What Is a Lean Process: Key Concepts, Applications, Benefits and How to Set Up One

In today’s competitive economy, it’s becoming increasingly challenging for businesses to thrive. It’s no longer enough to offer quality products. There’s an added expectation to provide unparalleled value for your consumers, and a lean process solution does just that. Exceptional value from an efficient workplace. 

By no means is a lean process a new concept within the marketplace. In fact, it’s theories and practices can be traced back hundreds of years. One popular example dates to the 1930s when Toyota implemented a lean process model within their manufacturing to streamline production of their new automobile venture. The TPS (Toyota Production System) is still used today as part of a lean process solution.

What Is a Lean Process and How Can it Help?

Simply put, when it comes to lean, less is best. A lean process works to improve business efficiencies while reducing wasteful practices that tarnish business results. Though traditionally applied within the manufacturing sector, principles of lean manufacturing can be adapted to support any industry. 

The benefits of lean manufacturing are vast. In addition to eliminating waste in manufacturing practices and improving value for customers, a lean process assists in lowering operational costs and increasing efficiencies, which enables businesses to prioritize both customer service and their bottom lines.

The theory is simple – by eliminating products, services, or business practices that don’t enhance or facilitate your customer’s journey, you streamline the purchase and fulfillment phase to create a better customer experience.

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The 5 Key Concepts of Lean Process Improvement

When developing a plan for your organization, it’s essential to remember the key concepts of lean process improvement:

1. Identify Value

In a lean process solution, everything starts with value. What are your consumers willing to invest in? Identifying the value for customers gives you a starting point at where you can eliminate excess waste and activities within your manufacturing process, sales cycle, etc.  

2. Stream of Value

Creating a visual value stream map is key to visualizing the workflow of your business. The mapping represents key points within the purchase process and highlights stages from purchase to production to delivery. This visual representation helps to better understand your business model and improve existing processes.

3. Flow

Once you’ve established value, it’s time to focus on the flow, or system practices. How does your customer receive their goods or services? Can you streamline this process to increase efficiency? Be mindful of how tasks move through your workflow and keep an eye out for any stages that may be prone to bottlenecks. Creating a lean and smooth work process through lean manufacturing processes will speed up the turnaround time between an order placed and delivery to the consumer.

4. Pull

Developing a pull system within your lean process solution reduces waste by decreasing overproduction in your business. Production only commences when an order is placed, saving costs associated with overhead and storage of excess inventory.

5. Continuous Improvement

The lean process is just that — a process. Within a lean process solution, your organization is continuously striving for perfection — developing plans, implementing improvements, and analyzing results. The steps for Lean manufacturing are fluid and require support from all departments within your business to achieve success.

With a thorough understanding of the 5 concepts of a lean process, let’s now examine how businesses can implement lean manufacturing to improve the workflow for your business.

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Implementing a Lean Process in Your Organization

There’s no one-and-done solution to implementing a lean process within your organization. It’s a continuous practice rather than a singular event that requires support from all departments within your business. To develop a fluid workflow, your team must acknowledge areas for improvement, implement changes to improve efficiencies, measure results, and repeat.

There are a number of lean management tools available to support your lean process solution, including:

Kanban

A scheduling system for lean manufacturing, Kanban helps to identify opportunities for process improvements. Through minimizing wasteful practicing within the workflow, you’ll create more value for the customer without increasing costs.

Kaizen

Stemming from the Japanese term, change for better, Kaizen is a business philosophy centred around continuous improvements. The Kaizen process promotes making little changes to improve daily operations, standardize workflow, and increase employee involvement. The philosophy creates a more efficient and more fulfilling workplace.

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Poka-Yoke

Deriving from the Japanese phrase that means error prevention, Poka-Yoke is just that. This is a Lean process method used to prevent defects throughout a production process to ultimately eliminate quality control after the fact. Commonly used within Lean manufacturing, Poka-Yoke is used to minimize production errors and maximize results. To do so, five stages are used to achieve Lean process in manufacturing: define, measure, analyse, improve, and control.

WIP Limits

Work-in-process (or WIP) limits implement fixed constraints for your team in each step of the workflow. By focusing on small tasks, WIP limits help to identify problem areas and potential bottlenecks in day-to-day operations before they cause an excess strain on your business.

Six Sigma

Within lean manufacturing, Six Sigma refers to the methods needed to improve quality control within the business. By deploying tools that assist in locating defects within your process and identifying the root cause, you can improve workflow and save the resources allocated to an additional quality control step in your flow.

Streamline Processes Today With Lean Training

Learn the principles and concepts of lean management in Simplilearn’s Lean Management Certification Training Course, where you’ll discover how to streamline projects and processes to create the best value for your business. Curated by industry experts, this Lean Management Certification course is ideal for aspiring quality management professionals.

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