How To Cut Waste And Increase Productivity By Implementing Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing is a culture and a strategy. It’s a way of doing things that helps companies improve efficiency, quality, and flexibility. It’s not just about tools and processes—it’s about people, too.

Lean Manufacturing is all about making things more efficient. It focuses on eliminating waste and finding ways to streamline workflows so that the company can produce more with less time and money.

Create a Lean Manufacturing culture

A Lean Manufacturing culture is an environment where people are taking responsibility for their own improvement, the improvement of processes and products, and the overall improvement of the company. It’s a culture built on trust, accountability, and continuous improvement.

In order to create this culture, it’s important to give employees the freedom to make decisions about how they do their job and then hold them accountable for those decisions. This can be tricky if you’re not sure what your employees’ strengths are or how they work best. But one way to develop this understanding is by asking questions like: “What’s been most helpful in improving your efficiency?” or “What practices have helped you achieve your goals?”

Once you’ve identified some of these practices, try them out on other employees! Make sure they’re working before adopting them as official company policy though—you don’t want anyone feeling like they’re being punished just because they weren’t included in testing new ideas before implementation!

Have the Upper Management Lead by Example

Lean is a powerful strategy, but it’s not something that can be implemented overnight. In order to make the most of your Lean efforts and get the most out of your employees, it’s important to have upper management lead by example.

Upper management should be actively engaged in the process of implementing Lean, from the beginning to end. They should also be involved in training new employees on Lean’s principles and ensuring that everyone is working together toward common goals. This will help employees understand how important their role is in helping you achieve those goals, which will increase their sense of ownership over their work.

Upper management should also be willing to let go of their preconceived notions about how things should be done in favour of allowing employees more freedom when it comes time to make decisions about how tasks should be completed.

Train your Team on Lean Basics

One of the best ways to get your team on board with Lean is to train them on the basics.

The Lean principles are not complicated, but they can be difficult to understand if you’re new to the concept. You should prepare your team by giving them a solid understanding of what Lean is and why it’s important before you start putting it into practice.

If your team doesn’t have a clear understanding of the principles, they will have trouble implementing them into their day-to-day work. If, for example, if you try to reduce waste without first explaining what waste is and why it needs to be reduced, then you’ll find that the effort isn’t effective or sustainable.

This is especially true when it comes to engaging your employees in Lean initiatives: if they don’t understand why they should participate in these efforts and how they’ll benefit from doing so, then they won’t be motivated enough to participate fully or consistently.

Value Stream Map – Study the Current Process

The first step in implementing Lean is to study the current process. This will help you identify areas of improvement and determine whether or not you are ready for the changes that will be necessary to make this happen. You can do this by performing a value stream map, which is a visual representation of your workflow.

The process should be broken down into steps. You want to look at each step and ask yourself what can be done to improve it, and how this change might affect other parts of the process as well. It is important to consider how each step impacts other steps, so you can look at all aspects of your operations and make sure that they are working together effectively.

Look for Waste and Remove It (Muda – Waste, Mura – Unevenness, Muri – Overburden)

You can define waste as anything that detracts from the value of a product or service you’re producing from your customers’ point of view. Waste can take many forms, such as overproduction, unnecessary resources, and more. These things need to be eliminated so that organisations aren’t creating products or services that don’t add value.

Muda is any kind of wasted motion, such as unnecessary steps in a process or unnecessary travel between locations. Mura refers to unevenness in the production line—it means one part of the process might be operating at peak efficiency while another part is idle or struggling just to keep up. Muri refers to overburdening people with too much work—this is often seen when you have an employee working alone on a task that should be split between two or more people to match customer demand (TAKT).

Map out the Main Bottlenecks

The main bottlenecks in a process are the aspects of the system that are limiting its throughput.

In order to identify these, you’ll need to first look at or build your Value Stream Map or Process Map and identify where there are bottlenecks. Then, you can work on fixing them by identifying what’s causing the bottleneck and finding ways to remove it. This may involve making changes like adjusting how people work together, reducing change-over times, increasing the Overall Equipment Effectiveness or changing how tasks are assigned (e.g., having workers perform different parts of a task).

Once you’ve identified where your bottlenecks are, you can start working on removing them.

Standardise Everything

This means that you need to define what “standard” means, and then make sure all employees are aware of it and trained to it. Standardising your processes gives consistency in how your team members perform their tasks. 

