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Lean Management Case Studies Library

By Chet Marchwinski

May 16, 2014

Learn how a variety of businesses and organizations used lean management principles to solve real business problems. We’ve arranged the examples in 16 categories to help you find the ones right for your environment.

Lean Management Examples from a Variety of Businesses

The following case studies of lean management principles in action show you how a variety of real businesses solved real business problems under diverse conditions.

We’ve arranged the stories in 16 categories to help you find the examples you need. There is some overlap. For instance, a “Lean Manufacturing” case study may also appear with “Privately Held Companies.”

Lean Manufacturing

  • Logistics, Supply Chain, and Warehousing
  • Lean Material Handling
  • Job Shops (Low-volume, High-mix Manufacturing); Tool and Die
  • Lean in Government
  • Lean Healthcare
  • Lean Accounting
  • Lean Construction
  • Lean in Office and Service Processes
  • Lean in Education

Problem Solving

Pull Systems

Culture Change

People Development

Privately Held Companies


Many of the executives who took part in these transformations are interviewed in LEI’s Senior Executive Series on Lean Leadership . After reading the case studies, be sure to get their personal perspectives on leading change. (Feel free to link to this page, but please respect the copyrights of LEI and journalists by not copying the articles.)

Are you doing something new or notable in the practice of lean management? Let us share what you learned with the lean community. For more information, contact LEI’s Director of Communications Chet Marchwinski at cmarchwinski at lean dot org

Thrustmaster Turns Around

Learn how Thrustmaster of Texas successfully adopted lean thinking and practices to make sustainable improvements in a short period of time, and how other manufacturers of highly engineered, low-volume products can follow their lead using the Lean Transformation Framework.

Lean + Circular Principals = a New True North for Manufacturer

SunPower’s lean journey resembled most others until it defined a new mission, a new True North by combining lean principals with those of the “circular economy” to launch what it is calling a CLean Transformation.

Sustain Your Lean Business System with a “Golden Triangle” After a medical device maker took a hit to margins to fight off global competition, it rebuilt them by lifting its lean operating system to a higher level and keeping it there with a “golden triangle” of sustainability.

Followup Story:

Manufacturing Balancing Act: Pull Versus ERP

In this follow-up to “Sustain Your Lean Business System with a ‘Golden Triangle,’” a case study about Phase 2 Medical Manufacturing, the company needs warehouse space to keep pace with sales growth spurred by the lean transformation. Instead, it expands a pull system by connecting the plan-for-every-part database that underpins one-piece flow production with ERP, typically associated with big batch production.

Cultivating a Lean Problem-Solving Culture at O.C. Tanner If you are in the “appreciation business”, you have to live it in your own workplace. For O.C. Tanner that meant a lean transformation had to show the company appreciated and wanted people’s problem-solving ideas. Here’s a report on that effort, including what worked and what didn’t.

Lean Partnership with Dealer Network Helps Vermeer Reduce End-to-End Inventory on Top Sellers

A lean transformation had taken heavy-equipment manufacturer Vermeer away from batch manufacturing, but batch ordering by dealers was delaying how quickly they got equipment like brush chippers. Learn how it  began converting its domestic industrial-line distribution network to lean replenishment, improving service to end customers and improving cash flow for Vermeer and its dealers.

Herman Miller’s Experiment in Excellence At Herman Miller, the lean management effort helps it build problem solvers as well as world-class office furniture. And as this case study shows, lean practices also helped it weather a brutal recession.

Build Your “House” of Production on a Stable Foundation Rigorous problem solving creates basic stability in a machining intensive facility.

A Journey to Value Streams: Reorganizing Into Five Groups Drives Lean Improvements and Customer Responsiveness An approach to creating a value -stream culture centered on autonomy, entrepreneurialism, and lean principles.

Change in Implementation Approach Opens the Door at EMCO to Greater Gains in Less Time A relatively quick, intensive project accelerates the rate of improvement and creates a showcase facility for spreading lean concepts.

Creating the Course and Tools for a Lean Accounting System A lean accounting implementation fills the frustrating disconnect between shop-floor improvements and financial statements.

For Athletic Shoe Company, the Soul of Lean Management Is Problem Solving After taking a lean tools approach to change, management re-organized the transformation around problem solving and process improvement to create a culture that engaged people while boosting performance.

Knife Company Hones Competitiveness by Bucking the Status Quo An iconic family-owned company turns to lean manufacturing to reduce costs by at least 30% to keep its U.S. operations open.

