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Lean Principles

Lean Principles

“LEAN IS… A mindset, or way of thinking, with a commitment to achieve a totally waste- free operation that’s focused on your customer’s success….It is achieved by simplifying and continuously improving all processes and relationships in an environment of trust, respect and full employee involvement….It is about people, simplicity, flow, visibility, partnerships and true value as perceived by the customer.” Ref: David Hogg, High Performance solutions.

The mastermind behind this new way of thinking was Taiichi Ohno, known as the father of the Toyota Production System. How Toyota and their suppliers work was studied and popularised in the West by the book “The Machine that Changed the World, a study of Japanese car makers by Professors Womack and Jones of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Please read ‘Lean Thinking‘ for base summary and ‘Lean Thinking House‘.

Lean is the search for perfection through the elimination of waste and the insertion of practices that contribute to reduction in cost and schedule while improving performance of products. The essence of lean is very simple, but from a research and implementation point of view overwhelming.

This concept of lean has wide applicability to a large range of processes, people and organizations, from concept design to the product development, from the laborer to the upper management, from the customer to the developer.

Womack and Jones’ 5 Lean Principles:

Lean PriciplesSpecify the value

Value is what the customer wants and only what the customer wants.

Define value precisely from the perspective of the end customer, in terms of a specific product, with specific capabilities, offered at a specific price and time. As Taiichi Ohno put it, all industrial thinking must begin by differentiating value for the customer, from muda – the Japanese term for waste.

Understand the Value Stream

Identify the entire value stream for each service, product or product family and eliminate waste.

The value stream are the specific actions that, when done correctly and in the right order, produce the product or service that the customer values.

Product/Service definition – from concept through detailed planning through launch Information management – from order taking through detailed scheduling to delivery Physical transformation – initial concept, to the receipt of the service/product by the customer

A lean organisation traces and manages all the activities in the organisation that deliver value wherever they are and whichever department they are in. Activities can be: in whole or part unnecessary and wasteful (and therefore, should be eliminated); supporting the value-adding activities (which should be reduced as far as possible); and customer value-adding (which should be continuously improved)

Improve the flow

Make the remaining value-creating steps flow

In a lean organisation work should flow steadily and without interruption from one value adding or supporting activity to the next. This is contrasted with the “batching” of work where, for instance a week’s expenses claims are collected for a manager to authorise in one go. Where it is suitable, flow significantly speeds the processing and every effort should be made to eliminate obstacles and bottlenecks that prevent flow.

Making steps flow means working on each design, order, and product continuously from beginning to end so that there is no waiting, downtime, or waste, within or between the steps. This usually requires introducing new types of organizations or technologies and getting rid of “monuments” – obstructions whose large scale or complex technology necessitates operating in a batch mode.

Implement Pull

Design and provide what the customer wants only when the customer wants it.

The system should react to customer demand, in other words, customers pull the work through the system. In non-lean organisations work is pushed through the system at the convenience of the operators and so you produce outputs that are not required. Most services react to customer demand and so pull the work through the system


Pursue perfection

As the first four principles are implemented you should get to understand the system ever better and from this understanding you should generate ideas for more improvement. A lean system becomes yet more leaner and faster and waste is ever easier to identify and eliminate.

A perfect process delivers just the right amount of value to the customer. In a perfect process, every step is valuable-adding, capable (produces a good result every time), available (produces the desired output, not just the desired quality, every time), adequate (does not cause delay), flexible, and linked by continuous flow.

In 2003, Mary Poppendieck and Tom Poppendieck wrote a book ‘Lean Software Development’. The book presents the traditional lean principles in a modified form, as well as a set of 22 tools and compares the tools to agile practices. More about Lean Software Development Principles.


“Introduction to Lean Thinking” – Brendan McCarron , Performance Advisor , CIPFA Performance Improvement Network

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