The lean machine

Lean manufacturing has a definite set of inputs and it is intended to give certain set of outputs. It consumes energy in various forms and requires maintenance in operation. It requires setup and time to time health checks. Objective of lean is to generate the desired output by optimizing the resources used. Sounds like a machine. In fact it is. It is a very productive machine.

Lean systems can be modeled as machines. This will give us clarity in thought process and will make it easy to understand systems. A lean system gets inputs in the form of raw materials, electricity, human resource and management. It creates the products or the services by utilizing them. The system is aligned so that it can give output of one piece using one piece of RM as the input. In other word there is no requirement to enter inputs in bulk to get the output. And this large machine is consisting of number of interdependent small machines.

The lean machine is intelligent enough to understand the variations occurring in it. And it will correct those variations by itself. If it can not do the correction by itself, it will stop and will get the third party involvement in correcting. It will not pass the defective parts forward. So this machine is fool proofed.

This machine works with simple logic. When there is a requirement it will pull the raw materials or the semi finished goods from the early process and will process them. There will be minimum amount of products inside the machine at any given time making the WIP very low.

Continuous monitoring and upgrades are required to make sure this machine works correct. Improvements and fine tuning will make the machine more and more effective. People are the gears and electronics and the computer chips of this machine. If they do not work correct, the machine will fail. So it is very important to keep people motivated. Training and educating people is also very important.

Lean machine needs energy. This needs to be provided by top management. Part of the energy is generated within the system itself with the effects of synergy. Starting the machine requires lots of energy. But once started it can run with very little of it.

Lean is an effective, efficient and very simple machine. Creating and operating this will take time and effort. But once done it will add great value to the organization.

Lean manufacturing and human resource

In the heart of lean manufacturing is the human resource. It is the most important of all the resources available for any lean organization. This is the only resource which can think and feel and importantly can make decisions consciously. No matter what is the industry you are in, people and respect for them forms a one primary pillar of lean. But unfortunately this is the most commonly wasted resource as well.

Wasting the human resource is most damaging for any organization. People will have more to offer your organization than what they offer now. Most of the success stories of lean are successful not because its tools or software etc. They are successful because they have found out the ways of using their human resources effectively in their operations. When guided with lean thinking and leadership motivated people can do wonders for your organization.

There are plenty of theories about motivation out there. All agree in one thing in common. People can not be made productive only with money. There are many other ways of motivating and making them happy. In a de motivated environment a person will only do what he has to do for his survival. If he is not de motivated he will put bit more effort and if he is motivated he will give his maximum effort to the organization.

In lean thinking people are respected. Respect is shown to them in many ways. One of the most important ways to respect an employee is by giving him the responsibility and the ability to make decisions. People who are actually doing the job will know how to do it better. All a lean manufacturer will have to do is facilitate people to come out with their ideas and implement them.

Importance of human resource will be the same in software, service and office environment. In fact importance of human resource will be higher in these environments than in manufacturing. Higher the respect for people, higher the out put from them. This is why Google became the best place to work in US. Not because they pay tons of money because they respect people and they use them effectively.

With this post I am concluding the series on wastes of lean manufacturing. I hope this was helpful to you.

Lean manufacturing and defects

Lean manufacturing is about eliminating non value added activities from the system. Defects are one of the most important waste categories identified in lean. Every defective product or a poor quality service costs the organization more than we think. It costs the organization money, time and other resources and importantly the reputation of the organization.

Actually it is interesting to study the steps involved in making and correcting a mistake. First the organization will make the defective product. This takes time and money. Then the organization identifies that there is a problem. This involves checking and related costs. Then we have to find the ways of correcting error. This again costs you in terms of money and time. Then we have to redo the product without errors. So we spend three times of resources in the process of making and correcting errors. But if the defective product reaches the customer the damage will be irreversible. Not only you are going to loose the customer who purchased the product, unsatisfied customers can stop other from coming to you. In the worst case you might have to face legal problems.

Most of the organizations work on the concept of AQL. They accept some degree of defects based on the lost size and the quality standard maintained. But as a lean thinker I do not like the concept of AQL. As lean manufacturing propose the quality should be inbuilt. Quality check is not the answer. Let’s say we are following a very high quality rating and we allow only 0.5% possibility of having a defect in a lot of 200. If we rephrase this, we can pass 1 defective piece of products to the customer for every 200 pieces we ship. Isn’t that scary? Although we ship them in bulk the user is not going to buy in bulk most of the times. If the customer buys 1 piece and if he found that to be defective they will never return to you.

In services and offices defects can not be easily identified. But you can easily get an idea by looking at the end customer. If they are not happy you are not providing a good service to them.

In the software development context, defective products are software which does not function as intended. In the systems which are vastly automated and integrated a defective piece of software can create unimaginably large losses to the user.

