Implementing Lean

Your first step when implementing lean will be to establish your plan of action. The best way to get where you're going is to follow a map (or GPS with today's technology). Implementing lean is no different. You'll need a solid plan and some attainable targets. Be sure to incorporate each category below as part of your implementation plan. Don't be unrealistic with your target dates. As with any major project, people will want to see that you are progressing and reaching your milestones as planned. If you continually miss your deadlines due to overly agressive target dates, you will lose support from upper management as well as those on the production floor.

Another thing to keep in mind is this, do not expect everyone in your company to eagerly jump on board and embrace the idea with open arms. Change is difficult even at the best of times. Ensure all members of the company are kept abreast of the progress. A well thought out approach will be your best ally during the implementation phase.

Implementing lean is a never ending process; this is what continuous improvement is all about. When you get one aspect of lean implemented, it can always be improved. Don't get hung up on it, but don't let things slip back to the starting point. There will always be time to go back and refine some of the processes. Furthermore, the implementation of lean manufacturing can't be relegated to one web page, but I will outline some of the key steps necessary to get you on your way. You can also check through the Lean Resources section of this website for additional implementation material.

Lean Training

The key to implementing any new idea or concept is training. It must be top down training so that everyone is on the same page. The more understanding of what lean manufacturing is all about, why you are implementing it and the expected benefits from it, the more likely you are to get buy-in. Remember, most people are of the mind set "So what's in it for me?". Make sure they understand how it will benefit the company (by making it stronger) and how it should help them in their current jobs.

There are many aspects to lean manufacturing so be sure to focus on the ones that will benefit your company the most. A macro-level presentation of what lean manufacturing is all about would be a good place to start. Include in the presentation the basic concepts of 5S, elimination of waste, standardized work, kanban, levelized production and just-in-time. Information on all of the aforementioned topics can be found within this website by clicking the appropriate tabs on the left, the highlighted links throughout this page or the site search tab.

Implementing "5S"

Different companies will require different approaches to implementing lean depending on where they are currently at and what they have in place already (kanban, routes, etc.). Due to this, I don’t believe there is one right way or ultimate starting point towards implementing lean. Some aspects are easier to understand and will be quicker to put into place. In my experience, I suggest 5S as the first stepping stone towards implementing lean. My reasons for this are two fold; it can be a stand alone implementation (with or without lean), and it will most likely show the most benefit for the largest part of the company in the least amount of time. It can be applied to all areas of your organization by helping to get things organized and keeping it that way.

Lean manufacturing is very time sensitive and things need to be where they can be found every time. When tools or equipment are not where people expect them to be, they are forced to waste time looking for them. This creates waste which is the ultimate sin of lean manufacturing. Remember, the main objective of lean is to eliminate all sources of waste.

As I stated earlier, the most important aspect is to create your schedule and hit your targets. Set a target date for the first step of 5S. Train all employees and management with an overview of how 5S will help and what the ultimate goals are. Do a more detailed training on the first step and the expected results prior to implementing. Let everyone know the plan for rolling it out. Let them know the target date for the second step and stick to it. Ensure they receive training on step 2 prior to implementation. Continue this for the next three steps.

No matter what industry you are in, 5S will help you realize benefits. Even if you do nothing else, 5S will help your company. Again, this is why I suggest 5S as the first step. The change in the plant (or specified area) should help to build momentum for moving forward. It should help build support for Lean and help when the next part is rolled out. For more detail on what 5S is, click here!

Elimination of Waste

The basic concept of lean manufacturing is the elimination of waste. Ensure all members of your company understand the 7 types of waste, where to find it (everywhere) and how to identify it. During your 5S activity, company members should start to identify areas of excessive waste and make plans to eliminate it. Click here to see the 7 types of waste and links to explain each of them.

As you progress through the different stages of implementation, new areas of waste will be highlighted. Be sure to start eliminating some of the more costly sources of waste. Be sure to document the activity in order to report it to upper management. Also, by displaying this for the whole company to see, it may encourage more of the same activity. This will be an on-going process during and after all stages of implementing lean.

Standardized Work

So, you've made the place look better and eliminated some of the more obvious areas of waste. You are starting to show the people in your company that you are serious about implementing lean. Although each of the above categories can be implemented as a stand alone project, this is where the more time consuming aspects of lean manufacturing come into play.

In order to highlight some of the not-so-obvious areas of waste, you need to put things into a logical order that will reveal the waste that wasn't easy to notice before. This is where standardized work comes into play.

Your production areas need to start performing tasks in a repetitive manner as much as possible in order to identify the inherent waste in the process and remove it. Work instructions will need to be created to ensure each operator understands the work sequence for performing the job duties correctly. The work load will need to be balanced to eliminate major gaps in the production cycle.

Once the above areas have been addressed standardized material handling routes can be considered, but not before the next area when implementing lean; kanban.


Many people make the mistake when implementing lean that all they have to do is put a kanban system in place and they are a lean factory; nothing could be farther from the truth. Contrary to this popular misconception, the kanban is only one of the tools used when implementing lean. It is however, a necessary tool when striving to become a lean company.

When implementing kanban, start with the finished goods. This inventory is the most expensive. Through implementation of the finished goods kanbans you will be able to control your FG inventory levels. As the production of finished goods starts the pull of your pull system, it drives requirements for all upstream processes.

Once the finished goods kanbans are implemented, you will be able to include your next level of sub-assemblies into the loop. The component kanban loop for FG and sub-assemblies can now be incorporated as well.

Levelized Production (Heijunka)

Now that the kanbans have been established and the loops set up, you need to smooth out the production in all areas. A lean production facility should function like a well oiled machine. Each kanban loop is like a gear that turns or is turned by another gear. Through levelizing production each gear turns only as much as required.

Each pull from a downstream process triggers a production signal upstream. The kanban is the tool used to initiate the build. When you levelize production, you ensure the same amount of work is required each hour, day or week thus enabling you to stabalize your manpower. A system which requires 10 boxes one day and none the next leaves many people standing around waiting for work. This is waste an must be eliminated.


The last major consideration that I will review with regards to implementing lean is just-in-time production. Through the use of kanbans and levelized production, it should be easier to control when product is being built.

As JIT states, build the right quantity, of the right parts at the right time. You need to ensure people are not building ahead and building only what the kanban calls for. Use of components prior to when they are needed could lead to shortage of these parts for similar products required now. This is a concept that needs to be deeply ingrained into all members of production. Training, auditing and constant reminding will ensure this principle is followed.

As stated at the beginning of this page, the implementation of lean can not be relegated to one web page. Any one of these topics can be (and is) a book all in itself. For further information on any of these topics, please use the buttons on the left side of the page, the site search or visit the lean resources page. Also, keep returning to this website as we will continue to add information on lean manufacturing as well as develop products to help you while implementing lean in your company.