Knowlton Project Support

Lean Chicken or Egg?

The age old question – how to get started with lean?

It’s a bit like Chicken or Egg…should we just try a few lean tools first and see how we get on, or begin with a clearly defined lean strategy and implementation plan. Some business gurus insist that lean is not a set of ‘tools and techniques’ but a core part of any organisations’ strategy, where striving operational excellence is a priority.

That’s all well and good, but a poorly defined lean strategy rolled out too early can spell disaster for those embarking on their lean journey.

Some more enlightened organisations allow teams to experiment with a few simple tools and techniques first such as 5S, visual management and lean benchmarking. Yes, some training is important and support from top management essential, but by allowing people to apply lean tools and just ‘have ago’ provides them with the time and space to discover the benefits of lean for themselves.

The best foundation for any lean strategy is a motivated workforce that has experienced the benefits of applying tools to their own workplace, create an ‘Island of Excellence’ first, then develop a strategy and lean road map with your newly formed team of lean advocates.

What do you think?

Access Free lean tools here

Free Lean Jargon Buster – Top 100 common lean terms explained

Free Self Assessment – Quick and easy online test to discover your lean score

Free 5S Audit Sheet – A simple one page template

Lean Benchmark Report – Compares performance with other organisations in the same sector. The personalised report provides a detailed gap analysis as well as a series of key recommendations and actions required to take your organisation to the next level.


What is 5S?

5S is the process used to create a workplace suitable for visual control and is the basic housekeeping discipline for quality and safety.

To achieve and sustain a well organised workplace these 5 principles need to be fully implemented (many organisations’ fail with 5S as they stop after the second S)

Sort – Throw away what is not used

Set In Order – Locate what is used in the best place

Shine – Physical cleaning of the workplace

Standardise – simplify and standardise the area

Sustain – everyone participates, carry our regular audits

Visual works instructions and Standard Operating Procedures

These are best created by the employees who are carrying out the operational tasks. By giving the teams the power to document their standard operating procedures it ensure that all steps in the process are identified and taps in to the tacit knowledge that they have built up of many years.

Visual works instructions are high on picture content and low on words and text so act as an excellent training tool where English is not a first language. An excellent tool also, to train new employees or temporary staff. Symbols highlight the standard work content, important quality checks and relevant safety / PPE instructions.

Standard visual works instruction templates are available and training for this is normally very practical and can be based on specific live projects.

Visual Management

Visual Management is a key element in Lean operations and is an integral part of 5S and standard work. This is an area that you have already made progress in, but it may be worth reviewing the visual management check list below:

Key Visual Management controls are listed below.

How much of this is present within your organisation?

– Updated work schedules

– Standardised work and visual work instructions

– Maintenance control charts

– Material controlled with visual Kanban systems

– Cost, Quality and delivery performance charts

– Line balancing charts and takt time adherence

– Skills matrix ILU format

– Improvement and suggestions log

– Storyboards showing the stages of Kaizen events

– 5S display area including before and after photos

– Marked locations for materials

– Marked locations for cleaning equipment

– Shadow boards for frequently used tools

How does your organisation measure up?

Try this free online lean self assessment now

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