Process improvement

What is Lean methodology and how can you implement a Lean project

17.12.2017 at 21:47 h / Edited 26.12.2017 at 21:53 h

Mirel Baila Process improvement Consultant



I'm working with a team that want to improve by using the "Lean" methodology. I would be curious to see what methodologies do you know about and how can you apply "Lean" principles in a real transformation project.

Much appreciated!



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Marieta Lean Consultant Legal Sector


Hi Mirel, 

Hi Bogdan,


I agree with the thorough approach of Bogdan.


What I can add is that for a short project (less than 6 months) my practice always shows that it is good to go with (DMAIC).



  • Create High-level map/s (SIPOC)
  • Create Detailed process map with all the steps, decision boxes, loops, documents created etc.



  • Time per step, Waiting time in between steps etc.
  • Roles and people involved in the process.
  • Challenges and issues in the process
  • Improvement ideas if any now in the team/s



  • Value-added steps is what % of the total time
  • The Business Non-Value-added steps (regulations and compliance)
  • The Non Value-added steps.
  • How much time is spent on Non-Value-added steps?
  • People (FTEs) involved



  • Non-value steps to be eliminated as much as possible.
  • Create a shared place/document for ideas gathered and promote idea generation
  • Introduce Whiteboards - I personally like the 4 quadrants People, Performance, Plan and Problem-solving
  • Create or improve the Key Performance Indicators
  • Implement new Standard Level Agreements that are up to date with the new process
  • Robotics is a way to improve manual repetitive tasks.



  • Start coaching them with the Continuous Improvement concept
  • Ideas generation to be checked and actioned on a regular basis.


You do 1 DMAIC cycle and verify what is working and what not, and then you can repeat the cycle again.  


In that case, you can distribute all the 5 DMAIC elements in an A3 sheet in Excel. 


You can leave a place to add the Root cause analysis with a diagram and the Team that will be involved in the project.


Of course, you always need due dates and timeline. 


And at the end:


Recognise and praise the team success! Think whether you can use what you have learnt to other similar processes in the company.


Good luck!



Bogdan Efficiency Project Manager (Lean expert, Agile, RP


Hi Mirel, 

Please see my article related to the topic. 


If you google “lean” things like: JIT, 5S, MIFA, OPF, TPM, TT or CT start to appear on your screen, or the alternative: Jidoka, Poka Yoke, Heijuka, Kanban and so on … It feels a bit like learning Klingonian or at least Japanese.

More reader friendly articles support the idea that: Lean is a way of living, Lean is about the people, Lean is about the customer, Lean is about … basically any topic that you could think of.  

 It’s no wonder that one might get confused about what Lean actually is. But, before we answer the question, maybe let’s see what Lean can do for us.

 Across different industries Lean is used to: reduce operational cost, improve quality, increase productivity and therefore improve customer satisfaction and, hopefully, employee satisfaction as well.

 Is Lean maybe a magic wand that once used all things transform?

You can see Lean as collection of tools used to analyses current state with the purpose of highlighting strong points and inefficiencies, and, another collection of tools used to design future state with the purpose of reducing or eliminating inefficiencies, preserving strong points and increasing overall performance.  

 The entire Lean methodology can be divided into four different pillars, or four different dimensions, each having tools for diagnostic and two of them also for design:

Voice of the customer (VoC). Refers to how customers perceive current performance in comparison with their own expectations.

Operating System (OS). Focuses on how the processes are designed, what are the resources needed in order to make them run and how the working layout is supporting everything;

Management Infrastructure (MI). Focuses on how people are managed in order to deliver best possible performance. This pillar is like a bridge between operating system and the last pillar of Lean.

Mindset and Behavior (MB). Which refers to how employees behave and what is the mindset that is driving such behavior.  

These four dimensions are meant to give a logical grouping for the tools based on the intended purpose of usage. It is not a mandatory division but it will structure your thinking along the implementation path.

Voice of the Customer is centered around customer feedback regarding the performance of all other three pillars, while Mindset and Behavior is the pillar that highlights the level of satisfaction and commitment of employees and it’s directly impacted by the way Operating System and Management Infrastructure pillars are performing. 

So, just to recap, Lean is a methodology that has the purpose of improving a current “as is” situation along Voice of the Customer, Operating System, Management Infrastructure and Mindset and Behavior pillars through the usage of diagnostic and design tools. It is not a magic wand, but it can deliver significant impact if implemented the right way.

 A Lean transformation can also be seen as a journey that goes along five phases, or five stages, but remains focused on all the four pillars at all times.

1. Preparation. Is the stage in which aspirations are set, data collected, communication prepared, roles and responsibilities defined and the change team formed;

2. Diagnostic. During this phase awareness is instilled through diagnostic tools and a sense of urgency is created so that the need for change is understood and accepted by stakeholders. Every pillar has its own diagnostic tools designed to create transparency regarding potential problems and highlight the route causes. One important thing to understand is that issues can be found in any pillar. If customers or employees are not complaining about something it doesn’t mean that things can’t be improved. Also, only at the end of this phase the maximum potential for improvement can be measured and final targets can be set.

