by Breenda Shah

What is Lean manufacturing?

Lean manufacturing aims to maximize value for customers and minimize waste through continuous improvements in the production process. ‘Value’, as defined here, refers to any action or activity a customer is willing to pay for. ‘Waste’ refers to any part of the production process that has no added value.

The concept of lean manufacturing was first developed and implemented by Toyota as an approach to eliminate waste and inefficiency from their production processes. The Toyota Production System (TPS) is a production system that is based on the philosophy of “completely eliminating waste”. It considers three types of waste: demand that exceeds process and equipment capabilities (muri), unevenness in an operation (mura) and, any activity that consumes resources without creating any value for the customers (muda).

TPS has its foundation built on two concepts: ‘Jidoka’, which means quality of the products must be built during the manufacturing process and ‘Just-in-Time’, which refers to producing goods only when it is demanded.

Main methods of lean manufacturing are:

1) Time-based Management – This approach recognizes the importance of time and is concerned with reducing time required to complete production processes. This minimizes inventory, labour and waste costs.

2) Simultaneous Engineering – This is a project management approach that helps firms develop and launch new products quickly. All steps involved in the production process are planned simultaneously (in parallel) rather than separately (in series).

3) Just-in-Time Production – Firms manage inventory to increase efficiency and decrease waste by receiving goods only when they are required in the production process, thereby reducing storage costs. However, this approach requires firms to forecast demand precisely.

4) Cell Production – A manufacturing approach where the workforce is divided into independent teams with each being responsible for a particular manufacturing process or product. This approach helps increase productivity, quality and reduce waste.

5) Kaizen (Continuous improvement) – A long-term approach through which workers at all levels of the firm work together to achieve regular and incremental improvements in the production processes.

Implementation of Lean Manufacturing

Implementing these methods of ‘lean manufacturing’ can be very demanding.  Challenges may include:

1) Supply Issues – When implementing ‘just-in-time production’, it is necessary to ensure that raw materials and intermediate goods come in at the right time to meet operational demand. This requires very close and strong coordination with a range of suppliers, such as integrating automated ordering and order-fulfillment systems between two or more firms.

2) Technological Changes – Transitioning to lean manufacturing focuses on business processes but may also require substantial initial investments in technology. For example, new production systems incorporating statistical analysis software can monitor quality improvement on each of the production stages. Choosing the right business systems is crucial for success as a lean manufacturer, as it is vital for the maintenance of continued efficient operations of your business.

3) Cultural Issues –  Lean methods initiate an extensive shift in the way work is done in a manufacturing business. Implementing these methods requires employees to take on a wider range of responsibilities and this could blur the lines between formal job descriptions. It involves a strict and meaningful commitment to waste reduction, which can mean changing employees’ familiar work processes. It should involve reforming incentives and bonus structures to reward anyone’s behavior and ideas that reduce costs, production time and waste. This requires everyone in the company, from senior managers to front-line machine operators to be committed.

4) Employee Development – Implementing lean methods in an existing business creates a talent gap that must be filled. The technological infrastructure required to manage supply-chain issues while maintaining automated production and quality-control systems require highly skilled and educated employees. Manufacturers also require employees to be able to inspect, repair and design the geography of automated production technology. Some employees may require safety certifications and special licenses to operate and maintain such systems, and they may demand much higher rewards than others.

To successfully adopt lean manufacturing methods manufacturers must have good relationships with their suppliers, committed, highly educated and motivated employees, trust between management and employees and a culture of quality assurance; continuous improvement and willingness to change. 


  1. “Just In Time – JIT.”
  2. Manufacturing Tomorrow. “Benefits of Lean Manufacturing.” 2018.
  3. Shinka Management. “Introduction to Lean Manufacturing.” 2014.
  4. Lean Enterprise Institute. “MUDA, MURA, MURI.”
  5. “Key issues for the implementation of Lean Manufacturing System.”
  6. “Toyota Production System.”