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The 6 Lean Principles

The 6 Lean Principles

  1. Value
  2. Value Stream
  3. Flow
  4. Pull
  5. Perfection
  6. Respect

The process of creating value without waste is done using the 6 Lean Principles.

The effectiveness of the 6 Lean Principles is proven in a broad spectrum of environments and business sectors: design, production, supply chain management, IT, finances, administrative processes, education and healthcare.


“Experienced leaders are mentors. They provide empowerment of the employees so they can solve their own problems. The 6 Lean Principles form the base.”

Principle 1: Value

the 6 lean principles

Value is defined by the customer. This could be an internal customer.

The external customer who pays for the service receives the value. The internal customers receive the output of a task or an activity and usually don’t pay anything. In both cases the customer defines what is of value.

Making the effort to decide what of value is and what waste is in a clear and precise way cannot be overestimated, because inefficiencies become  very clear using this method. You will experience the unexpected in discovering how much waste there is nowadays in your organization.


Principle 2: Value Stream


Decide which steps are needed for the process and then eliminate waste.

Clarify the end-to-end tasks, decisions and underlying streams that are needed to create value. During this process of value Stream Mapping (VSM):

  • Non value adding activities are identified and eliminated, for example controls, double entries of information et cetera;
  • All (temporarily) necessary, but non-value adding activities, are minimized, for example walking between two departments that are still on different floors.


Principle 3: Flow


Make sure there’s a continuous flow.

By eliminating waste, it becomes easier for the remaining activities to stream without interuptions and rework.

The 6 Lean Principles _4511302010In service organizations the product is information, rather than a physical item. Every task adds value when the amount of valuable information is increased and when the chances are reduced that the customer doesn’t get value.

Collecting addresses for a new construction project does add value at first. But it is important to make sure these addresses are right the first time, so they don't need to be corrected. So make sure there’s flow.


Principle 4: Pull


Let the customer decide when they want to receive value.

Instead of we are pushing our stocks to the customer. The car industry changed to pull system is long ago. Now it is time for service organisations to do the same.

When producing something, the ideal Pull principle is in place with the Just In Time system, where the delivery of parts and materials always go to the right place and at the right time.

For service providers this pull principle has two important meanings:

  1. The execution of a task is needed for a specific wish of an internal or external customer;
  2. The task must be executed at the moment the customer needs it.
  • Executing the task too early can result in overproduction, forgetfulness of employees or changing demands, so the surface becomes useless;
  • Overtime delivery can result in delay and destabilization of the next planned job.

Consult with the customer

Every owner of a task should directly talk to the internal customer to fully understand their needs and expectations and to coordinate the work and output, for example which information is needed for an order to be complete and which items need to be delivered.

This same consultation happens with the external customers.

Lean thinking with customers and suppliers

Not only suppliers, but also the customer should think Lean. And they do. So if you don’t, you are behind.

A customer who’s requesting services randomly is more difficult to give stable and predictable Lean outputs. Uncontrolled pull leads to chaos. An example is when the management asks at random moments for redefined or adjusted management information. So I asked the customer for its frequency of need for service. Stabilise the demand pattern together with the customers. Same techniques apply for suppliers. The whole chain will work together much better from that moment on.


Principle 5: Perfection


Strive for perfection in all processes

Worldwide competition is a merciless race without a finish. Constantly improving your service and processes is necessary. However, no organization can afford to improve everything on a regular, continuous basis.

In this respect, there’s a difference between the processes and the output of processes.

Improving the output for a customer

Improving of the output of work should be aimed at improving for the customer value. Otherwise, we create the waste of overproduction. For example delivering reports about work that was done that’s not of any value to the customer.

Improve processes on a continuous basis

Processes should be continuously improved, because competition will never cease to exist either. The organization should know the difference between perfecting the process and the service itself. This means:

  1. All imperfections in a work environment should be made visible for everybody;
  2. The biggest obstacles for flow should be eliminated first.

Quickly notice, do and act

Noticing problems in the organization at the moment they happen, helps making better decisions to repair things and to correct and prioritize improvements.

The sooner imperfections are noticed, the easier and cheaper they are to solve. If they aren’t noticed soon, they often grow into a bigger problem and then one needs to take even bigger steps to overcome it. Everyone in the process needs to have a first time right attitude. They correct their own work immediately and ring the bell when they need assistance.

Making the imperfections clearly visible helps to keep the continuity in the improvements. The organization creates an effective infrastructure to keep knowledge and learned lessons intact for repeatable education to improve every activity. We call these ‘visual management’. The workplace is organised in such a way that deviations very quickly become visible. Also we work with performance scoreboards and improvement boards which are centrally located in the workplace. Every day the team has a start-up standing around these boards. And discussing what you day will look like, how we can improve compared to yesterday, what workload and capacity we have today etc. So everyone is involved and motivated to contribute.


Principle 6: Respect for employees


6 Lean Principles _4511302010Give employees the respect they deserve

A Lean organization thrives from the idea that employees are the most important thing in the organization and based on this principle it adopts high performance methods.

In a Lean environment, employees are encouraged to identify problems and imperfections in an honest and open way. They can brainstorm without limitation about the basic causes and then take the appropriate measures. Like we always say: ‘it is better for an employee to say sorry once instead of employees asking for permission 10 times a day’. The power to the people!

The 6 Lean Principles are always the guide in every situation.

Effective solutions are created, based on a consensus and the vision where to go to. To make sure these problems won’t appear again. When there are issues, this is because of the system, not because of the people. In a professional organisation. You can only blame the process, the working rules, you agreed upon together and not to blame employees. The latter is only in exceptional cases when people do not perform for a long time and don’t adjust their behavior although they are coached enough to do so.

Experienced leaders lead and act as mentors. They empower employees to solve problems immediately.

This environment demands mutual respect and trust between the organization and its employees. It requires honest and open communication and a synergetic, co-working attitude and relationships of all those involved.


“Worldwide competition is a merciless race without a finish. Constantly improving your service and processes is necessary. This is possible with the 6 Lean Principles.”

Lean Enablers

The 6 Lean Principles, also known as the Lean Enablers, are:

  1. Respect your employees;
  2. Generate value defined by the customer;
  3. Define the value Stream and eliminate waste;
  4. Let the work run in streamlined processes (flow);
  5. Let customers determine the value that should be delivered: pull, instead of push;
  6. Strive for perfection in everything you do.


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