Top Five Lean Manufacturing Principles

by Duncan
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Lean manufacturing is a term used to describe a production or manufacturing process that focuses on delivering an end product or service to a customer in the most timely and efficient manner possible. The lean concept is based on the Toyota Production System - TPS - developed by Toyota in the 1950s. (For more on this, read our article for more on one of the chief creators - Taiichi Ohno.

As other companies adopted the processes associated with TPS, the term "lean" became prevalent in the 1990s. It is coined "lean" because much of the focus is on eliminating wasteful practices that do not add value to the product or service.

Listed below are the five key principles of lean manufacturing.

The Five Principles of Lean Manufacturing

1. Determine Customer Value
The first lean principle is to determine customer value. From the customer's perspective, what product or service does a company deliver that creates value? The key to this step is in thinking from the customer's point of view. Value as defined by the company may be different from the value defined by the customer, and it is essential to know the difference. Clearly defining value will assist in identifying processes that should make up the value stream, which is the next principle.

2. Identify the Value Stream
After determining what product or service is of value to the customer, the next step is to identify all the actions required to deliver it. The value stream is the collection of all activities and processes required to deliver a product or service to a customer. A helpful exercise is to map out all the activities identified, review the execution sequence and look for hidden relationships among the activities. A thorough understanding of how the value stream works will ensure that activities flow smoothly, which is the next step.

3. Flow Down the Stream
A critical component of lean manufacturing is to ensure that the value stream flows smoothly. This is accomplished by reviewing all activities from the second step and identifying any inefficiencies that may exist. Once identified, the goal is to eliminate the inefficiencies or waste.

Listed below are the eight types of waste in lean manufacturing.


  • Transportation: Any movement of people or materials that does not add value.
  • Inventory: Any excess supply of materials moving through the value stream.
  • Motion: Any movement of people or equipment that does not add value.
  • Waiting: Any process or activity that creates idle time.
  • Over-Production: Making more than is required.
  • Over-Processing: Any process or activity that does not add value.
  • Defects: Errors or mistakes that generate additional work.
  • Under Utilized Talent: Failing to utilize people to their full potential.

Identifying and eliminating waste in these areas will keep activities flowing smoothly without any service disruption to the customer; an optimized process flow will also allow a company to produce only what is needed, when it is needed.

4. Produce to Customer Pull

An efficient value stream will allow a company to produce products or services only when requested by the customer. This practice eliminates excess capacity, reduces cost and allows the customer to receive the most current and up-to-date version of products and services.

5. In Pursuit of Perfection
The last principle in lean manufacturing is the pursuit of perfection through continuous improvement. As processes continue to grow, it is necessary to review activities for waste and develop plans to reduce or eliminate it.

Lean Manufacturing is ideal for companies that are committed to customer service, optimized delivery and continuous improvement.

The systematic approach embodied by the lean concepts will ensure that all processes are consistently reviewed for improvement opportunities, all activities are contributing to the value stream and the timely delivery of product and services to a customer.

About the Author
Joe Harris is a writer and the Director of Content for the Morgan Law Firm, an Austin, Texas divorce firm. Please visit the Morgan Law Firm Blog for additional content.

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