Top 25 Lean Tools & Techniques

Lean has a very extensive collection of tools and concepts. Surveying the most important of these, understanding both what they are and how they can help, is an excellent way to get started.

Exploring Lean

There are a lot of great ideas to explore in lean. So, where should you begin?

One way to start is to survey the most important lean tools, with a brief description and a short explanation of how each tool can improve your manufacturing operations.

If a tool captures your interest or resonates with you in some way – explore it further to decide if it is something to pursue now…or later. Many of these tools can be successfully used in isolation, which makes it much easier to get started. On the other hand, the benefits will compound as more tools are used, as they support and reinforce each other.

25 Lean Manufacturing Tools


What is 5S?

5S organizes the work area:

  • Sort: eliminate that which is not needed
  • Straighten: organize remaining items
  • Shine: clean and inspect work area
  • Standardize: write standards for above
  • Sustain: regularly apply the standards

How does 5S help?

5S eliminates waste that results from a poorly organized work area (e.g., wasting time looking for a tool).

Learn more about 5S


What is Andon?

Andon is a visual feedback system for the plant floor that indicates production status, alerts when assistance is needed, and empowers operators to stop the production process.

How does Andon help?

Andon acts as a real-time communication tool for the plant floor that brings immediate attention to problems as they occur – so they can be instantly addressed.

Learn more about Andon at Vorne.com

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Bottleneck Analysis

What is Bottleneck Analysis?

Bottleneck Analysis identifies which part of the manufacturing process limits the overall throughput and improves the performance of that part of the process.

How does Bottleneck Analysis help?

Bottleneck Analysis improves throughput by strengthening the weakest link in the manufacturing process.

Continuous Flow

What is Continuous Flow?

Continuous Flow is manufacturing where work-in-process smoothly flows through production with minimal (or no) buffers between steps of the manufacturing process.

How does Continuous Flow help?

Continuous Flow eliminates many forms of waste (e.g., inventory, waiting time, and transport).

Gemba (The Real Place)

What is Gemba?

Gemba is a philosophy that reminds us to get out of our offices and spend time on the plant floor – the place where real action occurs.

How does Gemba help?

Gemba promotes a deep and thorough understanding of real-world manufacturing issues – by first-hand observation and by talking with plant floor employees.

Heijunka (Level Scheduling)

What is Heijunka?

Heijunka is a form of production scheduling that purposely manufactures in much smaller batches by sequencing (mixing) product variants within the same process.

How does Heijunka help?

Heijunka reduces lead times (since each product or variant is manufactured more frequently) and inventory (since batches are smaller).

Hoshin Kanri (Policy Deployment)

What is Hoshin Kanri?

Hoshin Kanri aligns the goals of the company (Strategy), with the plans of middle management (Tactics) and the work performed on the plant floor (Action).

How does Hoshin Kanri help?

Hoshin Kanri ensures that progress towards strategic goals is consistent and thorough – eliminating the waste that comes from poor communication and inconsistent direction.

Learn more about Hoshin Kanri

Jidoka (Autonomation)

What is Jidoka?

Jidoka is the idea that manufacturers should design equipment to partially automate the manufacturing process (partial automation is typically much less expensive than full automation) and to automatically stop when defects are detected.

How does Jidoka help?

After Jidoka, workers can frequently monitor multiple stations (reducing labor costs) and many quality issues can be detected immediately (improving quality).

Just-In-Time (JIT)

What is Just-In-Time?

Just-In-Time pulls parts through production based on customer demand instead of pushing parts through production based on projected demand. Relies on many lean tools, such as Continuous Flow, Heijunka, Kanban, Standardized Work, and Takt Time.

How does Just-In-Time help?

Just-In-Time is highly effective in reducing inventory levels. Improves cash flow and reduces space requirements.

Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a strategy where employees work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements in the manufacturing process.

Learn more about Kaizen

How does Kaizen help?

Kaizen combines the collective talents of a company to create an engine for continually eliminating waste from manufacturing processes.

Kanban (Pull System)

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a method of regulating the flow of goods both within the factory and with outside suppliers and customers. Based on automatic replenishment through signal cards that indicate when more goods are needed.

How does Kanban help?

Kanban eliminates waste from inventory and overproduction. Can eliminate the need for physical inventories, instead relying on signal cards to indicate when more goods need to be ordered.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

What are KPIs?

KPIs are metrics designed to track and encourage progress towards critical goals of the organization. Strongly promoted KPIs can be extremely powerful drivers of behavior – so it is important to carefully select KPIs that will drive desired behavior.

How do KPIs help?

The best manufacturing KPIs:

  • Are aligned with top-level strategic goals (thus helping to achieve those goals)
  • Are effective at exposing and quantifying waste (OEE is a good example)
  • Are readily influenced by plant floor employees (so they can drive results)

Learn more about Manufacturing KPIs at Vorne.com

Muda (Waste)

What is Muda?