Lean Transformation Lives and Dies with Tools and Dies After a failed first try at just-in-time production , a company transforms tool maintenance, design, and fabrication to create a solid foundation for a second attempt.

Seasoned Lean Effort Avoids “Flavor-of-the-Month” Pitfall A look at how one company’s approach to what new tools it introduced, in what order, and how it prevented each new technique from being viewed as a “flavor of the month” fad.

Shifting to Value-Stream Managers: a Shop-Floor Revolution Leads to a Revolution in Plant Organization

Two years into a lean transformation, the low-hanging fruit has been plucked and progress has started to slow. Read how a Thomas & Betts plant recharged the transformation and reached higher levels of performance by using value-stream managers to span functional walls.

Using Plan-Do-Check-Act as a Strategy and Tactic for Helping Suppliers Improve

At Medtronic’s Neuromodulation business unit, the plan-do-check-act cycle is used on a strategic level to guide overall strategy for selecting and developing key suppliers as well as on a tactical level for guiding lean transformations at supplier facilities.

back to top

Logistics, Supply Chain, and Warehousing How a Retailer’s Distribution Center Exemplifies the Lean Precept “Respect for People,” and Reaps the Benefits

To make sure training engaged and resonated with people after previous attempts at a lean transformation faltered, LifeWay matched lean management tools and principles to its Bible-based culture and language.

Lean management case study series: Lean in Distribution: Go to Where the Action Is!

Starting with daily management walkabouts and standard work , this distributor had laid the groundwork for steady gains for years to come, just two years after its first kaizen workshop .

Putting Lean Principles in the Warehouse

Executives at Menlo Worldwide Logistics saw an opportunity to leapfrog the competition by embracing lean in its outsourced warehousing and receiving operations.

Lean Thinking Therapy Spreads Beyond the Shop

A company expands the lean transformation from the shop floor to international distribution, domestic shipping, and product development.

Sell One, Buy One, Make One: Transforming from Conventional to Lean Distribution

Large inventories to cover fluctuations in demand once characterized Toyota’s service parts distribution system — but no more. Here’s how one DC made the switch.

Material Handling

Following Four Steps to a Lean Material-Handling System Leads to a Leap in Performance

Creating the critical Plan for Every Part was one step in a methodical four-step implementation process to replace a traditional material-handling system.

Low-volume, High-mix Manufacturing; Tool and Die

The Backbone of Lean in the Back Shops

Sikorsky managers apply the lean concept of “every part, every interval” (EPEI) to level the mix in demand and create flow through a key manufacturing cell .

Landscape Forms Cultivates Lean to Fuel Growth Goals

With single-item orders 80% of the time, a low-volume, high-mix manufacturer decided single-piece flow cells were the best way decided the best way to add new products without having to constantly reconfigure production.

Lean Transformation Lives and Dies with Tools and Dies

After a failed first try at just-in-time production, a company transforms tool maintenance, design, and fabrication to create a solid foundation for a second attempt.

Canada Post Puts Its Stamp on a Lean Transformation

The “ inventory ” of mail already is paid for, so moving it faster doesn’t improve cash flow as in lean manufacturing. But Canada Post discovered that traditional batch-and-queue postal operations could benefit from lean principles.

Lean Thinking in Government: The State of Iowa

This story examines a kaizen event at a veterans home and more broadly at the lean effort in Iowa government.

Lean Thinking Helps City of Chula Vista with Budget Crunch

Goodrich Aerostructures’ Chula Vista plant introduces city government to lean thinking and practices so in order to maintain municipal services without resorting to further cuts in the workforce.

Using Lean Thinking to Reinvent City Government

Grand Rapids, MI, turns to lean principles to consolidate operations, eliminate wasted time and effort, and streamline to improve productivity while providing the quality of service that residents want.

Transforming Healthcare: What Matters Most? How the Cleveland Clinic Is Cultivating a Problem-Solving Mindset and Building a Culture of Improvement

The Cleveland Clinic reinvents its continuous improvement program to instill a problem-solving mindset and the skillset to solve everyday problems among the clinic’s thousands of caregivers.

View from the Hospital Floor: How to Build a Culture of Improvement One Unit at a Time

In order to do more and improve faster, the Cleveland Clinic is rolling out a methodology for building a “culture of improvement” across the 48,000-employee hospital system as this followup to the above story shows. Here’s how it works according to the people making the changes.

Dentist Drills Down to the Root Causes of Office Waste

Dentistry is a job shop that Dr. Sami Bahri is out to improve fundamentally for the benefit of patients through the application of lean principles.

