Introduction to Lean

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Six Sigma is a well know term today, but another very powerful initiative is Lean. There are many companies which have adopted lean techniques and in many organizations just like in ours, the sigma training curriculum has lean concepts and tools as well.  If Six Sigma is focused on reducing variation; lean focuses on speeding the action.
The simplest definition of lean is, "Cycle time reduction through Waste Elimination".
Toyota Production System is the basis for "lean production". In lean manufacturing the focus is on making the product flow through value-adding processes without interruption (one-piece flow), and a "pull" system based on customer demand; thereby replenishing only what the next operation takes away at short intervals.  Most importantly, this is a culture in which everyone strives to improve continuously.  
Taiichi Ohno, founder of Toyota Production System says "All we are doing is looking at the time line from the moment the customer gives us an order to the point when we collect the cash.  And we are reducing that time line by removing the non-value- added wastes. 
I wouldn't attempt to elaborate on the entire context of lean in this short article. I was shocked to read in the book "The Toyota Way" by Jeffrey K. Liker, that most attempts to implement lean in organizations have been fairly superficial.  He says he has visited hundreds of companies in the US, that claim to be advanced practitioners of lean methods but find that they haven't really made that cultural transformation that Toyota has made.  He says that companies proudly show off their pet lean project and they have mistaken a particular set of lean tools for a deep "lean thinking" 
However, that should not be an excuse for organizations for not implementing lean techniques.  It's better to be like a toddler learning to walk, rising each time it falls and slowly but surely mastering the ability to walk. 
Under the umbrella of lean tools there are many tools which many of us are already familiar with, viz., Value Stream Maps, 5S, JIT, Visual Displays, Kanban, Quick Changeover, Error Proofing etc. 
The question one would have in mind is "Where to start"?  Well, organizations which are planning to become lean would go in for a large scale implementation, but if we are just beginning to learn about lean and would like to use some of the concepts, my opinion would be to look at waste and eliminate it.
This is a culture in which everyone strives to improve continuously
The next obvious question is- what is waste? Any thing that doesn't add value is called waste. By walking through a process and mapping it, it is quite easy to identify waste in a process. Let's discuss further on the types of wastes.  We can classify wastes into 8 different types-
1. Defective Products
2. Over Production
3. Transportation
4. Waiting
5. Inventory
6. Motion
7. Processing
8. Unused Creativity
These wastes need not necessarily be in a production environment, we could see them in any transaction, even in an office environment. To get the concept clear, let's look at few non manufacturing examples under each category- 
1. Defective Products- Errors in information and documentation; decisions not based on facts. A wrongly processed invoice or purchase order could have big financial implications. Defective products cause re-work or scrap leading to loss in time and money, like the defective roads that need potholes filling every now and then.
2. Over Production- Extra reports and additional and unnecessary information on reports.  Decision made sooner than needed is also over production, like the median constructed on the middle of the road and then removed to install electric poles.
3. Transportation- Hand carrying information, mailing, faxing. In a city like Bangalore which is so well e-connected, it is always better to click a mouse rather than to use the car; to pay a utility bill- speed increases and traffic jam reduces.
4. Waiting- Waiting for decisions, waiting in meeting for your turn, waiting in ques in banks. Waiting at the signal points is the biggest waste of time, fuel, money, in the city of Bangalore
5. Inventory- Work in process in the in-tray, in-box; excess stationary, greeting cards and dairies ordered. One may want to look at the emails we receive, read and reply on daily basis just to clear the inventory rather than gather and transmit any useful information.
6. Motion- Searching for things in the office, slow typing due to unfamiliar key strokes. Clear identification of files ( either hard or soft)with an indexing mechanism, can reduce unnecessary motion
7. Processing- Extra approval and documentation that does not add value to the customer. Issue of tokens in the bank, and the cash withdrawal form being processed, while the customer waits.  In our company we eliminated  printing of salary slips, instead we use the intranet
8. Unused Creativity- People not adhering to procedures, looking at short cuts and getting bored doing routine jobs. The management of any organization will have to look at ways to get the best out of their people.
Elimination of these wastes speeds up the process, thereby reducing cycle time.  There are many methods that could be adopted to drive waste reduction, which is beyond the scope of this article. 
Pradeep Kumar E. T. A Master Black Belt in Six Sigma, is Manager- Quality Assurance with Tyco Electronics Corporation  India Pvt Ltd. Feedback can be emailed to
Issue BG59 Feb06