Lean Concept Blog Celebrates its birthday

I started lean concept blog on 1st of January 2006. Since then I have been writing about lean manufacturing and related topics and also about its concepts. So in few hours when the whole world is celebrating the New Year 2008, lean concept blog is also celebrating its second birthday and stepping into the third year of operation.

It will not be possible without all of you. Thanks for being with lean concept blog. I hope all of you will be with my blog in the years to come.


Wish you all the very best and a Happy New Year!

Lean manufacturing and inappropriate tooling (or inappropriate processing)

This is the fifth post on lean manufacturing and its categorization of wastes. Today we focus on inappropriate tooling or processing. It is a simple but very important waste to identify.

In manufacturing context inappropriate tooling means using improper tools or processes for the job. Every job requires a set of tools and will have a defined process to follow. Most of the manufacturers use state of art technologies in their facilities. But the reality is in most of the cases only a fraction of the functionalities are used. Tons of money in purchasing and heavy maintenance is involved with these tools and technologies. Obviously this means cost. But the output is minimal. So why maintain such complicated machinery and tools. Lean manufacturing always encourage low cost and simple and low tech automation. They are very easy to maintain and costs very less. Best part is they are custom made for the requirement. When it comes to processes how many checking points a product have to pass through. How many times a part will go back and forth before it getting completed? All these are problems of inappropriate processing.

Waste of over processing is mainly due to poor planning of layouts and machinery. Generally people tend to think more is good. They go for high output and high tech machinery. Most of them forget the requirement and never think about simple solutions. Layouts are generally designed to help this bulk machinery. This increases the unnecessary processing.

In a lean office (or in a lean service place) the courses of inappropriate processing are the same. Unnecessary processes are built like authorizations and signatures. This eats up time yet add no value. Tools like email and other forms of e communication techniques are used extensively and most of the times unnecessarily. Expensive IT systems are built but rarely used and making them worthless.

To overcome inappropriate processing tooling processes must be realigned. Layouts must be redesigned to suit the lean office. Using tools like emails and systems must be carefully analyzed and used to support the system.

In software development inappropriate tooling can be referred as using wrong languages to develop the software, using wrong methodologies of software development and so on. From a user point of view this means extra steps in getting the expected result or having too many options to choose from (when they always use only one).

Better design processes and requirement capturing and planning will eliminate this waste from software development. Users must get only what they need and they should be able to get the desired result without wondering what to do. Think about Google. How simple is it to use Google than other search engines.

Lean manufacturing always encourages simplicity. Simple solutions works best and most of the times they are very low cost and also they are easy to maintain.

Transportation – A waste of non lean manufacturing

This is the fourth post on wastes identified in lean manufacturing. In this post we discuss about transportation. Lean identifies transportation as one of the wastes in manufacturing context. But we can identify similar wastes in offices, service providers and software development. So let’s discuss one by one.

In manufacturing context transportation refers to the movement of goods in the form of raw material, semi finished goods or in finish goods from one place to another without adding value to the product. If we look at the ideal lean manufacturing unit, the process of manufacturing is initiated by the customer. Then the manufacturer process the RM to the finished product and delivers it to the customer then and their. So in the ideal process there is no waste called transportation. But in the reality we can not completely avoid transportation. For an example most of the raw material suppliers are not within the manufacturing premises, nor is the customer. This makes transportation is a requirement. But if you analyze carefully you will have tremendous amount of transportation even within your manufacturing premises. This does not add value to your final product. So obviously any lean manufacturer will treat this as a waste.

First to identify the way your goods move in your manufacturing premises from RM until becoming a finished product, you can draw up a diagram following the physical path of the product. This is known as a spaghetti diagram in most of the cases. This is because they look like a plate of spaghetti, messy and hard to follow the path even on the diagram. If you measure the distance that product has traveled before becoming a finished product you will be amazed.

Transportation is mainly due to problems in layout designs. Poor layouts and usage of inappropriate mass manufacturing techniques and machinery will increase the transportation in your organization. Transportation increases the lead time, reduces the flexibility of the system. Obviously this will increase work in progress.