Lean management case study series: Pediatric Hospital in Tough Market Pegs Growth to Lean Process Improvement

Lean improvement projects at Akron Children’s Hospital have saved millions of dollars, increased utilization of expensive assets, and reduced wait times for patients and their families.

Lean Design and Construction Project an Extension of Lean Commitment at Akron Children’s Hospital

Input from nurses, doctors, therapists, technicians, and patient parents heavily influenced design decisions..

“Pulling” Lean Through a Hospital

A thoughtful rollout of lean principles in the ER and eye-opening results created a “pull” for lean from other departments.

Best in Healthcare Getting Better with Lean

Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, stresses to doctors that the lean effort is aimed not at changing the moment of care, the touch moment between doctor and patient, but the 95% of the time when the patient is not in the doctor’s office

Fighting Cancer with Linear Accelerators and Accelerated Processes

Cross-functional team design and implement a lean process to dramatically increase the number of patients with brain and bone metastases receiving consultation, simulation, and first treatment on the same day without workarounds or expediting.

Massachusetts General Looks to Lean

A proton therapy treatment center, for many adults and children the best hope of beating cancer, applies lean principles to increase capacity.

New Facility, New Flow, and New Levels of Patient Care: The wait is over for patients at the Clearview Cancer Institute in Alabama

Physicians and staff have tirelessly reengineer processes and patient flow to eliminate as much waiting and waste as possible.

The Anatomy of Innovation

At a hospital in Pittsburgh, the emerging vision for the “hospital of the future” is described as giving the right patient, the right care, at the right time, in the right way, all the time.

Creating the Course and Tools for a Lean Accounting System

A lean accounting implementation fills the frustrating disconnect between shop-floor improvements and the financial statement.

Knife Company Hones Competitiveness by Bucking the Status Quo

An iconic family-owned company turns to lean manufacturing to reduce costs by at least 30% to keep its U.S. operations open.

Office and Service Processes

The “inventory” of mail already is paid for, so moving it faster doesn’t improve cash flow as in lean manufacturing. But Canada Post discovered that traditional batch-and-queue postal operations could benefit from lean principles.

Lean Landscapers

At an Atlanta landscaping company, lean practices are making inroads into a service industry in unusual yet fundamental ways.

LSG Sky Chefs Caters to New Market Realities

Business at airline caterer LSG Sky Chefs dropped 30% when airlines cut flights after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Sky Chefs responded with a rapid launch of a lean initiative.

leveraging Lean to Get the Oil Out

Aera Energy LLC, a California oil and gas company,  relies on lean principles to improve key processes, including drilling new wells, repairing existing ones, and maximizing the number of barrels of crude pumped each day.

Columbus Public Schools Use Process Thinking to Improve Academic Achievement.

Columbus, OH, public schools, experiment with lean tools and process thinking to remove wasteful activities that don’t help them help students learn.

Lean Inroads into Alabama Academia

How the University of Alabama in Huntsville integrated lean concepts throughout its industrial engineering curriculum.

Linking Lean Thinking to the Classroom

Value-stream mapping is one of many activities included in the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies (Ford PAS), an academic program designed to link high-school classroom learning to the skills needed in college and business.

Build Your “House” of Production on a Stable Foundation

Rigorous problem solving creates basic stability in a machining intensive facility.

For Athletic Shoe Company, the Soul of Lean Management Is Problem Solving

After talking a lean tools approach to change, management re-organized the transformation around problem solving and process improvement to create a culture that engaged people while boosting performance.

Toothbrush Plant Reverses Decay in Competitiveness

The rapid introduction of a lean system, beginning with just-in-time production and pull, helps a highly automated Midwest plant fight off overseas competition by reducing lead times and inventory while augmenting the plant’s advantage in service.

A Journey to Value Streams: Reorganizing Into Five Groups Drives Lean Improvements and Customer Responsiveness

An approach to creating a value-stream culture centered on autonomy, entrepreneurialism, and lean principles.

Making Lean Leaders — Ariens internship program develops lean and leadership skills

Besides making snow-blowers, mowers, and string trimmers, Ariens Co., of Brillion, WI, makes lean leaders.

Starting with daily management walkabouts and standard work, this 84-year-old, family-owned distributor laid the groundwork for steady gains for years to come, just two years after its first kaizen workshop.

Sustain Your Lean Business System with a “Golden Triangle”

After a medical device maker took a hit to margins to fight off global competition, it rebuilt them by lifting its lean operating system to a higher level and keeping it there with a “golden triangle” of sustainability. You’ll recognize two elements of the triangle right away: visual control and standardized work . The third, accountability management or a kamishibai system, is probably less well known but just as critical.

