How to Implement Lean in 6 Easy Steps

Leaning processes are all about eliminating waste, and waste exists within all processes.  We all experience rework and lost time in our daily work, and there is a financial cost ($) and human cost (employee morale) associated with it. This is common knowledge.

What may not be as common is how to apply lean to your specific process.  Two questions immediately come to mind for me:  What are the main steps to take? And what are the key requirements for success?  I think that these questions are a good way to get the conversation started.

Let’s start with the main steps to take:

The first 3 steps are:

  1. Describe the objectives and how they align to business needs (increase capacity, reduce cycle times, etc.)
  2. Select the process and map the current state through value stream mapping (include process & cycle times)
  3. Identify and prioritize the problems through brainstorming (focus on causes of variation)

If you are assigned to lead a lean initiative within your business unit, you should first seek to understand the business drivers behind the request.  Once known, it is easy to align your specific objectives to the business needs (step 1).

Next you should consider the service that you are most known for providing, which should lead you to the product or process that you will focus on.  Alternately, you may be asked to improve a particular process based on stakeholder feedback, corporate priorities, or other means.  Either way, the selected process needs to be mapped to enable further analysis and steps (step 2).

Mapping of the current state (step 2) and the identification of problems (step 3) can be managed through brainstorming sessions with key stakeholders.  In particular, engaging employees from impacted groups is an important step in gathering credible information through the brainstorming process.  Only with credible information can a thorough assessment be completed of the work times, problems, and possible causes of variation.

The last 3 steps are:

  1. Map the future state through value stream mapping  (calculate expected % improvement)
  2. Plan and implement the changes (focus on controlling and error-proofing the process)
  3. Measure results, recognize efforts and share successes through branch meetings, committee meetings, and various networking events

Within steps 4 and 5, the creation of the future state and planned improvements can be documented by team members based on information gathered through brainstorming sessions and previous steps.  However, validation of the path forward is required, particularly with key stakeholders and senior executives who will be impacted by the changes.  Recommendations related to controlling the process, such as documenting procedures, on-line training resources, control logs, etc. are also a critical element of ensuring the new process is maintained over the longer term.

Recognizing efforts of everyone involved in a Lean initiative is important to lay the groundwork for future initiatives. Sharing successes widely ensures that efforts are leveraged, both within departments and agencies, and across the whole of government.  All departments are working on many similar initiatives and lessening the burden on another team is a priority.

Measuring and sharing results (step 6) can be initially managed by team members, but eventually will be the sole responsibility of the individual functionally responsible for the process.

Key requirements for success:

The 3 key requirements for success are:

  1. Dedicate the right people to the project team
    • The right people have knowledge of the process; are trusted, skilled & connected; want to do it; and have the delegated authority to act.
  2. Engage the right stakeholders in the approach
    • The right stakeholders include clients who benefit from the process; employees who work in the process; and collaborative partners in delivering the process.
  3. Have the right senior leaders at the helm
    • The right senior leaders are actively involved in the process; support and advocate for the objectives; and have time to dedicate to the process.

Any improvement approach can fall short of expectations when it has not been fully understood, key people have not been engaged, and senior leaders are not actively supportive of the process.  Bringing together the right approach with the right people can greatly increase a team’s probability of experiencing resounding success.


In the next blog, we will dive deeper into the Lean Six Sigma approach to process improvement. It shares many affinities with the above Lean approach, and is normally applied to projects that rely more on data, measurement, and findings of statistical significance to guide team members in the right direction.


Leave us a comment: * Your information is never shared