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What is Lean?


Lean on ASQ TV®

Quality Glossary Definition: Lean

Lean is defined as a set of management practices to improve efficiency and effectiveness by eliminating waste. The core principle of lean is to reduce and eliminate non-value adding activities and waste.

Lean Manufacturing (Production) vs. Lean Enterprise

Lean manufacturing or lean production is a system of techniques and activities for running a manufacturing or service operation. The techniques and activities differ according to the application at hand but they have the same underlying principle: the elimination of all non-value-adding activities and waste from the business.

Lean enterprise extends this concept through the entire value stream or supply chain: The leanest factory cannot achieve its full potential if it has to work with non-lean suppliers and subcontractors.

What are the Seven Types of Waste (Muda) in Lean Manufacturing?

Waste, or muda in Japanese, is defined as the performance of unnecessary work as a result of errors, poor organization, or communication.

Quality professionals often debate whether or not there are seven or eight wastes of lean. The eighth waste of lean is unique from the original seven because its elimination can directly benefit the employees, as well as the employer.

The eight lean manufacturing mudas can be remembered using the acronym DOWNTIME.

  1. Defects
  2. Overproduction
  3. Waiting
  4. Non-utilized talent
  5. Transportation
  6. Inventory
  7. Motion
  8. Extra-processing

Lean Tutorials

Lean Case Studies

Utilizing lean principles throughout your organization can offer you a competitive advantage by lowering operating costs and improving productivity. The benefits of implementing lean are optimized when combined with kaizen events, Six Sigma, the theory of constraints, and other improvement methodologies.

The following case studies provide a closer look at results organizations have achieved while using lean methodologies and approaches. You can also find more examples of success in quality by visiting the ASQ Quality Resources.

Lean Six Sigma Increases Efficiency for Financial Services Firm

A fund services organization used a Lean Six Sigma approach that featured kaizen events to enhance process control and increase capacity. In just four months, nine quick-fix projects achieved savings of $220,000, paving the way for larger strategic improvements.

Continuous Improvement at Two Companies

Todd Schneider shares lessons learned from helping to integrate continuous improvement into the operations of two companies. Examples of improvement projects at his current employer, Serigraph, show how teams used Six Sigma to improve yield by more than 20 percent, saving $40,000 in 10 months, and improve vendor material management, saving $192,000 per year.

A Better Way to Perform Portable X-rays

A cross-functional team at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center used lean tools to develop a new procedure for performing portable x-rays. Process improvements have reduced workers' compensation costs, increased productivity, and improved patient safety.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital Enhances Quality Patient Care by Embracing Lean

The organization-wide lean curriculum at Barnes-Jewish Hospital combines an education program for all employees with focused improvements in value streams.

The Challenge of Overcoming Success

A combination of theory of constraints, Six Sigma, and lean helped a DNA testing laboratory take a holistic approach to process improvement. Redesigning the workflow and laboratory layout and introducing new operating rules increased capacity without increasing costs.

Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin: Integrating Quality and Social Responsibility

Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin uses lean techniques and kaizen events to improve processes and enhance its social responsibility efforts. Within two years of introducing lean techniques, Goodwill had completed 16 process improvement events that saved an estimated $2.8 million in labor and supplies.

It’s a Matter of Time: Ship Servicers Use Quick Kaizen to Shorten Long Turnaround

A team at the Yokosuka Calibration Laboratory, U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center, used a series of kaizen events to shorten service lead time by 68 percent. The team qualified as a finalist in ASQ’s 2008 International Team Excellence Award process.

Piecing Things Together: Better Materials Organization Improves Ship Repair Service

Employees at the Sasebo production shop of the U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center used a lean 5S approach to establish a new way of managing their materials inventory. The team reduced time spent looking for parts by 80 percent and qualified as finalists in ASQ’s 2008 International Team Excellence Award process.

Getting Green With Lean

The JDSU legal department’s global trade team used lean tools to eliminate waste from its import management processes. By creating a paperless process, the team handled a 500-percent increase in work and eliminated at least 70,000 paper copies per year.

Improving Productivity Through Lean Six Sigma Warehouse Design

A Lean Six Sigma improvement team at New Breed Logistics employed quality tools such as value stream mapping, PICK charts, and the 5 Whys to increase product flow and meet customers’ packaging requirements. As a result, overtime decreased by 30 percent, productivity increased 5 percent, shipping accuracy reached 100 percent, and customer satisfaction improved, leading to additional business.

Streamlined Enrollment Nets Big Results for Healthcare Leader

Kaiser Permanente Colorado used Lean Six Sigma to evaluate and improve Medicaid enrollment processes. A three-month project resulted in a 45 percent gain in Medicaid membership while increasing Medicaid revenue by more than $1 million annually.

Emergency Department Prescribes Lean for Process Improvement

When the Mercy Medical Center emergency department used lean techniques to improve process flow, patient satisfaction scores rose from the 30th to the 95th percentile. Value stream mapping helped identify and eliminate non-value-added steps.  

Pall Corporation: A Profile in “Process Excellence”

Pall Corporation’s “Process Excellence” combines lean, Six Sigma, dashboard metrics, and team involvement. This combination ensures improvement efforts are aligned with business imperatives and contributes to a culture of accountability.

Lean-Six Sigma: Tools for Rapid Cycle Cost Reduction

Financial leaders should take leadership roles in deploying Lean-Six Sigma to improve costs for healthcare organizations: start today by taking a “Manager Quality Waste Walk.”

Lean and Six Sigma: A One-Two Punch

Using the Six Sigma/kaizen team-based approach, results are implemented faster with the participation of employees from the shop floor to the executive suite.

Do you have lean results to share? Let ASQ publish your success story.

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