Cultivating a Lean Problem-Solving Culture at O.C. Tanner

If you are in the “appreciation business”, you have to live it in your own workplace. For O.C. Tanner that meant a lean transformation had to show the company appreciated and wanted people’s problem-solving ideas. Here’s a report on that effort, including what worked and what didn’t.

Lean Thinking in Aircraft Repair and Maintenance Takes Wing at FedEx Express

A major check that used to take 32,715 man-hours was cut to 21,535 hours in six months. That translated into a $2 million savings, which dovetailed with the company’s emphasis on reducing costs during the recession.


Input from nurses, doctors, therapists, technicians, and patient parents heavily influenced design decisions—from incorporating emergency room hallways that protect the privacy of abused children to the number of electrical outlets in each neonatal intensive care room.

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About Chet Marchwinski

Chet has been a humble, unwashed scribe of the lean continuous improvement movement since books by Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo first hit North America in the 1980s. At LEI, he contributes to content creation, marketing, public relations, and social media. Previously, he also wrote case studies on lean management implementations in…

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lean project case study

Lean Six Sigma Project Examples | 17 Full Case Studies

Ready to begin your first Lean Six Sigma project? Looking for examples for inspiration or reference to get you started? Here are some project storyboards from different industries and from home. Remember, Lean Six Sigma can help you with more than just work!

  • Reducing Underwriting Resubmits by Over 20%  


  • A Call to Change: Pioneering Lean Six Sigma at Los Angeles County  
  • Can Lean Six Sigma Be Applied in County Government?  
  • How the City of San Antonio Increased Payments for Street Maintenance Using Lean Six Sigma  
  • Reducing Bid Tab Creation Cycle Time by 22%  
  • Reducing Cycle Time for Natural Disaster Response by 50%  


  • Increasing First Run Parts From 60% to 90% With Lean Six Sigma  
  • Reducing Bent/Scratched/Damaged (BSD) Scrap for Building Envelopes  
  • Reducing Lead Time in Customer Replacement Part Orders by 41%  
  • Reducing Learning Curve Ramp for Temp Employees by 2 Weeks  
  • Reducing Purchase Order Lead Time by 33% Using Lean Six Sigma  
  • Herding Cats Using Lean Six Sigma: How to Plan for and Manage the Chaos of Parallel Processes  
  • Lean Six Sigma Increases Daily Meat Production by 25%  
  • Lean Six Sigma Helps Feed People In Need 45% Faster  
  • Accelerating Lean Productivity With Immersive Collaboration  
  • Reducing Incorrect Router Installations by 60% for Call One  
  • Reducing Software Bug Fix Lead Time From 25 to 15 Days  

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The Definitive Guide to Lean Project Management

By Kate Eby | June 23, 2017

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Lean is an often-used adjective in business these days, but there’s some confusion over its exact definition. In essence, the goal of Lean is to maximize value while minimizing waste. In other words, creating more value for the customer with fewer resources. Lean was born on the factory floor, so many people think of it as a manufacturing technique. However, that’s a misconception because every process, whether in production or services, can benefit from a Lean approach. Today, Lean is finding a home in every industry from finance to healthcare.    In this article, we will demystify Lean – where it came from, how to apply it in project management today, and the management methodologies it gave birth to including Six Sigma, the Deming Cycle, and Kanban. You’ll find useful templates, worksheets, and checklists along with case studies and project examples to help guide you through your implementation of Lean.

The Origins of Lean Project Management

The story of Lean begins in post-World War II. Japan’s devastation during the war led to scarce equipment and resources, and manufacturers had to invent ways to thrive in a new economic environment. The United States sent consultants to Japan to help the country’s manufacturers rebuild their production capabilities. One of these experts was W. Edwards Deming, a management consultant whose ideas about quality control found more receptive audiences in Japan than they had in the United States.    It was from these consultants, as well as from visits to Ford and American supermarket chains, that Japanese manufacturers, and Toyota in particular, refined the concept of Just in Time (JIT) . This technique aims to increase efficiency and decrease the amount of stocked inventory by moving materials into position just before they are needed for the next stage of the production process. JIT is not used solely in manufacturing - the technique applies in any situation where a supplier delivers materials using a timeline determined by customer demand. The success of JIT depends on the ability to synchronize and coordinate steps of the manufacturing process so that materials and products are where they need to be, when they need to be there.   In the 1950s, JIT, in combination with the Japanese manufacturing method of Jidoka or autonomation (automation with a human touch on an exceptions basis), would become the twin foundations of the Toyota Production System (TPS). Many consider Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno the father of TPS and Lean. TPS was geared towards meeting the needs of the Japanese markets at the time, which called for smaller numbers of several different vehicle types. Its core principle was the systematic removal of waste in an ongoing effort to improve efficiency.   A couple of decades later, after the 1973 Arab oil embargo caused energy crises in the United States, Japan, Canada, UK, and the Netherlands, other Japanese companies began to study and imitate TPS. By now, the benefits of TPS were clear. It brought: 