Muda is anything in the manufacturing process that does not add value from the customer’s perspective.

How does Muda help?

Muda doesn’t help. Muda means ‘waste’. The elimination of muda (waste) is the primary focus of lean manufacturing.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

What is Overall Equipment Effectiveness?

OEE is a framework for measuring productivity loss for a given manufacturing process. Three categories of loss are tracked:

  • Availability (e.g., downtime)
  • Performance (e.g., slow cycles)
  • Quality (e.g., rejects)

How does Overall Equipment Effectiveness help?

OEE provides a benchmark/baseline and a means to track progress in eliminating waste from a manufacturing process. 100% OEE means perfect production (manufacturing only good parts, as fast as possible, with no downtime).

Learn more about OEE at OEE.com

PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act)

What is PDCA?

PDCA is an iterative methodology for implementing improvements:

  • Plan: establish plan and expected results
  • Do: implement plan
  • Check: verify expected results achieved
  • Act: review and assess; do it again

How does PDCA help?

PDCA applies a scientific approach to making improvements:

  • Plan: develop a hypothesis
  • Do: run experiment
  • Check: evaluate results
  • Act: refine your experiment; try again

Poka-Yoke (Error Proofing)

What is Poka-Yoke?

Poka-Yoke designs error detection and prevention into production processes with the goal of achieving zero defects.

How does Poka-Yoke help?

It is difficult (and expensive) to find all defects through inspection, and correcting defects typically gets significantly more expensive at each stage of production.

Root Cause Analysis

What is Root Cause Analysis?

Root Cause Analysis is a problem solving methodology that focuses on resolving the underlying problem instead of applying quick fixes that only treat immediate symptoms of the problem. A common approach is to ask why five times – each time moving a step closer to discovering the true underlying problem.

How does Root Cause Analysis help?

Root Cause Analysis helps to ensure that a problem is truly eliminated by applying corrective action to the “root cause” of the problem.

Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED)

What is Single-Minute Exchange of Die?

Single-Minute Exchange of Die reduces setup (changeover) time to less than 10 minutes. SMED techniques include:

  • Convert setup steps to be external (performed while the process is running)
  • Simplify internal setup (e.g., replace bolts with knobs and levers)
  • Eliminate non-essential operations
  • Create Standardized Work instructions

How does Single-Minute Exchange of Die help?

SMED enables manufacturing in smaller lots, reduces inventory, and improves customer responsiveness.

Learn more about SMED at Vorne.com

Six Big Losses

What is Six Big Losses?

The Six Big Losses are six categories of productivity loss that are almost universally experienced in manufacturing:

  • Breakdowns
  • Setup/Adjustments
  • Small Stops
  • Reduced Speed
  • Startup Rejects
  • Production Rejects

How does Six Big Losses help?

The Six Big Losses provide a framework for attacking the most common causes of waste in manufacturing.

Learn more about Six Big Losses at Vorne.com


What are SMART Goals?

SMART Goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Specific.

How do SMART Goals help?

SMART Goals help to ensure that goals are effective.

Standardized Work

What is Standardized Work?

Standardized Work is documented procedures for manufacturing that capture best practices (including the time to complete each task). It must be “living” documentation that is easy to change.

How does Standardized Work help?

Standardized Work eliminates waste by consistently applying best practices. Forms a baseline for future improvement activities.

Takt Time

What is Takt Time?

Takt Time is the pace of production (e.g., manufacturing one piece every 34 seconds) that aligns production with customer demand. Calculated as Planned Production Time / Customer Demand.

How does Takt Time help?

Takt Time provides a simple, consistent, and intuitive method of pacing production. Is easily extended to provide an efficiency goal for the plant floor (Actual Pieces / Target Pieces).

Learn more about Takt Time at Vorne.com

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)

What is Total Productive Maintenance?

TPM is a holistic approach to maintenance that focuses on proactive and preventative maintenance to maximize the operational time of equipment. TPM blurs the distinction between maintenance and production by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.

How does Total Productive Maintenance help?

TPM creates a shared responsibility for equipment that encourages greater involvement by plant floor workers. In the right environment, this can be very effective in improving productivity (increasing uptime, reducing cycle times, and eliminating defects).

Learn more about TPM at Vorne.com

Value Stream Mapping

What is Value Stream Mapping?

Value Stream Mapping is a tool used to visually map the flow of production. Shows the current and future state of processes in a way that highlights opportunities for improvement.

How does Value Stream Mapping help?

Value Stream Mapping exposes waste in the current processes and provides a roadmap for improvement through the future state.

Visual Factory

What is Visual Factory?

A Visual Factory uses visual indicators, displays, and controls throughout the manufacturing plant to improve the communication of information.

How does Visual Factory help?

Visual Factory makes the state and condition of manufacturing processes easily accessible and very clear – to everyone.

Learn more about the Visual Factory at Vorne.com


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