For example, if you’re a software company and you’re trying to improve efficiency by standardising on coding practices, then every employee should know which practices are allowed and which are not allowed.

You should also standardise your equipment and tools. If multiple employees use the same equipment or tool, everyone should use it in the same way every time.

If your company has multiple locations, then standardising everything is even more important because it helps create consistency between locations. If everyone knows what standards they need to meet at each location, then they’ll be able to work together better across locations knowing the desired quality will always be met.

Develop a Continuous Improvement Mentality

Implementing lean means shifting your focus from your business’s outputs to its inputs. But if you’re going to do that, you need to first develop a continuous improvement mentality.

To do this, you have to be willing to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement and continuous learning. You need to be constantly looking for ways that you can improve how things are done in your office or factory and how they contribute to the overall success of your business.

You also need to be willing to consider new ideas, because one of the main tenets of lean is that there are no bad ideas—only challenges in implementation. If someone suggests something new or comes up with a way of doing something differently, try it out! Even if it doesn’t work right away, you may learn something valuable about how something works or doesn’t work within your organisation.

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Manage Time as a Resource

If your managing time in all sectors of the business, from Sales, Product Development and Production it will result in shorter planning and development cycles, as well as less process time in manufacturing.

Whether you’re a manufacturer making computer components, tin cans, widgets or an individual working in a purchasing department producing orders, reports, or budgets you are still producing an output, an output that someone wants.

We all have our processes (inputs) and transform them into something someone wants (outputs).

Time is the key element to control within our processes, for this we use standard work.

The establishment of time based standardised processes is the greatest key to creating consistent performance. Only when the process is stable you can begin the creative process of improvement.

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Leadership Standard Work: Strengthening the Core of Manufacturing Management

Effective leadership is paramount in steering organisations toward success. Leadership Standard Work (LSW) represents a transformative approach that embeds discipline, visibility, and accountability into the daily routines of leaders at all levels. At its core, LSW is a systematic, documented set of behaviours and activities that are fundamental to driving performance improvement and organisational success. Let’s delve deeper into this concept and how it can be actualised in your manufacturing environment.

The Pillars of Leadership Standard Work

Leadership Standard Work revolves around several key behaviours that align with the fundamental lean principles of continuous improvement and respect for people. These include:

  1. Go and See (Gemba): Regular, scheduled visits to the place where work happens to observe processes and engage with frontline workers.
  2. Ask Why: Applying the five-whys technique to uncover the root cause of issues, thus fostering a culture of problem-solving.
  3. Show Respect: Creating an environment in which every team member feels valued and their input is considered critical for continuous improvement.

Standard Work vs. Leadership Standard Work

Standard Work and Leadership Standard Work are twin pillars in high-functioning manufacturing environments, but they cater to different yet complementary aspects of operational excellence. To understand the distinction and the interplay between the two, let’s expand and explore.

Standard Work: The Bedrock of Consistent Quality

Standard Work is a detailed outline of the optimal current method for performing a particular task or process. It encompasses the best practices identified through continuous improvement efforts and is designed for workers at the operational level to ensure consistency and efficiency. Essentially, it’s the “what” and “how” of the daily tasks:

  • Documented Processes: Clear, concise instructions for performing a task that anyone in the role can follow for consistency.
  • Time Elements: Standard time taken for each task helps in scheduling and balancing workloads in a lean manufacturing system.
  • Sequence of Operations: An optimised sequence for carrying out tasks to reduce waste and ensure efficiency.
  • Quality Checkpoints: Built-in quality inspection points within the workflow to ensure defects are caught and corrected early.
  • Tools and Materials: Identifying and arranging necessary tools and materials to minimise movement and waiting times.

Standard Work is the baseline framework from which continuous improvements are identified and applied. It creates an environment where output quality becomes predictable, and processes become more transparent and efficient. As changes are made through kaizen (continuous improvement) activities, Standard Work documents are updated to reflect the new best practices.

Leadership Standard Work: Enhancing Management Effectiveness

In contrast, Leadership Standard Work turns the spotlight onto the roles of leaders and managers within an organisation. It pertains to the “who,” “when,” and “why” – focusing on leadership behaviours and activities that ensure the Standard Work and all other processes are effective, sustainable, and continuously improving.