  • Reduced lead times
  • Lower inventories
  • Decreased costs
  • Improved productivity
  • Higher profit margins
  • Increased product quality
  • Greater customer satisfaction

The concepts of Muda, Muri, and Mura (three types of waste that are known as the 3M) are central to the idea of eliminating waste. Muda refers to activities that consume resources without increasing the end value delivered to the customer. Muri refers to practices that involve overusing equipment or overworking employees beyond reasonable or practical limits - both of which increase costs and decrease efficiency and productivity in the long run. Mura describes operational “unevenness,” which can be thought of as the irregular performance of work that increases costs and possibly decreases efficiency over time.

Project Management Guide

Your one-stop shop for everything project management

the 101 guide to project management

Ready to get more out of your project management efforts? Visit our comprehensive project management guide for tips, best practices, and free resources to manage your work more effectively.

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Lean Migrates From Japan to the West

In the 1980s, Western manufacturers discovered that Japanese companies were outperforming them. They tried emulating TPS, employing it under such names as World Class Manufacturing, Stockless Production, and Continuous Flow Manufacturing. Manufacturers also began to implement some of the Lean manufacturing techniques, though in isolation from the overarching business management philosophy.    In 1988, a quality-engineer-turned-MBA-student named John Krafcik wrote an article that began a paradigm shift in American manufacturing. Krafcik, who had worked at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a car manufacturing company jointly owned by GM and Toyota, published Triumph of the Lean Production System based on his Master’s thesis at MIT. Scholars at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program continued his research into Lean production.   In 1990, three scholars, James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones, and Daniel Roos, released an international bestseller, The Machine that Changed the World , that played a hugely important role in disseminating the concept of Lean manufacturing in the West. In that book and Lean Thinking , the principles of Lean were introduced in a way that allowed Western manufacturers to understand the full extent of its benefits.

Lean Thinking: The Spread of Lean’s Influence

The principles of Lean manufacturing, now more broadly referred to as Lean thinking , have since been adopted outside of traditional manufacturing in fields like construction, healthcare, financial services, government, project management, and knowledge work. Using Lean for knowledge work has been met with some doubt and resistance by people who argue that because the field is essentially non-replicable and non-repetitive, it is not suited to standardization. Bradley Staats and David M. Upton argue in Harvard Business Review , however, that all companies specializing in knowledge work will perform non-knowledge-based activities that are suited to waste reduction efforts. Furthermore, you can even streamline sequences of core knowledge-based activities to achieve greater efficiencies.    For example, take Kanban , a Toyota practice that uses visual aids (such as signs, cards, or sticky notes) to match inventory with demand throughout the production life cycle. This makes process inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and other types of waste apparent. Kanban has been successfully used in software development, by visualizing the software development process as a production chain, identifying positions and situations that cause inefficiency in the production chain, and implementing solutions to increase the overall efficiency of the production chain.   Lean has had widespread influence. For example, the Lean Aerospace Initiative was a 1992 US Air Force-funded pilot project at MIT that examined the use of Lean techniques in manufacturing aerospace products. The project was renamed the Lean Advancement Initiative until it disbanded in 2012.     Healthcare, financial services, education, retail, construction, and other fields currently incorporate the principles of Lean based on the TPS. Because Lean is a paradigm that governs everything an organization does, rather than a single tactic or initiative aimed at a narrow outcome, it can be applied to a range of industry and organization-types.

Ultimately, Lean transformations today focus on shifting an organization’s thinking so that it optimizes its purpose (providing greater value to the customer), process (maximizing workflow productivity) and people (how the team can best engage in continual improvement).

