Surviving and Thriving with Lean

For manufacturers intent on surviving or, better yet, thriving in the 21st century, Lean Thinking needs to be a core competency. Lean Thinking is virtually a prerequisite for continuous improvement, hence for a serious pursuit of Sustainability. If you haven’t taken Lean seriously yet, I can assure you that you and your operations will benefit from doing so. The following post from over three years ago provides a number of ways to look into going lean, most of them at low cost. I have updated some of the material. — C.H.


Lean is at Sustainability’s Core

(From: 5 April 2012)

Systematically Eliminating Waste

To be Sustainable — that is, to be in a position to “thrive in perpetuity” [1] — a manufacturer must be operationally competitive. This is especially true in today’s global, rapidly changing economy. There is no place to hide.

Competitiveness starts with the systematic elimination of waste in all of its many forms. “Waste in all of its many forms” includes losses due to hazardous working conditions, unsafe work practices, emissions to the environment, inefficient use of energy, and on and on. Lean Manufacturing provides a proven, readily available means to do that.

Capture - Lean Mfg Text BoxJust about everybody in manufacturing has heard about Lean Manufacturing, or about the stunning success of the Toyota manufacturing system, which serves as Lean’s global model. The fact is that Lean Manufacturing is good sense, systematically applied. Lean doesn’t require computers, robots or big capital outlays. It does require access to the know-how, a willingness to apply that know-how, and a person experienced with Lean implementations to lead the effort. Implementing Lean is not a do-it yourself project.

Lean Manufacturing Know-how

MEPs – Almost all Manufacturing Extension Partnership locations offer practical assistance in implementing Lean Manufacturing, including access to workforce training. The MEPs are public / private partnerships between the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST – part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) and local partners in every State. You can locate your nearest MEP office at: http://www.nist.gov/mep/find-your-local-center.cfm. Take some time to look around the NIST website while you are there — lots of interesting stuff.

Lean and Green Toolkit – Your friends at the EPA offer a useful collection of free tools for getting started with Lean Manufacturing.  As one would expect, the EPA’s tools emphasize the link between Lean and environmental concerns. Download at: http://www.epa.gov/lean/environment/toolkits/environment/

Local Resources – Many States and localities offer assistance to manufacturers, often through economic development agencies or through community colleges. Ask around.

Consultants – There are many experienced Lean Manufacturing consultants available. Google something like “Consultants Lean Manufacturing”, plus your location.

Training Materials – There are many on-line sources for training materials, many at low cost, some free. Google “lean manufacturing training materials” and take your pick.

Books – Amazon lists over 1,400 titles in hardback alone under “Lean Manufacturing”. My personal favorites are:

Back to Basics, Bill Gaw (2013). Back to Basics is a business novel for smaller manufacturers that need to improve rapidly. This new book outlines a sequence of eight basic steps to bringing a lagging operation under control. The business novel form makes it an easy to read overview of how to proceed.

Productivity, Inc. publishes an entire fleet of useful books on the many aspects of Lean Manufacturing. Their website is at www.productivityinc.com

How to Implement Lean Manufacturing, Lonnie Wilson (2009). This is a very practical “how to” book written by and experienced practitioner and teacher.

Lean Thinking, James Womack & Daniel Jones (2003). This is more a book of examples and theory than a practitioner’s guide. Still, it provides valuable insight into what Lean Manufacturing is and how it works.

Lean Six Sigma

Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma are complementary techniques for improving competitiveness. Six Sigma, while very powerful, does require special training in applied statistical concepts. My usual recommendation is to begin with Lean, then add Six Sigma as resources permit.


Chuck - Mt. HumphriesThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Individuals interested in Sustainability and manufacturing are invited to connect with me on LinkedIn.

P.P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.


[1] Werbach, Adam, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press (2009)