  • Routine for Leaders: It includes scheduled checks and observations, regular meetings, and audits ensuring that operations are running according to the documented Standard Work.
  • Performance Monitoring: Involves reviewing key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure that targets are met, and progress is made toward strategic goals.
  • Problem Escalation: Leaders address issues that frontline employees cannot resolve on their own, bringing a systemic approach to solving workflow interruptions.
  • Mentorship and Development: LSW emphasises developing staff; leaders schedule time to coach and mentor employees, reinforcing a culture of learning and improvement.
  • Change Management: Leaders are tasked with managing and guiding change within the organisation, ensuring that new practices are smoothly integrated and accepted.

LSW provides a blueprint for leaders to follow that ensures they are supporting the Standard Work done at all levels. By managing their time around core leadership tasks and creating a routine aligned with operational processes and goals, leaders ensure that they are not only providing direction but are also supporting and enabling their teams.

Symbiosis and Synergy

Both Standard Work and Leadership Standard Work are vital to sustaining lean manufacturing methodologies. While Standard Work prescribes “the way work is done,” LSW ensures “the way work is led.” In practice, one cannot be successful without the other. Standard Work without supportive Leadership Standard Work may lead to drifts in practice and gradual decline in outcomes as frontline employees may not feel supported or held accountable to maintain improvements. Conversely, Leadership Standard Work without solid Standard Work lacks the baseline consistency required for meaningful leadership activities, leading to disorganised efforts and suboptimal resource allocation.

The synergy between the two establishes a robust system where process efficiency is maintained and continuously improved upon, and where organisational goals are met with consistency through engaged leadership. Leaders reinforce the Standard Work by verifying its application and encouraging continuous improvement, while frontline workers carry out the carefully designed Standard Work, knowing that their efforts are supported and that there’s a framework for escalating and resolving issues. This creates a dynamic loop of performance and productivity that underpins a culture of excellence.

Implementing Leadership Standard Work

To effectively implement LSW, leaders must first understand their roles and establish a set of activities that align with organisational goals. For example:

  • For a Team Leader or Supervisor:
    • Starting the shift with a brief team huddle to discuss the agenda, safety topics, and performance metrics.
    • Routine checks for adherence to 5S standards and progress on action items.
    • Direct, on-the-floor coaching, and problem-solving sessions with team members.
  • For a Senior Manager or General Manager:
    • Weekly or bi-weekly Gemba walks to maintain firsthand knowledge of operations and employee concerns.
    • Participation in cross-departmental meetings to ensure alignment on strategic objectives.
    • Reviewing KPIs and ensuring that audit protocols are being followed to maintain high standards of quality and safety.

Each level of leadership standard work varies in scope and frequency, but the underlying principles remain the same.

Leadership Standard Work Audit

The Impacts of Effective Leadership Standard Work

By embracing LSW, manufacturing organisations can expect several key benefits:

  • Problem-Solving: Frontline associates, empowered to raise issues, drive a culture of immediate problem-solving rather than reactive fire-fighting.
  • Continuous Improvement: Regular practice of LSW ensures that improvement becomes habitual, not just a one-off event.
  • Developing Leaders: Provides a framework for nurturing future leaders by exposing them to strategic thinking and decision-making processes.
  • Performance Gains: Continuous focus on goals and metrics tends to accelerate performance improvements.
  • Team Culture: Promotes a sense of ownership at all levels, leading to stronger team bonding and collaboration.

Case Studies and Evidence

The practice of LSW isn’t theoretical; it has been successfully integrated into numerous organisations. As we implemented and embedded this within Unipart in the late 90’s early 20’s it highlighted its effectiveness. LSW was introduced across the organisational hierarchy, from team leaders to the managing director, driving substantive improvements and embedding a proactive and positive culture. Just one of the many implementations we have done throughout the years since.

The Leadership Pyramid

Visualising LSW through a leadership pyramid can provide clarity on the distribution of responsibilities and activities at all levels. It emphasises the importance of foundation work by team leaders, the managerial oversight, and strategic vision at the upper tiers of the pyramid.


Leadership Standard Work is the engine that propels the continuous improvement vehicle forward. It provides predictability, structure, and a means by which leaders can methodically contribute to the organisation’s overall well-being while developing their teams. In embracing LSW, manufacturing organisations are not merely investing in a set of tasks; they are nurturing a culture of excellence, responsibility, and innovation that echoes through every layer of the company’s fabric.

For manufacturing leaders seeking sustainable improvement and cohesive teams, leadership standard work isn’t a choice—it’s an essential strategy in the modern manufacturing playbook.

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