Lean Manufacturing: Summarized for Beginners

Lean Manufacturing: Summarized for Beginners

Do you want to know the fundamentals of lean?  Many people are somewhat aware of many lean concepts and tools, but Lean also is a mindset.  I am going to give you an overview of both, starting with the general concept.


Lean is all about waste elimination through continuous improvement.  Waste is defined as anything that does not add value to the product or service that you provide.  Value is strictly defined as the action that is transforming the product from one state to another state that is closer to what the customer wants.

If you were to isolate and write down every detailed action that you take to make a pot of coffee, you could probably come up with a dozen or more steps, right?  Do you realize that every one of those steps is categorized as waste except for the water dripping through the grounds (and grinding the beans, if you do it)?  This is because the only thing the customer (your sleepy head) is looking for is the transformation of the water and grounds into  drinkable coffee.  Everything else you do in this process is considered to be waste and you have the opportunity to eliminate, reduce, or combine it in order to make it a more lean process.

This is also true for every manufacturing operation and lean is about educating ourselves on how to recognize waste, as well as eliminate it.  There are 7 categories of waste that we look for and target for improvement:

  1. Transport
  2. Inventory
  3. Motion
  4. Waiting
  5. Over processing
  6. Over production
  7. Defects

here’s a tip: remember the name TIM WOOD.  It’s an acronym for the 7 wastes.


So, when you are making coffee, do you have to carry water, beans, a filter, a cup to the coffee maker?  That’s transport

Do you have more coffee beans than you need for that pot?  This is inventory.

Do you have to reach distances to get the things you need?  This is motion

Do you count the number of coffee beans?  Probably not, but if you did, it would be over-processing

Do you make more coffee than you drink?  This is overproduction

Have you ever had the filter fold over, causing coffee grounds to run into your pot (I hate that)?  That is a defect.


Is your mind starting to wander and think about ways you can improve your morning ritual, or are you thinking, “but when I make a pot of coffee, everything that I do is required.”?   Depending on which way you are thinking, you will be able to tell if you are ready to begin your lean journey or not.

Can you look at your production floor and see stacks of inventory being produced in large batches and people moving them from department to department?  Does it look as if chaos if everywhere and you are totally overwhelmed by all of the pandemonium?  Are there people moving about everywhere in search of items, information, instructions?  Does it seem like people are tense?  Do you see evidence of the management becoming expert “fire fighters” to a point that they wear this skill as a badge of honor?


A non-lean thinker will justify this and say that it is necessary to do it this way.


They would think that, “things have always been done this way and they have worked so far.  So if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

They will say that they, “know what’s going on and they have faith that their managers are capable of making the right decisions when problems pop up.”

They will have an excuse for all of undesirable results and say that, “it’s just part of doing business.”

“If you have always done it that way, it’s probably wrong.” -Charles Kettering


A lean thinker will be able to visualize a future state that can be achieved by taking creative action and implementing ideas that will reduce the waste.

This person can imagine a one piece flow process that only builds what is needed, when it’s needed and a perfectly balanced line, so that all employees are working at a steady pace with no build up of inventory.

They would see value in a cross trained team of employees and although work is steady, it is calm, controlled and organized.

They will envision kanban cards replenishing materials only as they are consumed, signal lights alerting support personnel that they are needed and error proofing devices ensuring no mistakes are made through human error.

They will think about systems making it easy to see, at a glance, if everything is correct or where attention is needed.   Some of the tools used might be hourly tracking sheets on each line along with Key Performance Metrics that track the important measurables  and there would be clear countermeasures for any misses to the targets .

There would also be a high level of organization in the work area.  The only items you would see would be clearly labeled so you know they are needed and you wouldn’t see any items show up in the area that aren’t identified in this way.

They would also picture an environment where employees are engaged in finding ways to contribute to all of these practices.  (Unused employee creativity is sometimes known as the 8th waste).

Another piece of the vision would be that the problem solving techniques are consistent and they are not just doing “stuff” that is counter to lean principles or things that may be negatively impacting other processes.

They would know that they could create an environment where every job had a documented best practice and every employee was trained to and followed that standard.


Do you see the difference between non-lean and lean?  I don’t know many people that don’t want the results that were described in the lean paragraph, yet so many production environments resemble the non-lean description.  I would like to hear your opinions about lean vs. non-lean, so be sure to leave a comment below.


I have just described to you what lean is from the standpoint of the “tools” that can be implemented, but the lean mindset is so much more important.  The tools described above are natural bi-products of a lean mindset and cannot be successfully implemented without one.

This is going to be a two part blog, so if you want to read more, subscribe to this blog on the side bar or in the footer below.  In my next post, I will be explaining the lean mindset that is imperative to making any lean system work, this is a must read!  You will also be able to learn more detail about some of the above mentioned tools and how to implement them in future posts so make sure you subscribe.



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  1. Aziz Jawaid
    November 18, 2014 07:43 Reply

    Thank you for delivering such a nice article in a simple realistic way. I agree fully with you the knowledge and experience of lean methodology is necessary to deploy lean system. However, the most important is Lean Mindset. From top management to shopfloor operators, everyone must be on board with mind and heart. Transferring this attitude through out the organization is the toughest task for a Lean Leader and Team.
    I am curious to receive some tips how to break this hard nut and able to convince every that lean process is beneficial to every employee and entire organization.

    Looking for your next blog.

    Best regards
    Aziz Jawaid

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