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Lean management systems and tools you should adopt today

By: Emily Finlay

Lean management may be the answer your company needs to grow bigger and better. As we have detailed in our previous articles, this methodology can guide your team and processes to sustainable efficiency and success. To enjoy these benefits, however, you first need to know how to apply the lean principles.

In this article, we’ll introduce a variety of lean management tools you can use to eliminate waste from your operations. These are just a few of the many systems designed to implement lean management, but they are the options we think are most beneficial for any industry.

What are lean management systems?

Lean management systems are tools that businesses can use to eliminate waste and make improvements throughout the processes they target. These tools include methods of analysis, ways to implement continuous improvement, and different ways to understand the work you want to change.

With lean management tools, you can pick and choose the options that work best at that moment. Some options work better for specific industries or departments. Or, you may find that the combination of these tools is what you need to make changes. 

As you learn about these systems, consider which ones will work best for your organization. Then, use them to create the perfect toolbox for your ongoing lean management needs.

The top lean management tools

Here are the top eight lean management tools that we recommend.


Chaotic work environments can stall productivity and clutter the mind. No matter what kind of work you do, starting and ending the day with a clean space can improve your efficiency and results. The 5S system originates in Japan, using five steps that begin in ‘S’ (in both Japanese and English!) to declutter your workspace. These steps are:

  1. Seiri/Sort – Evaluate everything in your workspace and get rid of anything that isn’t necessary to your work, particularly for that day.
  2. Seiton/Set in Order – Arrange your workspace so you can quickly find anything you need throughout the day.
  3. Seiso/Shine – Regularly clean and organize your workspace to maintain order.
  4. Seiketsu/Standardize – Make the first three steps a regular habit that you follow every day.
  5. Shitsuke/Sustain – Evaluate your system on a regular basis to maintain efficiency and continuous improvement.

Along with creating a good work environment, the 5S system will help you apply the lean management principles to your personal processes for ideal results.

Bottleneck Analysis

One of the major parts of following the lean management system is understanding where bottlenecks exist in your processes and how to resolve them. Bottleneck Analysis helps you identify the kinks in your systems, including any areas where you lose momentum in the production or development of your products or services.

To use Bottleneck Analysis, follow the lean management process to find these issues. Once you have identified them, hold a brainstorming session with the people directly affected by each bottleneck. Using a visual outline, determine if you need to add or remove roles, resources, technology, and steps. Find the best, most efficient solution to keep your operations flowing without issue.


This tool reflects the meaning of its name, a Japanese word that means “the real place.” Gemba directs your focus to the core of where you create your value. It may be a physical place for some industries, such as the production line, or a figurative place, such as your team.

Either way, Gemba pushes your leaders to step away from their desks to experience this core. This lean management tool inspires the all-important pillar of respect for people, particularly those that work beneath you. The goal is to understand “the real place” that the rest of your employees experience as they produce your work. Adding this experience-backed perspective ensures that the decisions and changes you make will reflect the realities your workers face.

Gemba is particularly important when eliminating waste. What may seem unnecessary from a CEO’s perspective may be important to the person using it. With your new insights, you can make informed decisions that achieve improvements for both your operations and your staff.

Just-in-Time (JIT)

The Just-in-Time (JIT) tool is one of the best options to use for the “create a pull system” principle in lean management. When using it, you only create products “just in time” to get them to the customer and only after the order is received. This system eliminates the waste of surplus inventory, along with minimizing the chances of having to throw away extra product due to damage or expiration.

When using this tool and following this step, it’s critical to evaluate your ability to operate with this type of system. If you have to wait for materials from other vendors to complete an order, for example, a pull system might delay your processes excessively. Or, the supplier may not have the items you need. For these situations, you need to have a backup plan, as well as other ways to give your customers what they need.

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

If you want to effectively improve your processes, you need a way to measure your progress. Key performance indicators are goals that you set for your improvements and use to measure your success. 

You can set KPIs that match your goals and mission to better align your work with your brand. If you aren’t meeting your goals, your metrics will clearly show where you need to focus your efforts. KPIs are great motivators, giving your team a tangible objective to strive for. More importantly, they should include your team’s input to reflect the realities of your business.

Since lean management requires continuous efforts, your KPIs should evolve with your procedures. Review them regularly to understand how well you are meeting your goals and if they still reflect your value stream. The more you use them, the more effective your improvement efforts will be.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

When you want to eliminate wasted time from your work schedule, OEE is a great way to measure the level of productivity you currently have. To calculate your efficiency, you need to multiply these factors:

  • Availability – Run time divided by total planned production time
  • Performance – Ideal cycle time multiplied by total count and then divided by run time
  • Quality – Good count divided by total count

For the last factor, good count, also called good parts, is the number of products or services you produce that meet your standards of quality. If a product is damaged or a project doesn’t end successfully, they don’t count towards this number.

While this tool is most easily applied to products, you can also use it to understand your workers’ total productivity, even if you work in an office. Say an employee is supposed to spend a certain amount of time each week working on a specific task. If they spend half of that time dealing with customers or chatting with coworkers, you can calculate how much productivity is wasted. Then, you can use this information to streamline your processes and find better ways to get stuff done.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

You know that lean management requires continuous improvement, but do you know how to implement this principle into your organization? PDCA is a framework that guides you through identifying and resolving the issues that slow your productivity. The steps you follow include:

  • Plan – Find the process that needs improvement or the specific problem you want to fix and create a plan to resolve it.
  • Do – Follow your plan, usually incorporating small tests that guide your solutions.
  • Check – Evaluate the results of your plans and tests.
  • Act – Use this information to make the changes needed.

Like many lean management tools, PDCA works best when followed on a cyclical basis. You can use it to optimize new projects, improve existing processes, make changes, and more. When Lockheed Martin wanted to improve an internal process, for example, they used PDCA to make the changes. In the end, they were able to turn a 30-day process into a four-hour process. While you may not see similarly drastic improvements, you will certainly make a positive difference for your company.

The 5 Whys

The only way to effectively resolve a problem is to address its root cause, not just the additional issues it creates. The 5 Whys tool offers a process that your team can use to understand what, at the core, is causing the bottlenecks in your process. Best of all, it is an incredibly simple process that any group can use to solve any problem.

Once your team is gathered to address the issue, start by asking why. You may explore why production prices have risen, why productivity stalls in one area, or why your team is struggling to collaborate. You can then move deeper into the issue by asking new why questions (usually five or less in total) to increase your understanding.

This process guides your team as they work to understand and improve your various processes. It can show you where waste exists and which areas to focus on for greater efficiency.

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