Epic Consultants, Inc. - International Consulting Firm

Lean Systems

The tools we are going to review in this section can be used to help control a process.  They can be utilized at any time in an improvement effort not just Control.

These Lean Concepts can be applied to help reduce variation, effect outliers or clean up a process before, during or at the conclusion of a project.

After some practice, you may use these tools as a way to improve some processes that are totally out of control or with such a poor performance, before applying the Six Sigma methodology.

After some practice, you may use these tools as a way to improve some processes that are totally out of control or with such a poor performance, before applying the Six Sigma methodology.

The continuous goal…
sustaining results

Value vs. Waste

“Any activity or task that transforms the deliverable of a process in such a way that the client is both aware of it, and willing to pay for it, is Value Added”.

Based on this (strict) definition of value, we can divide the tasks and activities of any process into three categories:

  • Value Added (essential) Task
  • Type 1 Waste: Non-value added (NVA), but required
  • Type 2 Waste: Non-value added (NVA), and not necessary

Our goal is to eliminate type 2 activities wherever possible, and minimize the waste in type 1 through the use of Lean Methods.

Definition of Waste

Anything other than the absolute minimum resources of material, machines, and manpower required to add value to the product.

Types of WASTE

  • Defect
  • Over production
  • Waiting
  • Not utilizing people
  • Transportation
  • Inventories
  • Motion
  • Extra processing

Definition of Value

Three conditions must exist in order to add value to a product:

  1. Customer must think the task is important
  2. Task must physically change the product, service or document
  3. Must be done right the first time


Inspection and correction of documentation. Causes of defects:

  • Weak process control
  • Poor Quality
  • Inadequate training / Work Instructions
  • Process Design
  • Customer needs not understood

Over Production

  • Generating more reports than is required
  • Reporting earlier than is required
  • Causes of overproduction:
    1. Misuse of automation (System)
    2. Just in Case logic
    3. Lack of continuous improvement
    4. Lack of planning


  • Idle time created when waiting for…?
  • Causes of waiting:
    1. Company policy
    2. Lack of communication between teams
    3. Weak process control

Not Utilizing People

  • Not using people’s mental, creative, and physical abilities
  • Causes of people waste:
    1. Poor hiring practices
    2. Old guard thinking
    3. Low or no investment in training
    4. Low pay, high turnover strategy


  • Movement of documents or information between processes
  • Caused by:
    1. Poor Layouts
    2. Badly design processes
    3. Sharing of equipment
  1. Complex process flow

Inventory Waste

  • Any supply or WIP in excess of one-piece flow through your process
  • Causes of excess inventory:
    1. Company Policy
    2. Weak processes
    3. Lack of communication between groups


  • Any movement of people or equipment that does not add value to the product or service
  • Causes of Motion:
    1. Inconsistent work methods
    2. Unfavorable layout
    3. Poor workplace organization
    4. Poor People/Machine Interface

Extra Processing

  • Efforts that add no value to the product or service from the customer’s viewpoint
  • Causes of Extra Processing:
    1. Customer requirements not clearly defined
    2. Over-processing to accommodate downtime
    3. Lack of Communication
    4. Redundant approvals
    5. Extra copies
    6. Redundant inspections

5S Workplace Organization

Simply put, 5S means the workplace is clean, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. The 5S will create a work place that is suitable for and will stimulate high quality and high productivity work. Additionally, it will make the workplace a more comfortable and safer place.

Developed in Japan, this method assumes no effective and quality job can be done without clean and safe environment and without behavioral rules.

The 5S allow you to set up a well-adapted and functional work environment, ruled by simple yet effective rules. 5S deployment is done in a logical and progressive way. The first three S’s are workplace actions, while the last two are sustaining and progress actions.

It is recommended to start implementing 5S in a well-chosen pilot workspace or pilot process and spread to the others step by step:

  • 5S means the workplace is clean, there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  • 5S is the starting point for implementing improvements to a process.
  • To ensure your gains are sustainable, you must start with a firm foundation.
  • Its strength is contingent upon the employees and company being committee.

5S usually begins with a great initial cleaning, where sorting out the items is a highlight. For each item, it must be stated if it is useful, useless or undetermined. For some items, the statement may be touchy, as nobody seems to know if they are really useful or not, and what is their frequency of use.


The first stage of 5S is to organize the work area, leaving only the tools and materials necessary to perform daily activities. When “Sorting” is well implemented, communication between workers is improved and product quality and productivity are increased.