Using lean manufacturing techniques you can eliminate the waste of transportation. This requires careful mapping of the process as described earlier, and re arranging the layout and machinery to reduce transportation. Processes also need to be re arranged.

In an office the cause of transportation is not different. Poor layout designs and processes increase the transportation. In an office transportation can be identified with the distance document moves or the amount of people involved in an email communication or number of work stations someone has to move before getting their job done.

Lean office should not have unnecessary movements of documents (including e communication), people involved in the process. Most of the offices will have to rethink their processes and align them to a lean process. For an example number of signatures required to finalize the process can increase the transportation. If we rearrange the process by removing unnecessary processes of signing the documents it can reduce the transportation greatly.

In lean software developments, transportation can be identified as having too many iterations going back and forth, too many errors identified in testing and subsequent processing and so on. Even in software levels, how the data is processed and amount of tables a query has to read can be considered as transportation.

Re arranging the methods of requirement capturing, program and data structures will make the process of software development effective.

In service context transportation can be number of work stations someone has to go to before they get he job done, number of options they have to navigate before getting to the service they require when they call your organization. Again this is due to poor arrangement of services or processes.

In a lean service people should get what they want from the place they walk into. They must be guided to the correct place with effective communication. Once they visit the service provider, there should not be any more movement.

So transportation can be identified not only in lean manufacturing. We can identify transportation in offices, services and also in software development. Removing transportation from the system will increase the flexibility of the system, and will reduce the lead time and also will reduce the work in progress.

Lean and waiting

Waiting is one of the important wastes identified in lean manufacturing. What is actually waiting in the context of lean? If the customer has to wait to receive what they want it is known as waiting in the context of lean. The customer can be internal or external. So lean manufacturing proposes not to make any of your customers wait when they have a requirement. But how to stop waiting?

When it comes to manufacturing, lean works according to the pull concept. That is products are manufactured when there is a requirement for them. If this process is interrupted the flow of value will stop hence will create wastes. Creating a manufacturing environment which is smooth and will not have any stops and waiting is the challenge faced by many manufacturers. In lean manufacturing context waiting is the second largest contributor to the work in progress.

Lean doesn’t propose to have a higher inventory levels to eliminate waiting time. But the system should be fine-tuned and quipped to supply products when there is s a demand without making the requester waiting. This is where the system is really challenged. In lean manufacturing there will be frequent changes to the models manufactured, quantities are smaller and there is no inventory to level out the production. This requires robust systems. SMED techniques, careful layout planning, training and work cells are some of the techniques used to stop the interruptions to the flow of value hence the waiting time.

In lean office and lean service contexts waiting can be people who are waiting to get their documents done, people waiting for the information, people waiting for the reply for their email or a document waiting to be processed. Although this is not very much visible, offices and services have very high degree of waiting and higher cycle times.

Carefully mapping and identifying the value stream will make it possible to identify wastes in the office (or in your service). When these are identified we can remove these wastes from the system.

In lean software development waiting is mainly due to the development model. If the projects are planned to develop larger pieces of software then the customers have to wait till the full thing is done. Internal customers like testing people will have to wait till the full piece of software to come out to complete testing. When it comes to testing it will take lots of time to complete the testing these large software pieces. If errors are identified it will take more time to correct them and retest them. The result is end customer will have wait for longer without seeing anything. Once the software is delivered he might have a different set of requirements and expectations which are evolved with time.

This can be avoided by developing software in small pieces putting them together subsequently. It takes lesser time to develop small pieces of software and it is less complicated to test them individually. Once the minimum requirements are met product can be delivered to the end customer after an integration testing. This will make customer happy since he has to wait only for a short while.

In lean manufacturing there is one very important theory. If we waste time in the process we can not catch up to that time again. No matter how hard we work, no matter how fast we work if we have already lost one minute of time it will be lost for ever. Waiting is the main contributor to longer cycle times. Waiting means longer lead times.

Over production – Waste of non lean manufacturing

I published my last post on wastes in lean manufacturing. I listed the waste categories identified in lean. I am going to discuss the first waste of lean, overproduction in manufacturing, office, software development and service contexts.

