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Examples of Lean: Teach Your Teams With Examples They Can Relate To (+Video)

In all likelihood, have not given a lot of thought to how you choose the examples of Lean you use to illustrate points. Whether you are conducting training, or simply trying to build buy-in for process improvement efforts, you should look for examples of Lean that people see on a daily basis.

Why? For a lot of people, Lean seems contrary to common sense. Keep less inventory on hand to produce more? Do more changeovers to improve flow through machines? Standardize processes to promote creativity and increase the pace of improvement? Lean is full of those contradictions.

The trick is that employees need to hear about examples of Lean that they can intuitively understand and relate to.

When your teams feel that connection with the examples, they look closer at the Lean tools, and they are more apt to use them.

This list contains some ideas that you use to point to specific examples of Lean practices in real-world use. (NOTE: You can watch a video about real-world Lean examples by clicking this link or by clicking in the table of contents to the right.)

Examples of Lean in Daily Life

  1. Fast Food Restaurants

Thought they might not call it by the Lean name, fast food franchises are masters of takt time. They know exactly the pace they need to work throughout the day. They use that information to adjust their staffing to match capacity with customer demand, whether for the lunchtime rush, or the afternoon lull.

Of course, this is only possible because they have processes that are dialed in to deliver consistent results—Standard Work in action.

  1. Netflix DVDs

I love watching movies. So, a while ago I joined Netflix—one of the best real-world examples of a Lean pull system that you can find. (Pull just means that a supplier doesn’t take action until it gets a signal from a customer.)

Netflix doesn’t push movies to you like a book of the month club or a newspaper publisher do. Those suppliers operate by sending products at pre-determined intervals, whether their customers are ready to read something new or not. Netflix only sends you a movie from your ‘wish list’ when you return the previous one—an indication that you are prepared to watch a new video.

  1. Crime Scene Investigators

I also love watching TV. For some reason, I gravitate toward crime shows, like CSI. A while ago, it dawned on me that Lean employees need to have CSI-like problem-solving skills—investigating an abnormal condition to find a root cause.

  1. Homemakers

Don’t believe that stay at home parents are Lean? Just take a few minutes and watch them making a grocery list (managing inventory levels), or organizing the home (5S). Observe them using automatic coffee machines and the load-imbalance detector in their washing machines (automation with a human touch—jidoka), or following a recipe (standardization) to make sure the family dinner is edible.

  1. The Military

Most people don’t picture the military as being Lean, but the armed forces have been using Lean principles for years. For example, the Army has used something called a ‘Prescribed Load List (PLL)’ which is a standard quantity of repair parts for the maintenance team to keep on hand. The quantities are calculated similar to kanban quantities—usage, lead time, etc. PLL and kanban both manage inventory to keep costs down while preventing shortages.

The Army also tracks metrics to see when processes are not delivering to expectations. The operational readiness rate is one example—when it falls below norms, leaders use countermeasures to get it back on track.

A more recent change is that Army field manuals are also being written with ‘Wiki’ technology—frontline soldiers are being given the authority to help write doctrine. But in truth that concept is nothing new. Soldiers have been contributing to unit SOPs for years—developing specific practices for small units. It is, however, now being tried at a much higher level than ever before.

Here’s a chance for the commercial sector to watch and learn. If the Army is successful at letting soldiers write doctrine, the same principle could be used to have frontline employees contribute to corporate policy instead of just production processes. Having a say in the rules of the company would have a direct, positive impact on job satisfaction.

This list is by no means all inclusive. It is just meant to open your eyes to examples of Lean in the world around us. And showing your team specific cases of where Lean principles are helping them in the outside world goes a long way toward gaining commitment within the walls of your company.


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