• Jake Brewer

The Skinny on Lean Concepts

Updated: May 18, 2019


The terms Lean and Six Sigma are often paired together, but many are unaware that they are also practiced separately. There are two primary goals in Lean practices. Those goals are increased efficiencies and decreased cost, one most likely leading to the other, ideally.

Ford Assembly Line

In 1913, Henry Ford installed the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile. His innovation reduced the time it took to build a car from more than 12 hours to two hours and 30 minutes.

Gilbreth Inc.

In the early 1900s, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth collaborated on the development of motion study as an engineering and management technique.  From Frank Gilbreth’s start in the building industry, he observed that workers developed their own peculiar ways of working and that no two used the same method. In studying bricklayers, for instance, he noted that individuals did not always use the same motions in the course of their work. Some took longer while others were more generous in their use of mortar. These observations led him to seek one best way to perform tasks.  He measured each method by ways of time to complete and the cost of materials used. From his data, he achieved his goal in a measurable way. As a result, he increased the output of bricks from 1000 per to 2700 per day. 

Lillian Gilbreth was one of the first women to hold a Ph.D. She and Frank had 12 children and the book Cheaper by the Dozen is the story of their family life with their twelve children, and describe how they applied their interest in time and motion study to the organization and daily activities of such a large family.

Toyota Production System

Kiichiro Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno, and others at Toyota looked at the need to provide choices and flexibility that Ford didn’t offer in the 1930s while maintaining their level of efficiency. More intensely just after World War II, it occurred to them that a series of simple innovations might make it more possible to provide both continuities in process flow and a wide variety of product offerings. They, therefore, revisited Ford’s original thinking and invented the Toyota Production System.  This system shifted the focus of the manufacturing engineer from individual machines and their utilization, to the flow of the product through the total process. Toyota concluded that by right-sizing machines for the actual volume needed, introducing self-monitoring machines to ensure quality, lining the machines up in process sequence, pioneering quick setups so each machine could make small volumes of many part numbers, and having each process step notify the previous step of its current needs for materials, it would be possible to obtain low cost, high variety, high quality, and very rapid throughput times to respond to changing customer desires.

Just In Time (JIT)  

This is an evolution of the start of the Toyota Production System.  It is a methodology aimed primarily at reducing flow times within production as well as response times from suppliers and to customers. Originated in Japan, largely in the 1960s and 1970s and particularly at Toyota,  JIT migrated to the Western industry in the 1980s, where its features were put into effect in many manufacturing companies. Some benefits are reduced set up times, Improved warehouse flow of materials, scheduling and work hours consistent with demand and increased emphasis on supplier relationship.

Lean Manufacturing

The term “lean” was coined to describe Toyota’s business during the late 1980s by a research team headed by Jim Womack, Ph.D., at MIT. The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. In a nutshell, Lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

Lean is not just for manufacturing

A popular misconception is that lean is suited only for manufacturing. On the contrary, Lean applies in every business and every process. It is not a tactic or a cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. Businesses in all industries and services, including healthcare and governments, are using lean principles as the way they think and do.

Lean principles are abundantly applicable in IT operations as well. As IT continues to evolve and never stops, so must we continue to monitor our processes to ensure we continue to operate at maximum efficiency.

Reducing waste

As we analyze our processes for efficiency, we are seeking out sources of waste. Waste comes in many different forms, colors, and flavors. Because of that, we must always be adjusting our processes as our technology improves.


To help keep these sources memorable, we have a clever acronym to help. While reading each description, try to identify examples of waste first in everyday life, and next in overall operations:

Defects This is when the end result does not meet customer requirements.

Overproduction Making more than we need (extra code or functionality not in scope).

Waiting Periods of inactivity – often as a result of pending decisions or approvals.

Non-utilized people or equipment Idle people, tools, and materials. All of these affect the bottom line in either hard or soft dollars.

Transportation Unnecessary movement. This is often steps in a process that are inefficient. It could be ways of sending or accessing information that might be automated or updated. It might also be a literal example of the team walking to another building for a meeting, missing production time in-between.

Inventory Excess not required by the customer. Having too many of any item creates a need to store those items. Worse yet, is the outdating of those items, especially if the inventory is technology related.

Motion Extra steps in any process that may no longer be required. We can associate this with “That’s the way we’ve always done it” without analyzing if “that way” is still even needed. A natural aversion to change can foster the reluctance to consider such changes.

Extra Processing Unnecessary steps due to defects. Consider every time the development team has to circle back to correct a defect that was discovered from User Acceptance testing. They are actually coding that functionality twice.

IT Efficiency Consulting reduces waste

We at IT Efficiency Consulting are experts in development efficiencies. While working with the development team on a particular project, we are first analyzing their practices and methods. Next we are instilling new tools, practices, and concepts that the team can carry on to the next projects to come. From there, a new culture starts to evolve within the organization that benefits the efficiency of the company continuously.

When was the last time that the development processes were analyzed for optimum efficiency? Their processes should be evolving at the speed of technology. IT Efficiency Consulting can get the team to that next level. Contact us to see how we can help reduce waste in development operations.

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