These three tools provide the highest value for the lean approach.
Lean is a business methodology used across all disciplines of business to help teams work smarter and deliver more value. Value is defined in the eyes of a customer: it can be a new feature, a new product, or an educational blog post—anything that improves the customer’s experience.
Lean organizations optimize processes and reduce waste, making it easier to stay focused on delivering that value to the customer. In doing so, teams and organizations are able to communicate better, increase knowledge, and collaborate more effectively.
What Are Lean Tools?
A lean tool can be a methodology, a mindset, or a practice that helps apply lean principles to your work. There are many tools that can help teams practice lean business effectively, and each has its value. While there is no one right way to practice lean, survey data from the Lean Business Report indicates that in knowledge work, some lean tools can be more effective than others: Kanban boards, WIP limits, and continuous improvement.
Keep reading to learn how each of these tools can help your team grow in its Lean practice.
Top Three Lean Tools
Kanban boards are by far the most commonly used tool by lean teams used according to 83 percent of survey respondents. Kanban boards harness the brain’s innate preference for visual information. Using cards to represent work items on a physical or digital whiteboard, Kanban helps teams and organizations visualize and improve their workflow.
By visualizing work, teams are able to actively prioritize work as a team based on organizational goals. This helps teams focus on moving work through their process and into the hands of the customer.
WIP limits were the second most commonly used lean tool used by 38 percent of respondents. WIP stands for work-in-process. This term is used to describe any piece of work that is actively being worked on, but is not yet in the hands of the customer. WIP limits are constraints that teams and individuals place upon themselves to enable better focus and more effective collaboration, thereby enabling them to deliver faster.
They’re also a tool by which teams can actively control the amount of work flowing through the system at any given time. This helps teams and individuals reduce context-switching, allowing them to stay focused and deliver quality work quickly.
For teams, WIP limits enable Kanban boards to become a pull system. The phrase “pull system” describes a system in which team members pull work into the system when they have capacity to do it. This is the opposite of a push system, in which team members push work onto each other without regard for capacity. Pull systems reduce stress on individuals and can help teams identify bottlenecks, blockers, and other impediments to flow.
Continuous improvement rounds out the list of top three lean tools used by 32 percent of respondents. A pillar of lean, continuous improvement is a method of continuously identifying opportunities for streamlining work and reducing waste. It can be implemented as a formal practice or an informal set of guidelines.
The continuous improvement cycle has four general steps:
- Identify: analyze where your process needs improvement.
- Plan: determine how those areas in your process can be improved.
- Execute: implement your process improvement plan.
- Review: after a set amount of time, evaluate how the changes are working for your team.
A continuous improvement system relies on open, clear communication and a data-driven mindset across the organization. It requires team members to speak open and honestly about successes and more importantly, failures so they can pinpoint where their processes and products need to improve. This helps teams deliver value to their customers even faster.
Learn more about how teams are using Lean to get ahead in the Lean Business Report, which combines original research with educational content from influencers in the lean for business space.