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The 5 Principles of Lean

When we get the call from new or even existing clients eager to start their lean journey they are always desperate to get started. They have heard from friends, colleagues, industry bodies and magazine articles what it is all about and so they know what they have to do and so just want to get started. Invariably however, when we ask what their understanding on the principals of lean is the answers we get are a bit wide of the mark.

Principles Vs Tools 

5s, kanban, SMED, removing waste or reducing costs are things that we generally get told. These are certainly some of the many tools available for use to become a lean organisation but they aren't the principals that underlay the entire lean process and that can confuse people. Remember in a previous post (link below) we spoke about lean being grounded in a true learning framework, it's purpose to help increase the knowledge of your people to be able to solve problems, any problems that come up in your organisation. So what are the principles?


LEAN as a Learning Framework

When you think about LEAN do you think about continuous improvements, waste reduction, cost savings? OR do you think about education and LEARNING Framework? This is What LEAN Really is..

The 5 Lean Principles 

There are 5 fundamental principles on which lean is built on, they aren't pillars or anything like that, instead, think about them as a virtuous circle, each one building on the last again and again as you continuously improve your processes. For each of these principles you can apply any number of the lean tools to take you along this step so, what are the principles? We thought you'd never ask! 

1. Identify / Define Value (from the customers view point)

It is important to understand that Value with respect to lean is about what the customer is willing to pay for, this means truly understanding what the want and what they value. Questions like how does this product or service make the customer's life simpler or help them accomplish their goals or deliver to their customer are good to ask here. Asking lots of why questions here is good, why is that important tot he customer? Why is it NOT important, what do they need it? When do they need it and in what quantity!? Use tools such as Voice of the customer / SIPOC analysis customer surveys or interviews to help develop this understanding further with clients

2. Map the Value Stream


Value Stream mapping is one of the key processes we employ with all customers. We use it to help them understand the flow of through their organisation of products or information and what elements of that process add value and which do not, just cause hold ups or distractions. We also find it incredibly useful for identifying variations in process from one person or group to another (another source of waste) and find it a great way to bring alignment and buy in to a final leaner process. We start to talk about Visual Management here.

3. Create Flow 

Once you have your value stream information it's time to think about flow, what you are interested in here is understanding what tools, techniques, people and training do you need to create enable production to run smoothly. Understanding what flow actually is and how to ensure the steps of the process run smoothly with out hold ups from batch size issues is a massive step for your organisation. Being able to understand the benefits of smaller batch sizes (1 piece flow) or re-configuring a layout or production process to reduce other wastes such as transport or movement, takt-time vs cycle times, implementing ways of defect prevention and stooping on defects (Jidoka) are great for adding flow as are using spaghetti charts to map the path the product or service travels along both on paper & live! Also look at things like skill mix, load levelling and kaizen events here it's also a fantastic area to start to try and identify areas where visual management should be getting used and the benefits

4. Establish Pull

When looking at establishing pull there is always a challenge and conflict linked to their ERP systems which are inherently designed as Push systems. However the concept here is about understanding exactly what the customer needs  and looking at how your operation can  deliver that to the customer only when they need it. Introducing the thought of the customer pulling your products through the system can sometimes take a while to get used to. This means limiting WIP and inventory  which can be a challenge and sometimes involves working around the ERP system to achieve a just in time approach to manufacturing. Again look to visual management, andon signals, Kanban cards, supermarkets etc to help implement pull and priority areas.  Think about this as your over riding question here, how can you set up your organisation to only ever have the exact quantity available that the customer needs at that point in time, no less and certainly no more (you know just in case!)

5. Seek Perfection 

The key part here is SEEK. You will never reach perfection, but you should always seek to get there. This is the important point you should look to instil in the organisation. This is the driver of the continuous improvement focus within your company to an extent and you should be constantly looking at what waste or loss you need to address to get closer to the perfect situation. Using tools such as 5s, 5 whys, A3, Value Stream Mapping are great examples of this step, for time to time use of Six Sigma tools as part of an overall strategy may be right for the organisation but every step should be based on the PDCA approach.

Your over arching question here is did we do what we said we would do and did we get the efficiencies we wanted as a result? follow this up by asking about where the next step is on the journey of improving value for the customer and you will go a long way quickly.

The Flow of the 5 Principles 

When visualising the principles it's good to look at them as a 5 step continuous flow as shown below. 


Understanding the 5 principles helps kick start the journey and the understanding of what you are doing an why you are doing it.  It helps you with understanding of what tools to apply and what order makes sense. The great thing is, if you don't quite get it right the 1st time, there will be a 2nd and a 3rd and a 4th time to try again, and it keeps getting better!

Get In Touch

If you need any support in developing or improving your lean systems and processes then click here to make an appointment and find out how we can help you Make Things, Better

You can also call John on 0211649739 to set up a meeting 


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Monday, 20 May 2019

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