A brief introduction

Lean Manufacturing has become one of the most popular business improvement methodologies in recent years. Most companies know that its roots are in the automotive industry, pioneered by Henry Ford and evolved by Kiichiro Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno, and others as they developed the Toyota Production System. There is a constant buzz about Kaizen, 5S, Seven (or are there Eight?) Wastes, JIT, and Kanban. But what does all of this mean? And how can companies effectively learn and capitalize upon Lean concepts and tools?

At first glance, Lean Manufacturing seems to be a random jumble of tools and concepts that are to be applied in any order and combination. There is no one-page “Beginner’s How-To Guide” for applying Lean principles to the manufacturing facility or office, no prescribed methodology like DMAIC in Six Sigma. It can leave the early adopter scratching their head, wondering where to start. How do you start creating brilliant processes in your organization?

First we need to understand that the primary goal of Lean is to remove waste from the system and to enable value to flow smoothly to the customer. Provide what the customer wants, when the customer wants it, and only in the amount required by the customer. As simple as it sounds, we need to start by defining exactly what the customer expects to receive. Notice that this may not always be what is provided, which is precisely the point of the exercise. Once the customer’s needs are understood, we can start to characterize and evaluate each activity from the customer’s perspective.

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