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The 5 principles of lean management

By: Emily Finlay


Lean management is a technique that businesses can use to streamline their processes for better results. Originally developed by Toyota to improve its manufacturing process, this practice has become a common way for businesses in all industries to refine their operations.

You can find a more in-depth discussion of lean management in our latest blog post, but we’ve also included a quick refresher below. In this article, you’ll also learn more about lean management principles, the best practices for their use, and examples of the ideal techniques you can use to succeed with this concept.

What is lean management?

Lean management is a process designed to eliminate waste from your organization and achieve improvements in your procedures. Rather than just focusing on actions, this technique examines everything involved in your operations. This includes the purposes behind your work and the various roles held by your team.

Refining these elements empowers you to cut costs, work faster, and give your customers the ultimate experience and satisfaction. In the next section, we’ll show you how to apply the lean management principles within your organization to reduce waste and increase the value you create.

What are the lean management principles?

The lean management process follows five principles. These principles are:

  1. Identify value
  2. Create a value stream map
  3. Develop a continuous workflow
  4. Create a pull system
  5. Enable continuous improvement

When implementing a lean system, it’s essential to follow the principles in the right order. Each one builds on the next, allowing you to refine your operations with each stage. It is sometimes easier to view them as steps, rather than just principles, to ensure the best results. 

Let’s explore the five lean management principles in more detail.

1. Identify value

Value is one of the core motivators behind the lean management philosophy. You will enjoy many benefits from implementing this practice, but your main goal should be to create greater value for your customers. Before you can, however, you first need to know what that value is for your company.

Start by examining the reasons people choose your company for the products or services they need. This will show you what your customers need and how you are succeeding in addressing it. It will also reveal the ways you can do better and what unique quality leads people to choose your company over competitors.

Once you have identified this value, you can use it to evaluate the rest of your business. As you’ll see in the next step, your customer value is the key to achieving the improvements you need to thrive.

Lean management techniques: How to identify value

Determining your value is not a task you can accomplish alone. If you want to fully understand the reasons customers choose you for their needs, you have to talk to them.

In our digital age, there are many cost- and time-effective ways to gain this insight. You could send a survey to customers on your email list or add one as a modal on your website. You can also create social media campaigns designed to gather answers. The demographic and analytics information from your website and advertising may also shed some light on the reasons customers frequent your business. If you have the time and resources, you can also hold interviews to ask customers directly about the value they see.

Once you’ve learned what you can from your customers, it’s time to consult with your team. Hold brainstorming sessions to examine the value you provide. Use the feedback you gathered from customers to align your focus with your customers’. By the end of this step, you should know what your customers are looking for, how they want you to provide it, and what your pricing structure should look like.

2. Create a value stream map

Armed with this new understanding of your customer value, you can now map out your value stream. This map covers the full process required to develop each product or service, outlining the steps you take to create your value.

Start by creating a visual representation of the processes you follow, beginning with the very first step you take to develop and produce your work. A tool like MindManager is a great asset for this principle. You can create a value stream map that clearly shows each stage, using our tool to share it with everyone on your team.

Along with the steps involved in your processes, your map should include the resources and people they rely on. Include all of the tasks you currently complete. You should also note who is responsible for evaluating and improving each of these steps.

Lean management techniques: How to create a value stream map

This exercise is designed to highlight areas of waste, so it’s essential to include every piece of the process. Meet with the team responsible for every step of the process to map out that particular procedure. If there are different processes that are only used in certain situations, make sure to include those on your map. Most importantly, note the reasons these situations occur so you can find solutions. You will use this map to identify areas of waste, so it’s important to include every detail.

3. Develop a continuous workflow

In this step, you’ll be working to eliminate all of the waste within your processes to create a streamlined workflow throughout your organization. This involves both looking at the process as a whole and examining the individual stages of production. Remember, you are looking to increase the value you offer to your customers and to remove the waste from your operations. Keep these two goals in mind as you go through this step.

Since you can’t be intimately involved with every part of your business, ask every employee to participate. Their feedback will show which steps are unnecessary or can be improved. You should also be looking for places where you can cut the amount of resources and money used. 

By the end of this step, you should have internal processes that flow smoothly from start to finish.

Lean management techniques: How to develop a continuous workflow

Send out a company-wide survey to learn what frustrates your employees about the procedures they follow and what they would change. You can also hold meetings within each department. Some questions you could ask include:

  • Are there any unnecessary steps in the process?
  • How can we simplify the process?
  • How often do you use specific resources?
  • Are there any bottlenecks in our process?
  • Are you able to collaborate effectively with other teams or departments?

Once you’ve gathered this info, use it to remove any wasteful tasks, resources, or roles within your organization. If you do have to decrease your staff, however, remember that respect for humans is an important part of lean management. You shouldn’t over-trim your company, leaving employees overworked and under-supported. Instead, only eliminate what is wasteful.

4. Create a pull system

First, what is a pull system? It’s a way of working that only involves orders that are active at that time. If you worked at a pizza restaurant, for example, you wouldn’t create extra pizzas so that you could instantly pull product to fill orders as soon as you receive them. Instead, you would only create the food when it’s ordered.

Why is a pull system important?

In that same scenario, your team would invest time, energy, and ingredients into making these extra pizzas in advance. If you didn’t get a new order for another hour, however, all of these investments would be wasted.

Implementing a pull system prevents this waste. It directs these resources to immediate needs, ensuring that your workflow moves smoothly. Your team will develop processes that enable them to fill orders quickly and efficiently, without any unnecessary prep work. 

Lean management techniques: How to create a pull system

When you understand the timing of your customers’ needs, you can create a system that matches this ebb and flow. Evaluate your yearly rhythm to know when demand spikes and plateaus. This information equips your team to create processes that meet these demands. You can eliminate wasteful steps and purchases for a lean, efficient operation.

5. Enable continuous improvement

There is always some way to improve, so the lean management process never ends. This principle requires a constant search for improvement, identifying new ways to eliminate waste and refine your processes. As your competitors also grow and improve, how can you ensure that your value continues to meet customer needs?

Lean management techniques: How to enable continuous improvement

While you may not need to go through the entire process, keep looking for ways to streamline your workflow. Regularly send out customer surveys, include questions about improvements in employee evaluations, and hold brainstorming sessions to develop new solutions. As you continue to analyze your procedures for ways to make them better, you can find additional value to offer to customers and employees alike.

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