Applying Lean to Project Management

A Project Management Institute conference paper by Aziz Moujib describes Lean project management as the application of Lean manufacturing principles to the project management process. This is in an effort to achieve the same goal: maximizing value while minimizing waste. It draws from a set of five core principles identified in the book Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation , which was written by two of the three MIT authors who wrote The M achine that Changed the World .    The concept of the value stream is central to Lean project management. This is the sequence of activities involved in delivering a project with an agreed-upon value (both the inputs and outputs). Value stream mapping, sometimes called business process mapping , an effort to understand how value and waste are created during the project lifecycle with the goal of optimizing the value stream. In doing so, Lean project management can help achieve a number of goals including:

  • Improving the quality of the final product
  • Completing the project on time, and reducing the time to completion
  • Completing the project on budget and meeting project performance requirements
  • Eliminating waste
  • Reducing costs
  • Adding value

Standardization is another critical aspect of Lean project management. Since most projects are novel (to some extent), standardizing tasks can both improve project performance in the short term and help improve efficiencies for projects with similar tasks in the long term. Improvement of tasks in the project lifecycle tends to be incremental, leading to gradual progress towards goals.

The Five Core Principles of Lean Thinking

The adoption of Lean thinking owes much to how it was presented to James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones, the authors of The Machine that Changed the World and Lean Thinking . Womack and Jones defined five core principles of Lean thinking:   Understand Value: The first principle stresses understanding a product’s (or service’s) value in the eyes of the customer. The amount a customer is willing to pay for a product or service is directly related to how much they value it, so understanding the value of a product is the first step towards effective pricing and Lean management. Toyota, for example, adopted a top-down pricing approach defined by how much customers were willing to pay for a product with a certain value, and then focused on eliminating waste from their manufacturing processes in order to meet this price.   Map the Value Stream: The value stream is the complete sequence of activities involved in delivering an end-product with an agreed-upon value, and mapping the value stream means using visualization techniques such as Kanban , flowcharts, or spaghetti diagrams to represent this flow.  Toyota pioneered the technique of value stream mapping, which allows business managers and strategists to identify parts of the value stream where waste occurs, and optimize the value stream to reduce waste. A spaghetti diagram is a great starting point because it visually documents the actual flow of product, paper, and people in a workplace or project workflow. Use the template for a spaghetti diagram below to make your own. 

lean project case study

Download Spaghetti Map Template

Excel  | PDF

Experts recommend creating a value stream map with pencil and paper and documenting all the process steps that your product goes through, from supplier to your organization and finally to the customer. 

lean project case study

Ensure that the Value Stream Flows: The ultimate goal of value stream mapping is the preservation and optimization of flow — the rate and “evenness” with which items and information proceed through the value stream. This is the principle of JIT manufacturing in action: because excess, early, or unexpected inventory creates waste, synchronization is the key to optimizing flow. Identifying and eliminating work that adds no value (either directly or indirectly) can also improve the flow of a value stream.   Employ a Pull Approach: Traditional manufacturing employed a push approach, where production targets are set based on an internally-determined schedule and production quota. This approach not very responsive to customer demand, and commonly led to production exceeding or failing to meet demand. In the first case, you would have to store the surplus product; in the second, you would have to increase the rate of production, possibly beyond optimum efficiency levels, to meet the demand. Either way, this approach creates a lot of unnecessary waste.   By contrast, a pull approach allows customer demand to determine production, so that nothing is created unless a customer asks for it. Done correctly, this eliminates waste caused by inventory costs and overwork. A pull approach is, however, difficult to implement effectively because it relies on accurate, effective assessment of the market and the ability to vary production quickly and on demand. Delivery must be speedy to ensure that customer demand still exists by the time the end-product is ready. Finally, a pull approach also requires highly effective coordination of information throughout the value stream, so that everyone is aware of production requirements and inefficiencies don’t arise because of confusion and mismatched expectations.   Pursue Continuous Improvement: At its heart, Lean management is an ongoing, incremental process. A waste-free system may be practically unattainable, but as a goal, it drives a need for constant improvement. The Japanese word Kaizen is often used to describe this practice in Lean. With Kaizen, the value stream is continually optimized, and defective processes are consistently improved or replaced in an effort to improve quality.    Other key principles in Lean software development include amplifying learning, deciding as late as possible, delivering as fast as possible, and empowering the team.

Lean Thinkers Obsess About Waste

As we’ve discussed, eliminating waste is the central focus of Lean. Waste in manufacturing or construction is easy to visualize: unused resources, unnecessary effort, perhaps refuse or byproducts. For work that doesn’t involve a physical end-product, however, waste can be a little harder to visualize. What sort of waste would you imagine from, say, a software development project?   As it turns out, the waste concept in Lean thinking stretches far beyond physical waste. Lean product development expert Ron Mascitelli describes waste as “anything the customer would not agree to pay for,” and Lean software developers Mary and Tom Poppendieck say waste is “anything that does not add customer value.”   TPS and traditional manufacturing identify seven types of waste (or muda in Japanese). Though these waste types were created with physical end-product manufacturing in mind, they translate well to non-physical projects, too. Let’s look at the seven types of waste, and show how they can be interpreted outside of traditional manufacturing.

