Explore the definition of Lean process improvement and why it’s important for organizations as well as how principles, techniques, and steps are applied to this practice.
Published 29 Mar 2023
| By Kevin Gausch, Patricia Guevara
Lean process improvement follows the principles of Lean to establish a continuous, proactive method of identifying opportunities for improvement, implementing changes based on such opportunities, measuring the impact of such changes, and eliminating waste from an organization’s processes to focus on those that bring more value to customers. Hence, this practice aims to define which processes are efficient and valuable, as well as those that bring no advantage to customers and the business.
Lean process improvement is of utmost importance to any organization that aims to implement continuous, incremental changes to both existing and proposed systems in a strategic manner. These can be done by making workflows more efficient, thus eliminating waste from the processes. Apart from that, this practice also builds and sustains value-adding activities for customers, the business, and its stakeholders.
Implementing Lean process improvement principles is crucial in mitigating risks of errors or variation in the organization’s overall operations. In return, the benefits of lean process improvement bring about favorable results such as effective production processes, quality services, and top-notch customer satisfaction are achieved.
Lean process improvement is utilized across a wide cross section of industries, including manufacturing, construction, healthcare, and service companies. Although it was born out of the automotive industry, its foundational principles are universal; serving as a holistic guide in ensuring that no protocol is left unchecked and that every opportunity is carefully analyzed for improvement.
5 Principles of Lean
Here, learn about the Lean principles based on their importance to the overall improvement process.
What is considered valuable by customers?
Looking from the customer’s perspective, an organization must be able to define what value is. Value is defined as something the customer is willing to pay for and, from a process standpoint, there is a transformation of raw materials towards finished goods. Everything else is considered waste and should be reduced or eliminated.
Here lies the ultimate goal to identify their needs and offer solutions that satisfy them. Some Lean process improvement examples that fall under this principle include:
How can we achieve customer value?
Achieving process flow is about balancing production lines through the elimination of waste and the reallocation of resources in order to make each step in the process move at the same speed. This greatly reduces downtime and inventory between process steps. To do this correctly, identify the greatest bottleneck. Once that constraint is broken, find the new biggest bottleneck. With Lean, you’re constantly chasing the bottleneck throughout the system as processes are improved.
How can we ensure smooth-flowing processes?
Now that you’ve removed or reduced wastes from the value stream, it’s time for you to ensure that the rest of the process runs with little to no delays, faults, and risks. Doing this helps you sustain and continuously improve what works. Some strategies you can consider under this principle include comprehensively training employees and standardizing tasks according to quality standards.
How can we limit inventory as waste?
Pull is about producing goods at the rate of customer demand with just enough overproduction to account for variation in that demand. Batch sizes must be kept as small as possible, which requires the ability to change production lines quickly and make the different products the customer demands.
What are our steps to building a sustainable culture of Lean thinking?
Now that there’s a clear flow of how the principles of Lean apply to Lean process improvement, it’s important to remember that these must contribute to an organization’s efforts toward building a culture of Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) among stakeholders. That said, employees, managers, and leaders must always strive to perfect their processes and how they execute their tasks so that wastes are kept to a minimum and customer value is prioritized.
As these principles collectively help make the overall Lean process improvement more tailored to the goals of organizations, it pays to note that it doesn’t stop there. Instead, it must:
8 Steps of Lean Process Improvement
Empower your team with SafetyCulture to perform checks, train staff, report issues, and automate tasks with our digital platform.
These are some of the most common Lean process improvement techniques you can use:
Another sustainable approach is conducting comprehensive Lean process improvement training programs. Depending on the specific and overall goals and objectives of the organization, the kind of guidance and learning opportunities that must be available for employees must be part of its initiatives toward continuous improvement. A Lean process improvement course can also help make the learning experience more targeted and less complicated.
Training is a micro-learning solution designed to improve the way organizations train workers toward quality and safety. Check out this free editable course on Think Lean that you can download from our Course Library to help you get started on conducting Lean process improvement.
The Lean process is the method of building and sustaining a culture of continuous improvement in processes, workflows, and systems in an organization. It typically involves a long-term approach to help carry out sets of activities that bring value to customers and the business as well as remove wastes from the process.
In this context, the Lean approach aims to emphasize streamlining systems with the aim of creating value. On the other hand, Six Sigma focuses on eliminating defects and waste by reducing process variability. When applied together, organizations can have a holistic way of meeting customer needs and making business operations more efficient in the long run.
Some examples of Lean process improvement tools and techniques, as described earlier in this guide, include:
These are essential in efficiently conducting each step of the process toward continuous improvement.
One of the most common examples of how Lean process improvement is applied in industries is how process visualization gets enhanced. Using tools like the ones listed in the previous FAQ, you can analyze and assess your organization’s current workflows by making everyone involved understand them better with the help of visuals like charts, boards, and value maps.
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) is an operations platform that enables individuals, teams, and organizations perform efficient lean process improvement efforts through the following features and functionalities:
Kevin has a Lean and Six Sigma Black Belt from Villanova University and Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence through ASQ with a focus on the construction industry. Kevin has 13 years of Quality and Project Management experience in the utility contractor space, including; electric transmission, distribution and substation, gas distribution and pipeline, and telecommunications, both inside and outside plant. 16 years of construction experience overall.
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