Beginners guide to Lean Thinking and its five principles

Beginners guide to Lean Thinking and its five principles

James Womack and Dan Jones undertook a study in the 1980’s into the successful Toyota Production System in Japan. They published two books about their observations at Toyota. The first book was published in 1990. This book was called The Machine That Changed the World, it was quite descriptive. The outcome was a tool based operational approach to Lean. However we now know that the tools alone are not enough. 

The second book that they wrote tried to re-establish Lean moving it away from just tools to a generalised model for Lean Thinking. This book was called Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation and was aimed at management. The book developed five principles of Lean Thinking and the authors contended that by following these principles any business in every sector can become Lean. The outcome was an executive approach to Lean. 

The principles of Lean Thinking are value, value streams, flow, pull, and perfection. These are signals for transforming thinking in your business. Before we examine these principles and how you can use them in your business don’t throw out the tools of Lean because you will need both. I like to think of it this way, the principles are ideas and the tools are the methods to turn the ideas into actions. Today we will take a closer look at the principles of Lean Thinking and leave the tools for another blog. 

  1. Your business creates value but the value must be defined by your customer. Everything else is considered waste.
  2. Your job is to find and eliminate waste in your process of creating value. This is where the value streams come into their own. The mapping process will let you see all of the processes that go into creating value. Some add no value, these are considered waste, so you can eliminate these. Of course there will be processes that don’t add value but are necessary in your system and these ones are okay to keep.
  3. The idea behind flow is to remove blockages in your system. There should be no interruptions in your productions system. If there are blockages you need to identify the causes and remove them.
  4. Pull means that you don’t produce stuff that your customer doesn’t want. This way you won’t have a build-up of stock or raw materials that you can’t shift.
  5. The final principle is the idea of perfection. This simply means that your business will become a business that continually improves its processes.

Lean Thinking principles are not the only principles that Management at Toyota follow but arguably the most well-known. They don’t deal with the business philosophy or the importance of people in your business. However they certainly are a good starting point because they deal with mind-sets. 

Further reading: 

Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation 

The Machine That Changed the World