Application of lean concepts must ideally create a process where all the possibilities of having a defect are eliminated. Quality is inbuilt to the system hence there will not be any requirement to check the products specifically for the defects. Tools used in lean like JIT, KanBan and PokaYoke (mistake proofing) will make sure the system is not going to manufacture defective products.

Defects are identified as a result than a cause in lean manufacturing. Amount of defects is a good indicator which indicates the degree of imperfection in the system.

Lean and excess motion

Excess motion is a waste associated mainly with the manufacturing sector. Lean manufacturing identifies excess motion as non value adding. Therefore this is categorized as a major waste in lean context.

Transporting goods and raw material is a waste and this is discussed earlier. But how many times a person has to move in their day to day operations. How much of time is actually spent in value adding in comparison with the movements which dose not adds value. If someone has to bend to pick up a part before it is being assembled, how many time he has to do this over and over again. This wastes time, breaks the flow of work and especially can create health problems. Using a simple conveyer system might solve the problem and hence the waste of higher movement.

In general, excess movements are due to ergonomic problems. Lighting, height of the seat and the space the workstation all play a part in creating a productive work environment. Identifying wastes of these kinds needs trained eyes. Simple changes to the system can make a huge difference to the end result.

In lean office and lean service context all the factors we discussed in manufacturing will remain the same. Better computer monitors, cleaning the desk and adjusting the seat height, correct height of the table can make a difference. But in office and service context excess motion can be described as unnecessary processing or over processing. This is mainly due to the imperfections in the process design. Identifying the waste is the hardest task. Once identified it is very easy to remove from the system

In software development environment, motion can be identified as unnecessary movement of data and information. Excess motion of data takes place due to problems in the development process. Seamless integration within and between software is the simplest solution to this problem. Users need not to go to several screens in entering their information. Users will get all the required information in a single report. This will prevent users from moving between screens in generating the report.

Although easily visible in manufacturing environment, waste of excess motion can be identified in offices, service providers and even in software development. Once identified this can be removed from the system with simple adjustments and application of lean manufacturing techniques and concepts.

Lean manufacturing, Inventory and Work In Progress (WIP)

When we talk about lean manufacturing we talk about inventory and work in progress all the times. Lean and inventory are that close and therefore can not be separated. Lean manufacturing identifies inventory and WIP as the mirror of the imperfection system contain. Every imperfection creates a requirement for WIP in manufacturing. Apart from being a great reflector to the system imperfections, inventory becomes a waste by itself. Therefore work in progress and inventory in general is classified as a waste in lean waste classification.

With higher inventory, capital will be tied up. In simple words you get little cash by selling goods after investing large amounts of money in manufacturing it. Cost will be high since there are related costs like interests. So either product will be sold with higher price tag or the organization will loose money from its bottom line. Higher inventory and work in progress hides the problems. Problems are hidden in higher work in progress and will be not possible to remove from the system. For an example if we have one day of work in progress with us, a part manufactured today will be used in the next work station only tomorrow. If we start making a quality defect today, only by tomorrow we will get to know about that. So we will loose full one day of effort. Worst part is we have to redo it. This is almost three times of the effort and cost.

In lean manufacturing context it is not possible simply to reduce or remove inventory and work in progress from your system. Root cause to higher work in progress is one of the other seven wastes we are discussing. So identifying the correct root cause and treating them will reduce the WIP and higher levels of inventory. Just In Time manufacturing, purchasing and distribution techniques have a direct impact on the inventory levels. By using these techniques with other techniques like root cause analysis you will be able to reduce the inventory levels and avoid the problems identified.

In a lean office or in a lean service we can identify work in progress as unfinished service requests from users. For an example work in progress can be measured by the time taken to process an application or with the number of applications in a work station to be processed. Higher the work to be processed higher the process lead time. This can make costly delays to the service requesters and in the organization. For an example if your marketing office people couldn’t read a mail from your customer on the same day it was sent how big the impact would be if the customer says he is going to cancel the order to be processed on that day. Again mostly of the times reasons for higher work in process in an office or a service are same as explained in manufacturing. It will be a reflector of the problems you have in your system. You can remove them with the lean techniques explained throughout the blog and in this series of posts on lean and waste.

In software development point of view inventory can be referred as developments which are started but not finished. In a lean software development environment software must be developed in small parts which will be integrated to make the full product later. If we wait until the full massive software is finished to test and deliver products it will take longer and the timelines will be increased. Again work in progress is mainly mirrors the imperfections the system contain. When you change the system by applying lean techniques you will have lesser WIP and inventory of work. You will be able to deliver good quality software fast.

Work in progress is a key element in lean manufacturing. It is the single most important visual indicator reflecting the level of waste a system contain. And as we identified with this post inventory and WIP can be a waste by itself.


If you need further information you may find the below presentation useful. This presentation covers main topics relevant to inventory and WIP reduction like Pull Scheduling, Kanban and JIT. Entire presentation is 68 slides in length. You may download a sample here. To buy through secure servers please use this link

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.