8 LEAN Tools You Should Already Be Using

LEAN tools and strategies focus on improving production efficiency and reducing waste, both in terms of time and physical inputs. While the term LEAN and the thinking behind it is fairly well-known, there is still a natural (though somewhat perplexing) resistance to change that keeps business owners from implementing these strategies once they’re set in their ways. The reality is that a scientific, LEAN approach is almost always going to yield higher efficiency than simply “what feels right” or “what you’ve always done.” If you’re on the fence about switching to a more efficient workplace, consider our following top 8 LEAN ideas for improvement.


At its most basic level, the 5S system stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. These five steps make up an organizational blueprint for taking any cluttered, hard to navigate or inefficient space and bringing it up to par. Briefly, the process goes as follows: Items are removed from a space and placed into piles or bins based upon how frequently they are used and needed. Items that are used are then replaced into new, sensible locations in the room, while unused items are discarded and rarely used ones are stored elsewhere. The room is then cleaned (shined) until it looks like new, at which point the final two steps focus on maintaining this condition indefinitely.


With Kaizen, “continuous improvement” is the name of the game. Kaizen is all about fully utilizing the individual talents and specialties of your team members to constantly spot and act on areas where there is room for improvement. All manufacturing stages are monitored and measured, observed and noted, and eventually tweaked to provide maximum output for input and to save time. Read this blog post where a Kaizen event helped reduce waste and improved efficiency.


Kanban is a production system in which cards are used to represent the materials within each stage of production. The point is to provide a visual indication of your processes and ensure that flow is maintained evenly. Goods and materials within a stage of production are replaced when their Kanban card is moved, indicating need at that stage.

Value Stream Mapping

Like many LEAN techniques, Value Stream Mapping has its roots in early car manufacturers who wanted a way to visualize and evaluate their entire process. The method largely consists of drawing two maps of your workplace. The first represents the current state of production, and should include current delay points, bottlenecks, and more. The second version is a “future” VSM, which represents where you want to be, and generally has eliminated the issues found in the first iteration. You are then tasked with working to close the gap between the two images, moving toward the latter.

Visual Factory

visual-factoryWait, another visual mapping method? Nope, not exactly. The Visual Factory concept is about putting visual indicators in your actual, real life, 3D workplace. These markers help to make communicating easier, especially when transitioning between stages of production or entering a new area. Things like floor tape to create walking lanes, labels for bins, pipes, and other fixtures, and floor signs to serve as safety reminders (among other things) all make up your visual factory. Here is another great blog post which proves a visual workplace can increase productivity and safety.


SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-specific. SMART Goals are used in a variety of industries and help to keep aspirations focused and realistic. Setting goals for safety, production, or other metrics are much more helpful to your business when they follow a SMART format. In general, if a goal can satisfy all five requirements, it is much more likely to be successful.


Gemba, or “the real place,” is a LEAN term for getting yourself out onto the work floor, even if your place of work or office is usually disconnected. In order to relate to the rest of your operations, and therefore be sound in any decision making that affects them, Gemba is extremely important. Take time from each day, or at least a couple times per week, to get out on the floor and observe and listen – just don’t get in anyone’s way!


Finally, Muda, or waste, is the primary elimination focus of all of these and other LEAN practices. With every decision, think about whether you are creating or minimizing waste. If your action might create more waste (this can be in terms of time, money, or materials) in the long term, even for a short term benefit, it’s probably best to ditch it.

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