Seven Areas of Waste in Lean

7 muda or 7 wastes Lean Six Sigma

Overproduction: Used traditionally to refer to waste created by push manufacturing, this category covers surplus production and large inventories. Overproduction in software projects also refers to creating a product before establishing the demand for it. Overproduction may also refer to the mistake of providing functions, features, or services that the customer is not willing to pay for, which means that some of the work done on the project is unnecessary or redundant.   Waiting: This term traditionally referred to the time between a product being ready to move to the next stage in a production cycle and the product actually being moved to the next stage. In manufacturing, waiting occurs because of bottlenecked processes; in soft project management you can extend that definition to include the time that information required to proceed to the next stage is unavailable.   Transportation: This refers to the cost incurred and time spent physically moving a product from one place to another, especially as it is being produced. The potential costs of transportation extend beyond the time and money expended in the transportation itself, as transportation also raises the risks of damaging products. Inefficiency increases when production processes require goods to unnecessarily travel more around factories. Transportation waste is less of a problem in service projects, where communication is mostly digital and instantaneous. But inefficient paper trails and communication failures such as power outages or IT downtime are still problematic.   Over-processing: In manufacturing, over-processing refers to doing work that is not needed. This could be painting areas that won’t be seen or tolerances that are tighter than required. This imposes costs related to labor, materials, and equipment wear. In service projects, over-processing takes the form of convoluted, redundant hierarchies and levels of approval, as well as the software development scenario of creating more iterations of a software product than actually needed to realize the value of the product.   Inventory: In manufacturing, a push approach may result in excess inventory, which raises transportation-related waste and can consume usable space. Inventory can also prevent the identification of problems with the workflow. For service projects, inventory costs tend to be mitigated, but the excessive stockpiling of information and difficulty in retrieving information when needed are analogous.    Motion: Motion-related wastes occur - in manufacturing, hard projects, and soft projects - when workers have to move too much to perform their tasks economically. Again, this is less of a problem with knowledge work, when you can quickly pull the required digital resources. Non-digital resources, however, can constitute a substantial proportion of resources used even in soft projects, and inaccessibility causes wasted motion.   Defects: The problem of defects is similar for all types of work, and entails reworking and using more resources than should have been necessary. The difference lies in how defects originate. In manufacturing, defects are typically caused by faulty equipment or operator errors, while in knowledge work they stem from poor design or from inaccurate estimation.   The Lean Six Sigma methodology also refers to an eighth waste : underutilized skills or brainpower. This type of waste is primarily associated with knowledge work and refers to the waste that occurs when not tapping into a worker’s full mental potential. This can occur when companies hire overqualified employees or place workers in positions where they can’t fully exercise their abilities.

How Lean Can Prevent Fatal Project Mistakes

Lean principles and the recognition of waste can help project managers avoid, mitigate, or control situations that might otherwise lead to project failure. Here’s a list of common project pitfalls that Lean thinking can help avoid:   Failing to Establish Customer Value: Not understanding what a customer values in your project can cause you to misprice the project, and waste work and resources. When you understand the value your undertaking offers customers, you can more clearly establish project requirements, price the project according to what a customer is willing to pay, and revise work streams to meet this target price.   Scope Creep: Scope creep occurs when the value of a project is increased (usually due to customer requests), but corresponding changes in budgeting and pricing don’t account for the increased value. You can avoid this problem by understanding and reevaluating value to the customer when scope changes occur, and ensuring that increased value is accompanied by a change in pricing.   Failing to Define the Value Stream: Value stream mapping is an excellent way to see how project activities create value, and is vital for trimming activities that don’t create value for the project. If you do not map or define the value stream with an eye to optimizing it, non-value-creating activities may continue to strain the project budget and extend the project schedule.   Lack of Stakeholder Commitment: In a perfect world, projects would always finish on time and never exceed planned cost. In reality, most projects suffer due to cost and schedule overruns, so having the stakeholder’s full backing is vital. A stakeholder who is not fully committed to the project may be less likely to extend support when a project needs to dip into its contingency reserves or request emergency funds, thus drastically exacerbating the waste creation problem. Learn more about securing and maintaining support from stakeholders in The Definitive Guide to Stakeholder Management .   Lack of a Communication Plan: An effective communication plan streamlines the flow of information between a project’s stakeholders. Without effective, timely communication, projects run the risk of wasting time and resources on time-consuming approvals, delayed progress, and value mismatches.