In simple terms over production is producing something before it is actually required. This is the other end of JIT manufacturing where products are manufactured when they are required in the quantities required. We identify this manufacturing model as mass manufacturing.

So in lean manufacturing over production is the main source of inventory. When goods are manufactured without real demand for them the work in progress and inventory levels goes high. This ties up capital since the goods are in stock not making cash. If the manufacturer does not have the demand, they have to create it. This involves cost in the form of advertising costs, costs of discounts etc. on the other hand over production greatly reduces the flexibility of the system. If one process has manufactured extra items generally manufacturing needs to be carried out until the stock is over. This takes time and hence it is difficult to change from one to another product quickly. Problems of the system are hidden in inventory. Problems will never get highlighted and hence will never get removed from the system.

This can be avoided using the pull manufacturing techniques. Manufacturing will take place if there is a requirement from the previous process. From the organizational point of view the requirement will be created by selling their product, for an internal sub process the requirement will be triggered by the process after that. By practicing pull manufacturing products can be manufactured in exact quantities in exact timelines.

In a lean office context over production means doing something before someone really request it. Pre filled forms and documentation are great examples. If the year is printed on a form it should be thrown out when the year ends. Doing extensive research and extensive analysis and taking no action is another great example.


Every office must know where they will get the demand and must know how to fulfill it. Creation of simple processes and procedures will help in managing the requests faster and therefore there will not be any requirement to do something before the actual request to save time.

In lean software development over production means additional features delivered without a real need for it. Sometimes these tools find creative use in operation. But in most of the cases these features will lie there without any usage and sometimes can lead to confusion. Developing these features require analysis, documentation, development and testing. Each of these stages costs both in terms of money and time. In development stages these features increase the inventory, work in process and obviously increase the timeline for the delivery. In software development more time you take to develop the product more complex it gets.

This can be avoided by careful requirement capturing and analyzing the requirements. Then the development can be divided in to small deliverable units which can be integrated. Testing will be much faster and users will get the output quicker. So users does not have tome to change before the product is delivered. Additional features can be added based on the requirements. This is the application of lean manufacturing pull concept in software development.

In lean services over production is basically having too many services embedded in to a solution when it is actually not required. If someone buys a mobile phone how many services they get with it and hence they pay for. But how many of you have used these complex technologies other than to make a call or to send a text message. People should know what they will get from the service provider exactly and they should get it.

You can give them the basic service they are looking for and then if they are interested can provide the additional services. In this case there is no need for the service provider to be ready with all the possible services at any given time. They can call for the expertise when the customer wants it. Here you will save your money since you are not going to invest in something there is no real requirement. On the other hand customer will pay for what he is actually using.

It is interesting to identify over production outside lean manufacturing. Certainly we all do things before there is an actual demand. This is the time to revisit that strategy.

Wastes of lean in manufacturing, office, software and services

Lean manufacturing identifies wastes different to a conventional organization. Lean defines value of a product from the customer’s point of view. So any process, activity or addition is a waste if it does not add value to the final product or the service. When we start describing wastes form this angle we will start identifying many wastes which we thought initially are value additions.

Most studies show us that every organization is wasting most of their resources. Some say the value addition is only about 5% of the total activities. Isn’t that amazing? Most of the times we waste up to 95% of our resources. If we look at this in a more customer oriented manner, we can deliver the same product or the service with very high quality only for a fraction of its cost within a very short lead time.

But we can not eliminate all the wastes from the system. This is mainly due to technical and other practical limitations. For an example we might not be able to seamlessly integrate the suppliers with the manufacturing unit due to transportation problems. So wastes are categorized in to two main categories as avoidable and unavoidable wastes. In lean all these wastes is categorized in to eight (seven traditional wastes plus one) categories. They are;

Since lean concepts are applied in various industries apart from manufacturing, these wastes can be described in offices, software development and even in services. In this series of articles I am planning to describe each of the waste categories identified in lean manufacturing in the areas of office, software and service contexts apart from traditional manufacturing context. So look forward for the lean waste series in next few weeks.