3. Design. During this phase the change team and stakeholders work together to create an improved future state during one or multiple workshops called Kaizen events. Although all issues found in Diagnostic are always to be addressed in OS and MI pillars, we can say for sure that all the four pillars will be ultimately impacted. We fix the processes, resource allocation, layout and management principles in order to have dedicated employees and satisfied customers.

To better explain this let’s take the following examples:

- In diagnostic you can discover that customers might be unsatisfied with the long waiting times related to your product delivery. But in order to fix this you need to either improve the process (OS) or might be that the process is fine, but performance of employees needs improving (MI).

- In another example you could have employees being unhappy with the continuous extra hours that they need to perform and therefore leaving the company. This can be caused by many different factors such as: poor allocation of resources (OS) or demotivating incentive system (MI).

Whatever improvement initiatives you generate will be implemented in OS or MI but the final impact will be on your customers and on your employees.

4. Implementation. During this phase the initiatives generated during Kaizen events are finally to be tested and implemented according to the Tactical Implementation Plan (TIP) which follows the prioritization given by the 80/20 Pareto principle. What are the 20% initiatives that will generate 80% of the impact?

5. Continuous improvement. This phase stays at the core of a Lean transformation and even if it is the last phase from the chronological point of view, it is in fact the ultimate purpose of Lean. From preparation and throughout diagnostic, design and implementation the change team will focus on passing the Lean knowledge and mindset to the people within the organization so that they will continue generating improvement ideas and they will prevent inefficiencies from appearing without any future guidance. So the goal is to equip people with the right skills and empower them to shape the way OS and MI pillars are looking like.

 Even if the five stages described might seem very similar to a “Waterfall” project rather than an “Agile” project, this doesn’t mean you need to wait until implementation to actually implement low hanging fruits. You can start implementing quick wins right from the Diagnostic phase. This will be extremely beneficial to the Lean transformation, as it will ensure you will have buy-in from the team transformed early on in the project

 So there you have it! Lean is a methodology that focuses on raising customer and employee satisfaction through improving the the way processes are designed, resources allocated and people managed.  It has five different stages and the ultimate goal is to instill a Continuous Improvement mindset among all employees.

 Best of luck!



I suggest you think about cultural transformation first. without the proper company culture, all aspects of Lean will fail. Lean is the implementation of a new culture . A new way of life for the company . It has to be in the hearts and minds of everyone in the company, from top management to associates on the shop floor. Top management can’t just finance Lean and walk away; and hand it over to Lean tool implementers or Master Black Belts to lead the way. Top management has to be educated, get involved, and walk the walk, not talk the talk. If top management does not immerse themselves in Lean and doesn’t lead the way to a new company culture change, Lean will fail. How else can Lean fail? If you do not have genuine teamwork in the company, Lean can also fail. Cross-functional teams are very effective in problem solving, if set up correctly. With Kaizen/Continuous Improvement, you need cross-functional teams analyzing problems in the company that are constraints for getting value to the customer. Teams use Plan, Do, Check and Act (PDCA) to answer the why, what, and how questions. They identify the problem, analyze it, ask why it is occurring, implement a solution, check the solution and act by sustaining the elimination of that problem. They write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to eliminate the problem from occurring again. 3. Top management begins the Lean journey by leading it, attending classes, and getting involved with the implementation of Lean. They re-write their mission statement to focus on Lean, the elimination of all waste in the company, including the office, and bringing value to their customers. The seven (7) wastes of LEAN are: Defects, Overproduction, Transportation, Waiting, Inventory, Motion and Processing. But, these are not the most dangerous wastes. Do you know what the most dangerous waste is? It is the waste that is not found, or not uncovered. Lean will fail if you don’t find all the wastes. One of the founders of LEAN created the “magic circle.” He put managers in a circle for one hour or more and they could not leave until they found waste somewhere in the operation. With proper focus they each found waste somewhere. Eliminating waste (called “muda”) gives you more throughput or velocity to bring value to your customers. So where do the tools begin once the culture change is underway, management leads the way, and teamwork versus individualism takes over as a focus in a company? The best way to start is by building a structure or organizing. This means starting with implementing 5S. 4. What is 5S? It is Sort (sort needed versus unneeded), Straighten (the needed), Shine (Keep the area clean continuously), Standardize (write Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)) and Sustain . Peruse our wide selection of 50+ Lean Methodology frameworks offered by OEConsulting and OEC . Topics range from 5S to Kaizen to PDCA . Which 5S segment is more important than the other? Sustain. Why? You don’t want to fall back to your old ways of the informal, unorganized system. It is easy to go back to the old ways of doing things. That is not an option in Lean initiatives. There is a red tag that you use to point out waste. Use this red tag to mark waste versus non-waste both in the operating floor and in the office. Clear out this waste and dispose of it. Safety will also improve with less waste… Another reason Lean fails is lack of discipline, or sustaining what you have implemented. Discipline means continuous re-education on Lean, positive and negative reinforcement by management, and continued, cohesive cross-functional teamwork. * * * *

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