Foundational Concepts of Lean

Lean manufacturing utilizes a number of strategies and tools to improve the business by boosting productivity and eliminating waste. The following are just a handful of the most common Lean tools, many have been adopted from manufacturing in Japan and the Toyota Production System .

5S (The Visual Workplace)

5S is a system of creating workplace organization to reduce/eliminate waste created by clutter, lack of information, duplication, underutilized space, inconsistency in processes, etc.

Components of 5S:
foundational concepts of Lean

  • Sort
  • Set In Order
  • Shine
  • Standardize
  • Sustain

A Visual Workplace means that information, visually marked areas, equipment, materials, and tools are clearly defined, made readily ‘see-able.’

Steps to the visual workplace:

  • Create a map that indicates entrances, vehicle lanes, and pedestrian walkways.
  • On the map, designate an “address” for each of the production and work areas.
  • Indicate color-coding as applicable for each work area for easy navigation.
  • Mark entrances, aisles, and walkways clearly. If necessary, include directional indicators.
  • Accurately mark all equipment/machine parking areas
  • Label all storage locations as accurately as possible.

Toyota Production System

The two pillars of TPS are Jidoka and Just-in-Time


Jidoka is also known as “automation with a human touch.” In a manufacturing process, this could mean machines are designed so they automatically stop when something goes wrong. This way, defects are immediately detected. When automation is this intuitive, it allows people to oversee more machines at one time, which increases production capabilities.

Just In Time

Rather than allow historical data and demand forecasting to dictate production, Just In Time (JIT) requires that actual customer demand exists. Production doesn’t begin until triggered by a customer’s order. JIT works best with one-piece flow production. In order to appreciate JIT, it’s important to understand the difference between Push vs. Pull manufacturing.

Push is the traditional approach in that it relies on demand forecasting. One of the biggest criticisms of this manufacturing strategy is that it creates excessive inventory, which can then lead to a multitude of other problems. Pull, on the other hand, is triggered by actual customer demand, and therefore avoids excessive inventory. Pull manufacturing has changed large-scale production in the 20th century.

Poka Yoke

Based on ingenuity and simplicity, Shigeo Shingo formalized Poka Yoke in the 1960s. The term roughly translates in English to “avoiding inadvertent errors.” Proactive implementation of specific design and process features geared to prevention of errors and their negative impact. Unlike other manufacturing strategies, Poka Yoke’s ingenious nature makes it both effective and inexpensive.

Still unclear about what Poka Yoke looks like in the real world? Here are a few examples:

  • Microwave ovens won’t work with the door open.
  • The lights in airplane lavatories won’t come on until the door lock is engaged.

These examples show how companies foresaw problems, then designed products to avoid those issues.


Kaizen is a Japanese phrase that translates to English as “continuous improvement.” Kaizen makes small, incremental changes rather than large changes, which aim to make long-term, sustainable impacts on the company as a whole. Kaizen pushes businesses and workers to strive toward efficiency and best practices at every turn.

Most companies begin their Kaizen journey through a coordinated event called a Kaizen blitz. A Kaizen blitz is an effort that puts total focus on a defined part of a manufacturing process for a short, defined period of time, usually a business week.

Kaizen blitzes yield dramatic improvement in productivity and quality.

Lean can power a dramatic change in your facility. Looking for more information? We’ve got you covered. Our Lean resources center is packed with helpful information geared toward making your company safer and more efficient.

Additional Resources