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How to Create a Lean Layout

The other day I watched the movie The Founder with Michael Keeton who plays Ray Kroc the "founder" of the McDonalds restaurant chain. It is a great movie and it is pretty factual as biopics go, and as it turns out technically, he is not the founder of McDonalds, the McDonald brothers were (hence the name) and certainly worth a watch. It brought back a few interesting memories for me as I briefly worked in one while going through university which looking back was interesting although at the time, I must confess I did not really enjoy it. I was always on the morning shift so had to be there to take deliveries and spent the 1st hour every day cleaning a freezer and restocking it, exactly in the layout that was laminated and stuck on the door and marked on the walls. The reason for that was it meant everyone did it the same way, I did not know it then, but this was a great example of Standard work.

The other thing that I remember was the pace of the kitchen, it is after all called fast food for a reason. There were timers and buzzers on everything to ensure consistency of the process, the burger you get at 8am and the one at 9pm are the same, another example of standard work! Standard work however on its own does not make for efficiency you need to have a layout that supports it.

The Lean Layout 

When you start looking at a layout of any process with a lean view the aim is to create flow. Your aim is to get from the start of the process to the end of the process (delivery to the customer) in as short a period. There are several ways to do this but fundamentally it is about taking out the waste in the process. Removing as much needless moving around, in lean we talk about Transport – the moving of things and motion – the movement of people. These movements don't need to be huge, it may be the difference of having to move your right arm up straight in front of you rather than up and to the left of course it could be huge like having to walk 10 meters to get your raw materials every 10 minutes. In a lean layout your raw materials for each step are right where you need them, they are at hand.

We look to remove waiting by levelling things out, defects introduced by the process and all the other wastes that have become part of the lean lexicon.

There are other elements to your layout thinking that you can use to improve the flow such as the ECRS framework. ECRS stands for Eliminate, Combine, Rearrange and Simplify which gives you a way to look at every operation and ask a few questions such as shown below.


Ask yourself why the step is there and what happens if you remove it. In terms of what to eliminate it's anything you don't need such as extra limb movements of people, entire steps in the operation that add zero value (think end of line QC), anything that is unsafe or could cause a repetitive injury if done ling term. Idle time is obviously something you done want to look at the scheduling process of the line, breakdowns are another and her you need to look at what is breaking down and why as you head into a TPM approach. 


Ask yourself if joining 2 or more operations together will impact the flow and create a new bottleneck.

If the sum of the operations is still less than the bottleneck operation which sets the pace of the line, then combining them removes the need of either extra labour or labour that must move around. Look at what processes can be merged immediately or over time to reduce the total number of steps.


Ask yourself where, when and by whom each operation is carried. This may be as extreme as moving equipment from one area to an other or swapping desks around or as small as changing what someone picks up with the left or right hand in terms of where they are placing it on the product being built. The aim is to rearrange things into the most natural form as possible.


When you truly understand a process, simplification is the ultimate in achievement. Ask yourself what is the single best way to do this operation? Document it and then train it. Look to remove complex handling with use of tools or jigs or product redesign. Employees shouldn't have to guess what's next or look for instructions or tools they all need to be right there.

Figuring Out your Layout 

So how do you do that, where do you start? The very best way is to involve the team working in the area in figuring out the steps, the breakdown of work, what you can combine or eliminate and so on. Finding a way to do this visually so everyone can see what it looks like gives amazing results. Firstly, people are involved they can see it and they can play with it, secondly you can make sure it fits! (yes I admit to having created layouts early on that actually didn't practically fit the area) Finally you can create a shopping list pretty quickly of the things you need to get in order to make the layout a reality.

You can of course sketch these things out on paper, or a PC, but the next best step is to draw things out to scale and cut out the bits of paper so you can move them around and play with different options attaching lists of operations to each step. These are good but by far the most fun way of doing things to bring it to real life. If you have the luxury of having a bit of space and can get cardboard boxes, then build yourself a mock-up of the area that people can walk around in and you can see the interactions. If you don't have boxes then chalk is your friend, draw on the ground and have people arranged in the area as they would be in real life pretending to carry out the operations at the times you expect them to take.

That brings us back full circle to the movie, the Founder for a great example. The scene in the video (below) is of the McDonalds brothers doing exactly that. They got a tennis court and marked out their restaurant kitchen and then ran the team through it looking for improvements – kaizen in action! They ran quite a few scenarios before finalising on their layout, but the result was a set up that means the customer did not wait longer than 30 seconds for their meal, not what's fast food!

Your Layout 

Take a look at your layout and how long it takes to get from the raw material to the finished product and think about all the waste that's there, think about what you could Eliminate, Combine, Rearrange and Simplify, when you have the starts of an idea in your head, get your team and talk to them, show them the McDonalds video and then see what magic you can create together, and don't forget to have fun while you are doing it, just remember however, that once you have your new layout it's not done, pretty soon you will see the next revision, something else to change, that's what Continuous Improvement is all about.  

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Saturday, 16 January 2021

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