The Tools of Lean

Environmental engineer directing tanker truck for hazardous waste cleanup

Lean, the manufacturing methodology, impacts nearly every aspect of the business in order to reduce and eliminate wastes while maintaining or improving quality. Lean can be worked into virtually any part of a business and in any area in a facility. The scope of Lean is broad and can sometimes be seen as abstract. To achieve the goals of Lean and accomplish its objectives, there are many tools at your disposal in the Lean toolbox.

The following are just a few tools that you can use when implementing or practicing Lean:

→ 5S: 5S is a tool used to organize and standardize work spaces. It is a framework of five steps that will sort, straighten, and streamline an area. When a workbench, toolbox, or production line is organized, and wastes are eliminated from the space, employees can perform work much more efficiently.

→ Kanban: Kanban is a visual system that uses cues, like cards, to trigger an action. Often used in JIT manufacturing, Kanban diverges from forecasting production and shifts into pull production. This simply means inventory is not produced until there is actual demand.

Five Whys: The five whys are a pretty straight-forward concept used for determining the root cause of an issue. Just lie the name implies, simply ask ‘why?’ five times (or until you identify the root cause).

→ Quality circles: Quality circles are groups of workers that are put together to solve an issue. The group consists of employees who perform the same, or similar, functions in their job and are regarded to as the “experts” of their job. Quality circles can be used to address a variety of issues and topics in a workplace and are an excellent Lean tool that promotes collaboration.

→ Visual management: Using visual communication is an important and critical tool for any Lean workplace. When managers are able to use signs, cards, labels, banners, color codes, and floor marking as part of their Lean strategy, it will help to keep workers on the same page and in the right headspace for Lean.

It is important to remember that this list is not a complete one! There are many tools, strategies, and methodologies that have been used in Lean practices. Explore how other organizations implemented Lean and promoted a Lean culture and see what worked for them. Lean tools are usually cost-effective and quick, meaning you can try several different strategies before choosing the ones that work well in your workplace.

Additional Resources