Process Improvement Methodologies - Part 1

Lean Manufacturing


Operation Management professionals can sometimes feel confused when it comes to selecting the right method for their process improvement projects. They go back and forth between Lean, Theory of Constraints (ToC) and Six Sigma. A look into the uses of these three tools will help clear any confusion.


Lean Manufacturing has a history dating back to Henry Ford and even before that. However, the phrase “Lean Manufacturing” was not coined until James Womack’s book “The Machine That Changed the World”.


Many people today, when they think about Lean Manufacturing, they think immediately and only of waste elimination. Though waste elimination is a big part of Lean Manufacturing methodology, the main goal is to create flow. Waste is what prevents that smooth flow.


Lean Manufacturing provides five principles that helps organizations create an efficient system:

  1. Identifying value,

  2. Mapping value stream,

  3. Creating flow,

  4. Adopting a pull system

  5. Pursuing perfection

In the pursuit of this goal, Lean Manufacturing employs several tools such as 5S (most commonly known and used), Poke-Yoke, Kanban, Takt Time, Bottleneck Analysis, Total Productive Maintenance, Root Cause Analysis etc. It’s important to note that some of the tools used by Lean are shared by other methodologies as well (e.g. Root Cause Analysis is used by Six Sigma and Bottleneck Analysis is used by ToC).


Next week: Theory of Constraints

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