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Lean Manufacturing: For Waste-Free Management

Yves Lebrasseur
Lean Manufacturing: for waste-free management

Alongside lean human resource management, identifying waste is one of the key steps of Lean Manufacturing. It is my role to help managers develop this particular approach to increase the efficiency, productivity, and, ultimately, the performance of their business.

The best image I have to illustrate the lean approach is a pair of glasses. Basically, it’s about giving people - managers - the tools they need to have a better view of the operational reality that surrounds them.

Being able to spot elements that do not add value is a good habit for the health of the business, but it is not always easy or pleasant. Just like wearing glasses for the first time, it's uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it. And above all, once it becomes a matter of habit, we cannot do without them anymore.

I am not a vision specialist, but in my experiences consulting with businesses, I’ve learned that the difficulty with the Lean approach often has to do with operational farsightedness.

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A Lean approach "exam"

The approach always stems from a great interest of the operations manager, vice president or director, to identify opportunities for improvement. Who doesn't want to improve?

To do this, we must first know what we are looking for, and then learn to look at it from a distance, but especially from up close as well.

Here's how it generally goes:

  1. Waste theory
  2. Attempting it in the real world
  3. Focus on a long-term correction
Let's dive in.

Step 1: Waste theory

We start with a workshop with the front-line managers, i.e. team leaders and supervisors. During this first workshop, we take a look at the different types of waste, with examples suggested by the participants:

  • Transportation and travel
  • Movement and gestures
  • Waiting time
  • Overproduction
  • Inventory management
  • Extra-processing
  • Defects and errors

Lean Managements 7 types of waste

This is followed by a fun exercise where, as a team, everyone must identify waste in photos and/or videos taken in their workplace. People love this game – the competitive spirit does its work and participation is at its peak.

Participants excel in this exercise, and the glasses work.

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Step 2: Attempting it in the real world

Once the theory is mastered, I go to each manager’s workplace and let them identify the waste in "their own backyard".

This is where it often gets complicated. The manager who had 20/20 vision in the workshop, now experiences a sudden drop in visual acuity. He is no longer quick to recognize waste.

Classic example: an employee waiting for instructions before starting with a task.

The wait time is obvious. During the group activity, all participants easily recognized this kind of waste, but on the site, the manager does not see it.

When I question them or point it out to them, the answer is: "yes, well, no, umm... It’s because…"

Step 3: Focus on a long-term correction

To help managers detect this waste in their own environment, I work individually with each of them in order to help them see with a sharper focus.

This is where the real work begins: change management.

To do this, I accompany managers in their daily routines. I let them try to see the waste and I provide corrections in real-time. We then repeat the exercise. They have to get used to wearing these glasses. Their vision must be sharpened to "see" the waste.

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Transformed vision and management

Seeing the waste, or wearing the Lean glasses to adopt a more proactive management style, is therefore not so easy. This change in behavior requires professional support.

Another strong item will be a 4.0 management tool (DMS), which will facilitate the mechanics, the opportunity identification tour ritual, checklists, etc.

It isn’t easy getting used to wearing glasses for the first time, I know! They might pinch your nose, they might be a little uncomfortable. But, once we’re aware of the benefits, and feel well supported with the right tools, we don’t just get used to them – we can’t do without them. That is until we happen to need laser eye surgery, which is another story altogether!


Proaction International's experts can support you in your efforts to achieve operational excellence, such as the implementation of a Lean methodology.


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Yves Lebrasseur

Yves Lebrasseur

Senior Expert - Technical Processes Lecturer at the Engineering Faculty of the University of Sherbrooke, Yves mentors tomorrow's leaders as a supervisor of engineering management Master's degree projects and guides numerous organizations in optimizing their operations through Lean and Six Sigma processes.