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5 of the Most Helpful Lean Manufacturing Tools


Kaizen is a system of continuous improvement in quality, technology, processes, company culture, productivity, safety, and leadership. The Kaizen approach was created in Japan following World War II. It relies upon every employee, from upper management to the cleaning crew, to come up with suggestions for small improvements on a regular basis. In most cases, the ideas don't lead to major change; rather, a company strives to improve productivity, safety, and effectiveness while reducing waste through ongoing, smaller changes. Companies that run the Kaizen way develop a culture in which employees feel empowered to make suggestions anywhere improvements can be made, whether in their own department or elsewhere.


The 5s (Five s) program uses a system of visual cues and communication tools that impart information visually (at the time and place it is needed). The five S's are: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. The 5S program organizes the workplace by focusing on:

  • Tidiness
  • Orderliness
  • Cleanliness
  • Standardization
  • Discipline

Taken together, the 5S principles lead to improved profitability, efficiency, service, and safety. 5S, as a tool of lean manufacturing, is used in a variety of businesses, especially as a first step in "getting lean." It is likely the easiest approach to implement in an existing facility or business, and can be used in conjunction with Kanban and Kaizen to develop the most efficient workplace possible.



Kanban is a production system in which a continuous supply of parts is delivered to the production line on an as-needed basis. The efficiency of Kanban methodology ensures that workers have what they need, where they need it, when they need it. Employers are better equipped to keep inventory under control with Kanban solutions, which are based on customer demand. In turn, facilities can react to needs, rather than make guesses while trying to anticipate the future. Kanban is entwined with Kaizen in that teams and individuals are encouraged to participate in continuously improving Kanban solutions and overall production process. Kanban, as an approach to the workflow, is implemented in conjunction with Kaizen and 5S.

Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping (or VSM) is a lean management visual tool to help organizations optimize manufacturing and production processes. Value stream maps are typically used to "graphically illustrate, analyze, and understand the flow of materials and the information needed to process them," according to IndustryWeek. The aim of VSM is to highlight problems within a system and develop tools for system-wide change. The visual nature of VSM also makes it easy for stakeholders to understand and continually improve the process.

Focus PDCA

The Focus PDCA model outlines the basic components of the improvement process. They are:

  • Find a process to improve
  • Organize a team
  • Clarify the current understanding of the process
  • Understand variation in the process
  • Select a strategy for improvement
  • Plan the actual changes to the process
  • Do a trial of the new process
  • Check the results of the trial
  • Act on the new information, adjusting or implementing the new approach

The FOCUS PDCA cycle is meant to provide structure that guides the process of problem-solving and process improvement. It allows for a wide range of people to get involved, can be learned quickly, and provides a framework that may guide improvement efforts.

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