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Lean Principles | Introduction…

There are 5 Lean Principles which form the basis for a lean approach. These ensure a process:

  1. is designed to meet the customers requirements
  2. undertakes value added activities
  3. flows efficiently (all of the work flows)
  4. can be pulled by the customer when they require it and
  5. is continuously improved to reach perfection

These 5 Lean Principles are:

  1. Identify Value
  2. Current Condition
  3. Create Flow
  4. Introduce Pull
  5. Continuously Improve

We will now look at each of these in turn below.

The 5 Lean Principles

Lean Principle 1Identify Value

The primary Lean principle is to identify customer value. Once you identify who your customer is, understand what they need. The value of your service is defined by how it meets your customer needs.

In all organisations only a small fraction of total time is devoted to activities which drive value for the customer. Though this can be a tough message to land – and it must be landed in the right way – means there is ample waste which can be targeted.

In a purist sense, customer value is anything they would be willing to pay for. Anything beyond – however we want to justify it, is not value add (of course additional items outside of this maybe required for an organisation to function but it should be challenged and minimised).

For this Lean Principle we want to:

  • Identify who our customers are – see Voice of the Customer (VoC)
  • Understand their needs
  • Define what they really care about
  • Translate these into measure to improve




Don’t be fooled into thinking existing internal measures equal value for the customer. Sometimes they are closely aligned but more often than not they are measures which have been set by the organisation. for the organisation, with a loose customer value attached. Equally, challenge how long ago were these measures created and are they still relevant for customers today?

Lean Principle 2 – Current Condition

The Current Condition is where we understand the situation ‘as-is’ today, by looking across the value stream end-to-end to where value for the customer is produced.

The value stream outlines all of the steps within a process. So we are able to identify:

  1. The non-value added steps (waste)
  2. What resources are utilised/required
  3. What systems are used
  4. Where delays occur
  5. Where there is re-work
  6. Barriers to flow for further investigation
  7. A range of Lean measures on the efficiency of the process:
    1. Process Cycle Efficiency
    2. Average Lead Time
    3. Takt Time
  8. The areas which really matter (supported by information and data on the process in terms of what really happens)

See our Lean Calculators for support om calculating Process Cycle Efficiency; Throughput Efficiency; %Value Added Time and Takt Time

To undertake this work we have to go to Gemba (Gemba is a Japanese term meaning the ‘actual place’. In a Lean Six-Sigma respect this means going to the place where the work happens and seeing and observing what is going on). This provides a project team with credibility that they know what is actually happening.

There are a range of process mapping techniques which can be deployed at this stage, our preferred solutions are; 4 Fields Mapping and Value Stream Mapping supported by detailed time and motion studies.

Lean Principle 3 – Create Flow

In a Lean process work flows smoothly, this is through the elimination of ‘waste’. We create flow by:

  • Eliminating waste
  • Removing bottle necks
  • Eliminate hand-offs and re-work
  • Avoid batches to allow the work to flow

Creating one-piece flow is a key ambition or at least reduce the size of batching. There are numerous Lean simulations that show the value of these to those who participate within the exercises.

At a simple level:

  1. Batch Processing – Organised by grouping processes or products – inhibits the material flow.
    1. Work in Progress (WIP) develops,
    2. Activities wait until previous activities are completed – passed through
    3. Lead times are extended
    4. The process becomes in-balanced, with some workstations over-burdened whilst others are under-worked
  2. One Piece Flow – Inventory eliminated between process steps – activities flow through
    1. Work in Progress – is minimised to single activity
    2. Activities wait time is significantly reduced
    3. Lead times are significantly reduced
    4. Balance is provided across the work stations


Lean Principle 4 – Introduce Pull

When we introduce pull, work is ‘pulled’ through rather than ‘pushed’. Pull systems work on the premise the customer receives the product/service when they require it.

The pull approach ensures the reduction of work in progress (WIP). Doing so can significantly reduce costs, through not tying up resources, people – financial and material. Let’s have a look at two very different examples:

  1. An Airline manufacturer producing a plane (or worse planes) ahead of customer requirement. These very expensive products have sunk significant cost without any financial return. In such a situation the cash-flow of the organisation will be significantly impaired and their ability to operate may well be under threat.
  2. A fast-food restaurant. OK so the stakes may be significantly lower here on an individual product basis but across numerous stores the over-production will begin to have a significant impact. What you will notice in a fast-food restaurant is a food-regulator where product is replenished as and when the level drops below a particular volume (dictated by customer demand on the day).

Lean Principle 5 – Continuously Improve

For the Lean principle continuously improve we seek perfection in the process. Today’s ‘Best Practice’ can be superseded by a better way of operating tomorrow. To do this, continuously apply the tools and techniques to relentlessly drive value for the customer (this is not a one-off exercise).

Overtime this will support the mindset change and become the way of ‘doing things’ within your organisation.



Although following any one of these Lean Principles would provide benefits to your organisation/project – the real value comes in when following all of these through. As you work through, more layers of waste will become evident and the organisation will become better equipped to tackle these wastes.

Tools and Techniques by Lean Principles

Below is a guide to the Lean Tools and Techniques which apply to each of the Lean Principles:

Lean Principle 1 | Identify Value

  1. SIPOC
  2. Voice of the Customer
  3. Critical to Quality
  4. Developing a Problem Statement

Lean Principle 2 | Current Condition

  1. The 8 Wastes
  2. Process Capture
  3. Process Measurement
  4. Routing by Walking About (RBWA)
  5. Data Collection and Sampling
  6. Value Stream Mapping

Lean Principle 3 | Create Flow

  1. The 5 Why’s
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Affinity Diagrams
  4. Process Functionalisation

Lean Principle 4 | Introduce Pull

  1. ‘Pull’ Systems
  2. Kanban

Lean Principle 5 | Continuously Improve

  1. PDCA (Plan Do Check Act)
  2. 5S
  3. Performance Dialogue
  4. Change Management

Lean Principles FAQ’S

What are Lean Lenses?

Lean Lenses are often deployed as part of a Lean programme of work. The lenses are the vision for the Lean programme.

They help to focus an organisation and draw the connection between the programme and the strategic aspirations of the organisation.

What is Process Mapping?

Process Mapping is a technique to understand how a process operates. The intention of process mapping is to understand what really happens and not assume from what is recorded in a potentially out of date Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). A process map illustrates:

  1. Graphical presentation of the steps – we do this because it allows for easier representation of the process and therefore the associated problem which those unaware of the full detail
    1. Consequently it becomes a lot easier to define the process – not just for those who are new to the process but also for those who follow the process everyday. Sometimes just this very act creates a light-bulb moment
  2. The sequence the steps or tasks are completed in and their relationships
    1. This helps to more easily show where the wastes maybe as it allows for the whole process to be viewed – those hidden wastes are no longer hidden
  3. Value stream of inputs and outputs
  4. Picture of as-is or to-be process
    1. This allows the team to consider where the improvements may be placed
What is Takt Time?

Takt Time is a lean measurement and is referred to as the drumbeat of a process, as it represents the speed of customer demand. It is a load balancing mechanism and is calculated on a process accordingly: Takt Time = Available Work Time / Customer Demand Implications of Takt Time are considered for:


  1. Relating Customer demand to the production requirements
  2. Removing of waste
  3. Effective performance monitoring

Why not try out Takt Time Calculator!

The full | Lean A-Z Glossary

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