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The Global State of Operational Excellence:
Critical Challenges & Future Trends

130 pages of the most comprehensive study of critical challenges and future trends within Operational Excellence.



What is Lean
Image courtesy of the Lean Accountants

What is Lean?

What is Lean? A Definition of Lean

Lean includes a wide range of principles and tools with the goal of  identifying  and removing waste to increase process velocity. Put in plainer terms, Lean practises seek to maximise value to the customer or client, whilst minimizing waste of all kinds.

What is Lean - Lean Definition

A Lean organization, theoretically, should have the following characteristics:

  1. See every problem and mistake as an opportunity to streamline processes
  2. Value the customer experience above all else, and
  3. Promote a culture of problem solving and open communication between teams at all levels, whereby employees feel valued and invested.

With this in mind, a perfect Lean organization would have zero waste, and perfect value creation.

Key Links:

The 7 Wastes of Lean, or 'Muda'

The 7 wastes, in Lean, are considered to be the root of all unprofitable activity within an organization. 

The easiest way to describe waste in the context of Lean methodology is as “Something that does not add Value.” Customers would not be happy to pay for any action taken that does not add value to what they actually want.

The 7 wastes of lean - Lean definitions

The 7 wastes consist of:

1. Defects

Defects are the most obvious of the seven wastes, although not always the easiest to detect before they reach your customers. Any mistakes made in production, or with the products themselves, come at great cost.

2. Overproduction

Overproduction leads to high levels of inventory, which can mask many of the problems within your organization. In lean methodology, batch processing, creating more supply than demand, etc. are two of the more deadly forms that overproduction can take.

3. Transportation

Transport is the movement of materials from one location to another -  this is a waste as it adds zero value to the product. 

4. Waiting

We tend to spend an enormous amount of time waiting for things in our working lives. Time wasted waiting on an engineer, or member of the team, often through more bureacratic processes, is a particularly dangerous and pervasive form of waste, that can take a long time to remedy or minimize.

5. Inventory

Inventory costs money - every piece of product tied up in raw material, work in progress or finished goods has a cost and until it is actually sold, that cost is yours.

6. Motion

The waste of 'motion' is best explained as  unnecessary movement of any kind - a machine that takes more effort than needed to operate, workstations being far apart that require movement between, etc.

7. Processing

In lean; small is beautiful - the use of small appropriate machines where they are needed in the flow is far more beneficial than massive machinery that can stop an entire process for days on end.


EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Lean Leadership - A Lean Organization Starts Here

lean and culture, and its focus on leadership development.


Lean vs. Six Sigma

Though often conflated to the more dominant methodology of Lean Six Sigma, Lean does have a number of key differences to the Six Sigma methodology.

Six Sigma and Lean methodologies do have essentially the same goal. They both seek to eliminate waste, creating the most efficient system possible. However, they take different approaches with how to go about achieving this goal. In simplest terms, the main difference between Lean and Six Sigma is that they identify the root cause of waste , or 'Muda', differently.

Lean practitioners believe that waste comes from unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product, while Six Sigma proponents assert that waste results from variation within the process.

What is Lean? Key tools and principles

 Click here to learn more about Lean.

4 Key Lean Tools

Lean relies on a number of key tenents, tools and principles following the Japanese method of 'Kaizen' (or 'change for the better'). Below are a few of the most critical Lean tools, employed to transform companies & manufacturers into Operational Excellence practitioners.

Takt Time

In the world of Lean Manufacturing, takt time is the rate at which the finished product needs to be completed, in order to meet the customer demand. Outside of Lean, the term references the german word for a Baton used to keep a tempo, or a 'heartbeat'.

The Takt Formula

Takt = T/D

Where T is Time available to create the product/service.

D is a demand for the number of units

gives information on production pace or units per hours.


An example of Takt Time would be as follows:

A company has a demand for 400 units a day, and operates for 800 minutes = 800 minutes / 400 units = a Takt Time of 2 minutes per unit.

Learn more about Takt Time now


The 5S methodology is a helpful Lean Manufacturing tool as it offers the straightforward 5-step process to ensuring the work area is organized and running efficiently - i.e. there is no wasted time whilst workers search for items/papers. The 5 s's are:

  • Sort (eliminate that which is not needed)
  • Set In Order (organizing the remaining items)
  • Shine (cleaning and inspecting the work area)
  • Standardize (writing out and confirming expected standards for the above)
  • Sustain (regularly maintainining and sustaining these standards)

Read the full Lean 5S guide now 

One-Piece / Continuous Flow

The antithesis to 'batch' production, continuous flow manufacturing is the process of keeping a product moving from the beginning of production to the completion of the product. It is used in manufacturing to maximise efficiency against 'batching', as the next product can be introduced to the process as soon as the one before has completed step one.

Lean  tools and principles - What is Lean

'Going to Gemba'

Gemba is a philosophy in Lean Manufacturing that expresses the principle of going to the shop floor. It reminds leadership within a company practising Lean to visit the plant floor, and gain understanding of the 'real action'. Going to Gemba provides leadership with an understanding of the real processes and day-to-day undertaking of Lean principles.

Lean Resources

WATCH NOW: Taking your Operational Excellence Program to the Next Level - Catalent Pharma Solutions

What is Lean? Taking your Pharmaceutical Operational Excellence Program to the Next Level

'Taking your Operational Excellence Program to the Next Level' focuses on 3 key takeaways:

  • How to create a true assessment of your capabilities and gap analysis for the next level 
  • Understanding where you currently are, identify the holes and plan for the future with
  • Training the future operational excellence leaders - what to look for? 

WATCH NOW: A Systematic Approach to Creating a Culture of Structured Problem Solving 

What is Lean? A systematic approach to creating a lean culture of structured  problem solving

About this Video Presentation:

Key Learning Takeaways include:

  • Systems govern behavior; behaviors create a culture
  • Define what a system is and how one gets created
  • Identify what systems you need to in order to do structured problem solving
  • How is this different from what we do now and what will it lead to?

Further Reading

The Top 10 Lean Six Sigma Books

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