. On the flip-side, if the end consumer will not pay for something then, no matter how sacred it is to your organization, it is waste & must be eliminated.


2. Value Stream 

 Create the Value Stream Map for your product or service. This generally involves the following procedure:

– Create a “Current State Map.” Very briefly, this entails listing all of the steps, initially from door-to-door of your operation, and eventually from dirt to final customer, across all of your upstream and downstream vendors and customers. The idea is to understand what REALLY happens to produce “value” for the end customer.

 – For each task on the current state map, ask the question, “Would the end customer complain if I left this step out?  If the answer is “yes”, then it adds value. If the answer is “no” then it is muda.  In Japanese “muda” means “waste.”  (Many of the words used in continuous process improvement are originally Japanese. That’s because much of this body of knowledge was developed in Japan. It’s for the same reason that many of the words used in international ballet are predominantly French.)

 – For tasks that are “waste”, ask yourself a second question: “can we get rid of this right now?” If the answer is “no,” then this is Type-I Muda. If the answer is “yes,” then this is Type II Muda and you should get rid of it right now.

– Next, create a “Future State Map.” Essentially, redraw the current state map without any Type II Muda.


3. Flow  

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to change your production or service process to your future state map, eliminating the muda as you go. As you do this not only will your rate of value creation improve, but you will see how to further improve your processes that you cannot presently see. Updating “Flow” is where you will spend roughly 3/4 of the time you invest doing continuous process improvement.


4. Pull 

Proof the Future State Value Stream process.  Essentially, deliver more of what this process is created to deliver.  This is how you will find the next weak spot(s) in the process.  At some level of increased delivery, It will break…and then you will fix it for, yet again, increases in your value delivering capability!  This process ultimately results in delivering successively greater amount of “Value” to your customers and leads right into the fifth step.


5. Perfection

 Do steps one through four again… and again… and again….

 For further information on the specific types of waste that Taiichi Ohno and others look for as well as the biggest driver of these wastes, see the Optimizing Your Business From Concept to Collections PPT presentation given quarterly by Mr. Ward on the subject.