Lean Manufacturing

3 Tools to Apply Lean Manufacturing Principles

By: Michael Burchett

We often find companies (and suppliers to those companies) are skeptical of implementing lean manufacturing principles. But I would challenge them to ask themselves, do they have inputs? Do they have outputs? Do they have processes and people to transform those inputs into outputs? If so, they have a field of opportunity for improvement through lean principles. Although the application of lean is virtually inexhaustible, here are three tools leveraging lean manufacturing principles to help you get started. These high-impact efforts can lead to waste reduction, cost reduction, and overall competitive advantage.

1. Value Stream MappingLean Manufacturing

The creation of a value stream map (VSM) is a method often used in lean manufacturing that allows organizations to take a step out of their individual jobs and departments and look at the overall value stream – or material and information flow that brings a product from its beginning to the customer. “Many lean practitioners see value stream mapping as the fundamental tool to identify waste, reduce process cycle times, and implement process improvement. Some organizations treat the value stream map as the hallmark of their lean efforts” (www.ASQ.org).

The mapping team should include representatives from every company and facility touching the stream, including managers involved in manufacturing, purchasing, material handling, transportation, and warehousing. It’s important to observe and record the actual operations of the value stream to see what is really happening, not what is supposed to be happening or what historical data has said in the past.

The value stream map is a tool used in both lean manufacturing that is used to identify waste. If you see a high number of people, processes and arrows taking up a significant portion of the map, but they are only adding minimal value to the overall stream, there is likely an opportunity to eliminate waste.

While value steam mapping can be an effective process improvement tool, the cost to use it can be high. Because of the need for considerable detail, team members will spend hours, even days, to develop a comprehensive value steam map. Thus, a consulting group can be a valuable resource with the expertise necessary for your organization to efficiently create the value stream map and hit the ground running with implementation.


The heart of lean manufacturing is the desire to uncover problems and solve them at the root cause. All tools and methods of lean manufacturing are used to support this goal. At LeanCor we create a culture of problem solving by having a short meeting every morning to discuss potential issues for that day’s operations. Standing up and identifying these issues helps everyone to know where the team stands every day and how they can manage around them. In addition to the daily meetings, we also engage in a weekly meeting to discuss continuous improvement projects. Throughout the week we identify problems and use our weekly meeting to prioritize and discuss how to improve. Problems come in all shapes and sizes, from a rotten delivery of wood to walking too far to the trash can, and there are several lean tools used to uncover the root cause. These include A3 documents, swim lanes, pareto charts, “5 why” analysis, fishbone diagrams, time and motion charts, and XY matrixes.

3. Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)

At a high level, this project management tool is an analysis of the ways your process can fail, and the effects the failure will have. Often used in lean manufacturing and lean supply chain, this tool allows you to highlight potential failures that could occur in a project and prioritize them based on how severe the potential problem would be if it were to occur.

Creating an FMEA will not only allow you more accurately plan your projects, but it is also a great way to embrace lean manufacturing and stand out from your competitors. When meeting with potential customers about a project that affects them, an FMEA can highlight potential issues and help put them to rest before your customers even realize they would be issues.

The tools in this post are suggested because you do not need to completely change the way you do business in order to implement them, yet still achieve impressive results. Lean manufacturing is not a flavor of the month but rather it is a business philosophy. Also remember that there is no such thing as a perfect process; it is for this reason that the application of lean principles is inexhaustible.

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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