Lean 101: Applying lean at work



As I’ve mentioned before on the “What is lean manufacturing” article published last week, Lean is all about cutting costs and still delivering more value to your customer by optimizing your processes and minimizing waste.

All these concepts will do you no good if you focus on the theory only. To help you with that, here are a few commonly used tools for applying lean at work and making your life more organized and waste-free.

Applying lean at work: Tools to reduce waste

Just in Time

Just in Time (JIT) is a concept based on a “pull” model. It represents some of the main concepts behind applying Lean, such as minimizing waste and cutting costs.

In order to minimize the amount of money spent storing the excessive resources that were bought due to poor planning, JIT claims you should only purchase the raw material, produce and distribute goods according to the demand.

It also says that, by pacing your production according to your demand, you’re able to produce smaller, continuous batches. This allows your production to run efficiently and smoothly.

These smaller batches also enable you to keep closer track of your production, implementing better quality control monitoring and, therefore, tracking and correcting any inefficiencies and mistakes before they can become a bigger issue.

To sum things up, just in time is all about wasting less money producing and storing products by studying your demand and adapting your production to it.


Kanban is one of the most popular work management methodologies in the world. Diving into its general concept would require an article of its own so, if you want to learn more about what Kanban is, click here.

Kanban is a great tool that allows you to implement the JIT model we’ve just mentioned by separating work into smaller portions and limiting the amount of work each employee can handle at a time.

The main reason why Kanban can be used when applying lean is that it makes work as predictable as possible (by planning ahead). By doing so, it allows you to reduce overproduction and quickly adapt to any changes in demand.

The classic representation of Kanban consists on board divided into columns with tons of sticky notes, each one representing a task.

If you’re looking for a more modern version of this useful tool you should try Pipefy.

Pipefy is a cloud-based process management platform. Just like a physical kanban board, it allows you to create phases and keep close track of what you (and everyone else on your team) are doing.

It offers a couple of advantages, such as:

  • It’s cloud-based: Your team can access it anywhere, anytime, as long as they have an internet connection.
  • It’s fully customizable: Everything on Pipefy can be edited to suit your process’ needs. The best part of it is that you can do it all on your own, without technical knowledge or IT support;
  • Execution standards: Pipefy allows you to create “rules” for your processes, making sure your team will always provide all the necessary information and follow the necessary steps to execute tasks optimally.

Zero Defects

This efficiency model is self-explanatory. It focuses on getting everything right the first time (instead of spending extra time and resources fixing poor-quality products).

Ok, I know what you’re thinking “no one makes mistakes intentionally”. You’re right, they (normally) don’t. What zero defects preach is that no defect is acceptable and, by applying this concept to your work you’ll be telling people that they should always follow the process’ execution steps and, therefore, minimizing the risk of making mistakes.

As we’ve mentioned in the first article about lean manufacturing, making mistakes is a type of waste. You waste material if you have to get rid of an imperfect product. You waste time trying to fix the mistakes made. Since applying lean is all about reducing waste, I believe you got my point.

Single Minute Exchange of Die* (SMED)

This tool is designed to help build flexibility into your production and enable you to respond to changes as fast as possible. Let’s use the automotive industry as an example. It could take days to change a production line to produce a different car model.

However, with SMED, the assembly process and machinery are designed to support quick and efficient changeovers wasting as little time as possible doing so.

*”die” is a tool used to shape an object or material

The 5S Philosophy

Lean is all about standardization. You want your tools, processes, and workplace arrangements to be as simple and as standard as possible.

Ensuring this creates fewer places for things to go wrong. One of the best ways to accomplish a good level of standardization is to use the 5S System.

Applying lean to your work

Now that you know what lean is, let’s go through a few practical examples of how you can apply the aforementioned tools and principles to your work routine:

  • Avoid overproduction: Is all the data/information you provide necessary, or are you producing unnecessary information? Do you create reports more often than required (only under demand or on a predetermined frequency, whether they end up being used or not)?
  • Reduce waiting time: How much time do you spend waiting for others before you can do your work? What can you do about this?
  • Inventory control: Do you have a large stock of materials? Are your supply levels and work-in-process inventory too high?
  • Transportation: Do things flow efficiently at your workplace? Could you combine deliveries, or deliver things more quickly? Are your transportation costs the best you could be working with?
  • Avoid over processing: Do you needlessly work on something more than once? Are you spending more time than necessary going over materials more than once?
  • Optimize execution: How is work passed along in your team? Do people understand how their abilities are at each step, and that they need to fulfill their part so others can do theirs? Do people and equipment move between tasks efficiently?
  • Reduce defects: How often do you find mistakes? Do you make the same mistakes on a regular basis? Do you have standard operational processes to minimize defects?
  • Time optimization: Do you use your time wisely? Do you spend most of your time on activities that add value and are a high priority?

Lean is all about optimizing resources, whether it’s in a plant, an office or in your own life. Reducing waste and adding value is very important in a market where competition is thriving and every little detail can make a difference.

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Written by
Isabelle Wuilleumier Salemme
Head of Customer Support @Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to help users make the best of Pipefy via support and writing informative content pieces. Besides being in charge of support, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover, and a professional photographer.
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