Lean culture emerged in the 1940s from Toyota factories. This represents a true revolution in terms of methods and strategies for managing industrial production. At the time, Toyota was a small company compared to giants like Ford. Hence the new perspective: a company must be agile, i.e., "lean".

Toyota quickly became a strength and an example for other manufacturers. As a small company with minimal market shares, Toyota managed to win over customers by listening to new demands and making the most out of their resources instead of investing outside.


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The lean concept: goal and guidelines

For a company to embrace lean management, the ultimate goal is customer satisfaction. What value can the company contribute in the shortest amount of time? Answering these questions means understanding the 5 fundamental principles which, like mountain cairns, guide the path along the way:

  • Muri, mura, muda: waste elimination
  • Kaizen: continuous improvement
  • Respect for the human element
  • Poka-Yoke and Jidoka: quality first and foremost
  • Value Flow: tracking value

In more detail, let us look at how to translate this into site operation and what advantages can be gained in the short and long term.

Muri, mura, muda

These three Japanese words can be summed up in one word: junk. This involves anything that does not add value or, even worse, hinders productivity. The three terms are outlined as follows:

Muri is overburden, that is, all cases in which production exceeds the customer's actual demand. One example is a company that does not believe in its product quality and produces a surplus to deal with possible defective batches. These clearly become unsold goods quite easily.

A non-excess approach guarantees lower storage costs for both raw materials and unsold products.

Mura, which is closely related to Muri, means unevenness. When production chases peaks and valleys of demands then inefficiencies become inevitable. Lean management must anticipate and keep production steady in order to meet needs in a timely way, rather than running after emergencies.

Muda: this means waste and includes all actions that consume time and resources without adding value. A trivial yet often overlooked example is the factory's inefficient movement of parts and batches.


Focusing on customer satisfaction is not enough in the short term. Continuous improvement is the foundation of every lean strategy. Improvement passes through numerous and varied activities, such as continual employee training, new procedure implementation, production line maintenance and improvement, and product renewal following market demands and quality principles.

Respect for the human element

A company is formed first and foremost by people who influence every stage of industrial production. They make the difference between success and disaster. All employees, from top management to the operator, must embrace a "corporate vision". They have a common goal to row toward. A motivated employee is also a more conscious, more efficient worker who will contribute the maximum to a company's well-being.

Poka-Yoke and Jidoka

The final product passes through quality control for each production phase. Poka-Yoke involves solid processes that prevent the defect from happening: for example, a machine with control system integration can call for machine downtime in case of a component malfunction. Jidoka, translated with the "autonomation" crasis, means the capability of autonomously interrupting and managing a process in order to intervene in a possible defect, thus preventing it from propagating.

Value Flow

Lean management is based on the search for value and elevating it. Everything that has been addressed so far contributes to the formation of value flow. This can be summarized in 5 step

  1. Identify what value means for the customer: what are the essential characteristics? Which ones are appreciated? Should any features be avoided at all costs?
  2. Define a value flow: which processes and individuals ensure the "value" that has just been defined? What actions are needed to achieve it?
  3. Flow creation: can the company's system support such a flow? Who can help with missing elements? What improvements are needed?
  4. The pull: does the customer still ask for batches? The company needs only produce what is necessary based on what has already been ordered without anticipating future orders. Production must be flexible and dynamic. (But beware of Mura!)
  5. Perfection: lean management is never static. You cannot stop and admire your work. How can improvement be advanced even further? What might be done to persuade the customer into ordering new products? What does perfection need?

Value flow concludes our overview of the 5 principles of lean management. Conversion to lean management is not a short process. It requires core changes for all personnel, from management to the operator. Yet it will bring great benefits in terms of productivity, quality, and organization.



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