Lean thinking is a business approach based on the Japanese history of manufacturing techniques for growth and better results. It is an operational excellence strategy that enables people and organisations to change for the better.

Lean thinking, in its simplest form, is the idea of focusing on operations as a whole. The entire value chain is considered while planning the processes, instead of independently optimizing departments, function areas, or locations. Many businesses use this strategy to achieve success.

Lean thinking is a set of standard practices developed for your business based on experiments. To find out what works best for you, begin with a value-creating process (developing value for your customers).
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Pillars of Lean Thinking

Lean thinking is a business approach for business growth and better results. It is an operational excellence strategy that enables people and organisations to change for the better. Most businesses use this strategy to achieve success.

Within lean thinking, there are two core pillars that support this approach:

Continuous Improvement 

Continuous improvement represents the main concept in lean thinking. Strive to implement inspiration, interaction, and innovation to succeed in your organisation. The leaders in your team might play a significant role in improving your organisation. Their behaviours and actions might influence the process and systems. You may achieve success with their commitment to self-development, futuristic vision and higher goals in life.

Respect for People

It reflects the importance placed on the development of people. The team may identify and reduce additional expenses. To have everyone on board, you might have to empower, engage, enable and enhance the team. Many tools and concepts of lean thinking are essential, but failure is inevitable if you neglect the people aspect. You might not succeed with lean without both of these pillars in place.

5 Principles of Lean Thinking

1. Create Value

Specify value. You should understand what value means for your customers and the three aspects of value.

Value Added Activity

These are the activities that customers are willing to pay for and that provide value to a business process or product. It is an essential concept in lean thinking. A value-added process helps transform raw materials into final products as quickly and affordably as possible.

Non-Value Added Activity (Necessary Waste)

Activities that use up resources, time, and space but don’t immediately lead to the production of what the client wants. Removing them will not affect the outcome. Examples include project coordination, regulatory, company mandate, law, etc. It should be minimised, but it cannot be completely removed.

Non-Value Added Activity (Pure Waste)

It consumes resources and creates no value according to the customer. Examples could be additional cleanings, excess check-off, accidents, etc. As it is a complete waste, it must be removed according to the lean thinking approach.

 2. Value Stream

A value stream is all the related end-to-end activities to deliver value. It starts with raw materials or initial information. It ends with the customer or user. From the beginning to the end, the material, and the product flows are often a backwards flow of information.

Identify the value stream. To identify and eliminate waste, map out all end-to-end linked actions, processes, and functions necessary for transforming inputs into outputs. Customer needs, schedules, inventory information, etc. are a part of a value stream. The definition of the value stream is the set of activities that adds value to the work product to please the customer.

3. Flow

Make value flow. Having eliminated waste, make the remaining value-creating steps flow. You might want to focus on what is flowing through the process. Don’t be limited by organisational boundaries. Eliminate bottlenecks, and minimise buffers.

Time is vital for enhancing flow along with various methods to calculate time such as waiting time, processing time, cycle time, and lead time. The catch here is to understand the local definition of time measurement. Flow is the time required to execute activities in the process. 

4. Pull

Let customers pull value. The customer’s “pull” cascades back to the lowest level supplier, enabling in-time production. Each movement delivers its output as the next movement needs its input. The customer triggers it, resulting in a smooth flow with no batches or voids.

Pull may decrease rework due to errors. There could be negligible waste in a pull system which is agile and responsive to customer demand. Pull might need flow plus predictable cycle time. You might have to start with the customer and work backwards through the system to create the pull.

5. Perfection

Pursue perfection. Pursue a continuous process of improvement, striving for perfection. Let customer demand pull value through the value stream. Eliminate wastes in every process and design to build quality into the product and service. Ensure transparency to everyone involved.

Effects for continuous improvement are responsible for training line managers in experimental conduct. Ultimately, the goal is to offer technical support when required to create value for clients by eliminating waste.

Steps to Follow Lean Thinking

The best way to generate your hypothesis could be to identify the business problem, the opportunity, and the root cause. You may improve things in which you determine the current state by measuring the performance gap.

  • Inspect the potential countermeasures, select the most promising countermeasure, and conduct a PDCA (plan-do-check-act). That’s management by science.
  • Establish who you are and wherever you start, whether you are the CEO, the CFO, a business unit head, a department head, or a facility manager.
  • Pick a value-creating process, but do not spread it all over the place. Instead, choose a value stream.
  • Create and run experiments that would reflect what you’ve learned to share your findings with the rest of your organisation. You may call it the horizontal or vertical spread of good ideas and keep experimenting.


Lean-thinking organisations are seeking ways to improve the way they work. It’s the persistent pursuit of the elimination of waste. Waste could mean the waste of waiting, the waste of errors, and the waste of excess motion. That could lead to lost productivity and, in extreme cases, injury.

Lean is also very focused on improving the quality of your products and services and the stability of your processes. Its significant value lies in the development of people. In the end, lean thinking is a people-based system. Lean is not a program. It is not time-limited, since it has no end.

Lean thinking is not only about eliminating waste, but also about increasing the speed of production. It is a process representing customer value. The base of lean thinking includes concepts like teamwork.

About the author

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