  • To sort out necessary and unnecessary items.
  • To store often used items at the work area, infrequently used items away from the work area and dispose of items that are not needed.

Why Do It?

  • Removes waste.
  • Safer work area.
  • Gains space.
  • Easier to visualize the process.


The second stage of 5S involves the orderly arrangement of needed items so they are easy to use and accessible for “anyone” to find. Orderliness eliminates waste in production and clerical activities.


  • To arrange all necessary items.
  • To have a designated place for everything
  • A place for everything and everything in its place
  • Easily visible and accessible.

Why Do It?

  • Visually shows what is required or is out of place.
  • More efficient to find items and documents (silhouettes/labels).
  • Saves time by not having to search for items.
  • Shorter travel distances.


The third stage of 5S is keeping everything clean and swept. This maintains a safer work area and problem areas are quickly identified.

An important part of “Shining” is “Mess Prevention.” In other words, don’t allow litter, scrap, shavings, cuttings, etc. to land on the floor in the first place.


  • Clean everything and find ways to keep it clean.
  • Make cleaning a part of your everyday work.

Why Do It?

  • A clean workplace indicates a quality product and process.
  • Dust and dirt cause product contamination and potential health hazards.
  • A clean workplace helps identify abnormal conditions.


The fourth stage of 5S involves creating a consistent approach for carrying out tasks and procedures.

Orderliness is the core of “Standardization” and is maintained by Visual Controls, which might consist of: Signboards, Painted Lines, Color-coding strategies and Standardizing “Best Methods” across the organization.


  • To maintain the workplace at a level that uncovers problems and makes them obvious.
  • To continuously improve your office of facility by continuous assessment and action.

Why Do It?

  • To sustain sorting, storage and shining activities every day.


This last stage of 5S is the discipline and commitment of all other stages. Without “Sustaining”, the workplace can easily revert back to being dirty and chaotic.

That is why it is so crucial for the team to be empowered to improve and maintain the workplace. Keeping a 5S program vital in an organization creates a cleaner workplace, a safer workplace; it contributes to how we feel about the product, the process, and the company.


  • To maintain the discipline, need to practice and repeat until it becomes a way of life.

Why Do It?

  • To build 5S into our everyday process.

The Visual Factory

A Visual Factory can best be represented by a workplace where a recently hired supervisor can easily identify inventory levels, extra tools or supplies, scrap issues, downtime concerns or even issues with setups or changeovers.

The basis and foundation of a Visual Factory are the 5S Standards.

A Visual Factory enables a process to manage its processes with clear indications of opportunities.  Let’s see some examples.

Standardize Work

If the items are organized and orderly, then standardized work can be accomplished.

  • Less Standard Deviation of results.
  • Visual factory demands framework of standardized work.

The “one best way” to perform each operation has been identified and agreed upon through general consensus (not majority rules).

  • This defines the “Standard” work procedure.

Standardized work does not happen without the visual factory, which can be further described with:

  • Availability of required tools (5S). Operators cannot be expected to maintain standard work if required to locate needed tools
  • Consistent flow of raw material. Operators cannot be expected to maintain standard work if they are searching for needed parts
  • Visual alert of variation in the process (visual factory). Operators, material handlers, office staff all need visual signals to keep “standard work” a standard
  • Identified and labeled in-process stock (5S). As inventory levels of in-process stock decrease, a visual signal should be sent to the material handlers to replenish this stock

Kaizen Events

A Kaizen event is very similar to a Six Sigma project.

A Six Sigma project is actually a Kaizen.  By involving your project team or other in an area to assist with implementing the Lean control or concepts you will increase buy in of the team, which will affect your project’s sustainability.


The philosophy of continual improvement, that every process can and should be continually evaluated and improved in terms of time required, resources used, resultant quality and other aspects relevant to the process.


Kanbans are the best control method of inventory, which impacts some of the 7 elements of MUDA shown earlier.

Kanban provides production, conveyance, and delivery information.  In its purest form the system will not allow any goods to be moved within the facility without an appropriate Kanban (or signal) attached to the goods.

  • The Japanese word for a communication signal or card–typically a signal to begin work
  • Kanban is the technique used to “pull” products and material through and into the lean manufacturing system.
  • The actual “Kanban” can be a physical signal such as an empty container or a small card.

Two types of Kanbans:

  • Finished goods Kanbans
  • Incoming material Kanbans.