Lean Production

The term “lean production” refers to the set of tools and techniques used to streamline and improve a company’s production system. With its roots in the Toyota Production System, lean production aims to boost productivity while reducing waste. Companies that successfully embrace lean production methods can achieve impressive improvements in their performance. The superiority of a lean production system was first identified by Womack and Jones during their research on Japanese carmakers. Initially, it was believed that lean was only applicable to production, whereas today we know those principles can be applied in any sector.

With more and more organizations (not just manufacturing firms) turning to automation to try and solve every-day problems, lean production offers an approach that gives the operators and their work the dignity they deserve. This idea is best expressed by the concept of the andon, a cord hanging above lean production lines that operators can pull whenever they encounter a problem they can’t solve right way (this is the base of the fundamental lean principles of jidoka, “automation with a human touch”). Lean is clearly an alternative to reckless management that considers people as mere capital.

The main characteristics of a lean production system are the fact the different stages of production happen in a sequence without interruptions (known as flow) and that the pace of production is set by the customers (pull).

Pulling it off

CASE STUDY – A Turkish producer of gas valves for kitchen appliances has discovered the power of the lean principles of pull and flow, reaching results beyond its imagination.
space optimisation small batches 365

Small batches and clever use of space for great flexibility

THE LEAN BAKERY – In this episode of our video series, we visit 365's super-lean workshop, where small batches and a clever use of space allow for unprecedented levels of flexibility in manufacture.
Juan Antonio on 365 growth

How we grew using less resources than ever before

THE LEAN BAKERY – In the fourth episode in our video series, the CEO of 365 explains how lean showed him that his business could grow (exponentially) without using any extra resources.
furniture lean manufacturing

A single experiment changed how we produce furniture

FEATURE – Sometimes all you need to change minds is a successful experiment. This is how a Norwegian furniture manufacturer managed to transform the way it thinks about its sofa production.
Womack production line

Lean has changed the production line forever

WOMACK’S YOKOTEN – This month, the author looks at the production line, a century-old idea that still fascinates us, reflecting on how lean thinking has changed it.
kaizen karakuri lean work

Here is the proof that kaizen leads to real innovation

NOTES FROM THE GEMBA – If you need proof that kaizen leads to real innovation, look no further than AIO. This French Tech company that reinvented itself as a karakuri kaizen coach.
lean bakery workshop gemba walk

Visit the stock-free workshop of our lean bakery

THE LEAN BAKERY – In the second video in the series, we visit the stock-free workshop of one of 365's lean bakeries and learn about quality bread, customer focus and making lives easier for bakers.
interview lean management Modern-Expo

How a Ukrainian company modernized itself using lean

INTERVIEW – In this Q&A, the CEO of a Ukrainian provider of equipment for stores shares how lean thinking has helped his company modernize its processes and engage its people.
lean butchers continuous improvement Botswana

How lean management saved a butcher’s shop in Botswana

CASE STUDY – Faced with complex logistics and customer complaints, a small deli and butchery in Botswana saw in lean a way to bring the business back from the brink. The philosophy didn’t fail them.
Mifune supply chain management Toyota

Walking the gemba at a Toyota parts supplier in Japan

NOTES FROM THE GEMBA – This month, the author shares her account of a recent gemba walk at a Tier 2 Toyota supplier, which has achieved impressive results by applying TPS.
lean logistics kanban Grupo Sabo

Inventory reduction and pulled supply in a Brazilian factory

FEATURE – Inventory reduction is critical to waste elimination. Yet, many are reluctant to do it, fearing demand variability and production instability will neutralize their efforts. Grupo Sabó's story proves otherwise.
Halfway Ngami lean transformation

Fast and lean car servicing and repairs in Botswana

FEATURE – You have never seen a workshop like this before: Halfway Ngami in Botswana has creatively transformed car servicing and repairs by making problems visible and introducing flow.
documentary Halfway Toyota lean thinking

The people-led lean turnaround of a chain of car dealerships

DOCUMENTARY – In PL’s first ever documentary, we share the story of a chain of car dealerships in Africa. Watch and learn how people development and lean leadership made for one of the best turnarounds you’ll ever encounter.
Sisma Italy lean management

The lean journey of Sisma towards continuous innovation

INTERVIEW – Italy-based precision machinery manufacturer Sisma has changed skin many times over the years. We sat down with its general manager to learn how the firm has been able to continuously innovate over the years.
levelled production eliminate the blues

Eliminate complexity in raw and packaging materials

FEATURE – There is a form of waste – complexity in raw and packaging materials – that adds costs to manufacturing without creating value, but it is often overlooked. The author explains what it is and how to banish it.
Glenday small problems

Why fixing the little problems should not be discounted

FEATURE – A broken phone or a clock showing the wrong time may seem small details to you, but they actually make people's jobs more difficult. Fixing these issues improves work and boosts morale... It also says a lot about you as a company.
levelled production low sale products

To be leaner discontinue high-volume low-sale products

FEATURE – We often think that making every product customers might want – no matter how little they sell or how much complexity they add to our schedule – is inherently lean. As Toyota understands quite well, however, it is quite the opposite.
measuring demand variability

Why we must use percentages to analyze demand variability

FEATURE – In the latest article in his series on how to effectively level production, Ian Glenday discusses why the perceived high variability of our demand is actually the result of a misconception… think about it in percentage terms!