Lean Manufacturing Principles

Japan`s method of manufacturing process improvement

Process Improvement Japan - Lean Kaizen group photo at the manufacturing plant


Click here for the Japanese version 日本の絶えざる改善手法

In Japanese, "Kaizen" or sometimes spelled "Kaizan" is the term used for "continuous improvement". It is often referred to as lean or lean manufacturing in English. It is a way of doing business that has put Japan and specifically, The Toyota Way, on the map. The lean manufacturing principles have made it possible for The Toyota Motor Corporation and its subsidiary companies and suppliers to attain incredibly efficient production processes with maximized elimination of waste and maximized profit. The Toyota way of business is truly remarkable.

Understanding the lean manufacturing principles are absolutely essential to attaining a quality improvement process at minimum cost.

As part of your Lean manufacturing training and assessment, evaluate your organization by answering the following questions:

1. Are safe operations assured?

2. Do we minimize defects and continuously improve production for our customers?

3. Can we improve productivity with ease?

4. Does our cost reduction strategies result in company profits?

5. Are our personnel continuously developing professionally?

In the Toyota Way of business, reflecting upon operations and making safety, process improvement and employee motivation and training a priority, growth is supported.

Look at how Toyota`s CCC21 policy had damaged the spirit of kaizen, click here.

Process Improvement Japan - Kaizen training

The Lean Manufacturing Principles- Kaizen

What exactly is a Kaizen activity?

Kaizen are improvement activities for the elimination of waste and cost reduction.

Elimination of Waste is one of the key Lean Manufacturing Principles.

The Lean Manufacturing Principles - Small improvements make great Kaizen

In our experience, non-Japanese managers are often looking for big things to improve. This is a very limiting way of looking at it. Lean kaizen or manufacturing process improvement is a continuous improvement process. It should always be applied to our work methods and activities. It is the elimination of waste in machinery, materials, labor and methods of production and office procedures. Opportunities for lean kaizen can be found in every area of a company, in very small (at times perhaps, large) ways. Here are some basic examples from a Toyota Motor Company supplier:

  • A power unit was redesigned, saving the company approximately US $20 per unit.

  • An electrical cord was taped down.

  • Workpieces were moved closer to the worker.

  • Supplies were color coded for visual management to avoid confusion.

  • New guidelines were written to ensure all staff were using the same technique.

  • Reduce the scale of drawings to cut down on paper use - 50% reduction of paper usage achieved.

  • Changed to a different system of applying dye - 50% reduction in scrap

  • Switched from aluminum to stainless steel - 1/12 cost reduction

  • Developed a device to examine a product instead of manual inspection.

Kaizen and lean production is a way of life.

Creating a better method that provides better work efficiency is an endless challenge for people who perform lean kaizen.

At every moment staff at the Toyota Motor Corporation companies are looking for ways to make their work easier, safer, and/or faster with waste elimination in mind. Why do they do it? Because they can. Because they want to. And because they find it very fulfilling. Process improvement, when implemented correctly, is a very motivating force. It builds employee satisfaction while increasing profit and reducing cost - the essential building blocks for Total Quality Management and a company`s overall success.

Effective implementation of lean management strategies requires looking at things from a different vantage point.

When you consider your lean manufacturing training, ensure the focus is on continuous improvement - at all levels, from all angles as well as employee motivation and employee engagement

A great lean case study - Yukai Resort In Japan

Process Improvement Japan - Kaizen group discussions

Gemba Kaizen & The Kaizen Circle

Kaizen cirlces or lean group meetings are essential for successful lean manufacturing. First, they are an opportunity for front line employees and managers to discuss and decide on lean kaizen or improvement activities. Second, they are a powerful employee motivation and team building exercise.

Read more on Gemba Kaizen and how to implement Kaizen circles.

Create a lean office, click here.

The Lean Manufacturing Principles - Standardization


Without standardization, you cannot implement effective, long lasting process improvement. This essential point of lean manufacturing is often missed.

We recently hosted a Lean tour from a middle eastern country. We led a group discussion amongst the middle eastern company managers and employees from a Toyota supplier. The company began listing off all of their problems. The Toyota supplier employees were completely dumbfounded as to why they were experiencing so many problems. It then became clear that they had not properly standardized their procedures or their training. They were trying to improve the problems within their company without implementing standard work procedures - the bucket was being filled from the top while leaking (heavily) from the bottom!

Kaizen means the improvement of standardized work. To that end, the basic 3 step Standardization principle has to be effectively implemented:

1. Establishing

2. Teaching

3. Observing

Have you got a question?

Implementing Kaizen is not always zen...Lean manufacturing can be a journey of frustration and brick walls at times. If you`re struggling with implementing effective strategies and techniques...you`re not alone! So, ask the experts!

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