Three Popular Lean Project Methodologies

Now that we understand the principles of Lean thinking, we can look at how three of the main Lean methodologies—the Deming Cycle, Six Sigma, and Kanban—approach project management. They all follow a disciplined approach to project management, stress optimization of the value stream, and map the value stream in its current state. After identifying inefficiencies and waste and making modifications, a map of the value stream’s future state lays out the reengineered, optimized value stream with an improved flow. The future state can be thought of as an interim stage between the value stream as it currently exists and a hypothetical, ideal value stream. As such, value stream mapping is an ongoing process, and new measures to improve the value stream are regularly designed and implemented.    At a more granular level, each of the processes that constitute the value stream are made up of a sequence of steps; you use metrics to assess the performance of these sequences. Applying Lean management principles within value stream processes can improve performance on these metrics on a micro scale and reduce waste on a macro scale.   Remember that, whichever methodology you use, successful Lean projects will all seek to continually improve flow through the value stream. To do this, they streamline the flow of information, examine the value stream and its constituent processes for redundancies, and aim to simplify and standardize to reduce waste. For development projects, they may adopt a lifecycle model that uses concurrent processing in an effort to mitigate waste caused by bottlenecks.   A Lean project will also adopt a pull (rather than a push) approach. This means that the customer recognizes the demand for the project before the project gets underway, and the project is completed in response to this demand. Since Lean thinking is such an overarching concept, an organization that embraces Lean management principles will usually have been successful building a culture of Lean thinking among its employees. Moreover, Lean management allocates decision-making responsibilities throughout the company hierarchy to minimize waste caused by unnecessary lengthy approvals and bureaucracy. Often, this means trusting lower-level employees and empowering them to make decisions for which they are qualified, without engaging in a wasteful review-and-approval process. 

The Deming Cycle: A Method for Ongoing Quality Improvement

The Deming Cycle, also known as A3 problem solving because it was traditionally done on sheets of A3 paper , takes its name from W. Edwards Deming, the management consultant who helped Japan rebuild their manufacturing capabilities after World War II. Deming, who is sometimes referred to as “the father of quality control,” created the Deming Cycle to facilitate the constant improvement of business processes. The Deming Cycle is also known as the PDCA Cycle or PDSA Cycle (for Plan, Do, Check or Study, and Act).   Planning entails conceptualizing and designing a plan to improve a process. Doing is enacting the plan and testing its results using performance metrics. Checking or Studying involves determining whether the improvement plan was successful, and Acting is the permanent implementation of the plan to improve the business process.    There’s some debate among quality gurus about whether PDCA and PDSA are the same thing, but generally any distinction is considered too minor for the average practitioner to worry about.    The Deming Cycle methodology is geared towards addressing process-related problems with a single — or at least a primary — underlying cause. This cause is called the root cause, and the team in charge of improving the process will design one or more possible solutions to address this root cause.    You can use this template to conduct your own root cause analysis.

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Practitioners also identify the current situation, or current state of the process, to determine how to best address the root cause and to identify how to change the process to target the root cause. Once you identify and target the root cause, the team will prepare a problem statement that lays out what they are trying to achieve, and establishes the metric to measure the solutions. These solutions are evaluated during the Doing and Checking phases. After conducting a cost benefit analysis to determine the optimum solution, the team recommends a plan of action to the decision-maker.    To conduct your own A3 analysis, use this report template.

A3 Template

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The Deming Cycle: Project Example in Education

The American Society for Quality cites as a Deming Cycle project example the Pearl River NY school district , which uses the technique for curriculum and instruction design.   The school district’s planning involves the analysis of student needs to identify gaps or areas for improvement in instruction. Doing is a two-step process that involves first building a curriculum that both adheres to state and national standards and to the students’ own needs, and then actually providing the instruction. Checking involves the use of school assessments to evaluate student performance with the new mode of instruction. Finally, Acting is the implementation of curricula and instructional methods that successfully serve the students’ needs.    “Throughout the school year, if assessments show students are not learning as expected, mid-course corrections are made such as re-instruction, changing teaching methods and more direct teacher mentoring. Assessment data become input for the next step in the cycle,” the case study notes.

Six Sigma: Data-Driven Method for Eliminating Defects

Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology that focuses on eliminating defects and minimizing variation in process outcome. It’s heavily data-driven. The name Six Sigma is a statistical reference to having six standard deviations fall between the process mean and the nearest specification limit, which effectively results in an error rate of 3.4 defects per million products or process outcomes. As such, Six Sigma’s primary goal is optimizing the consistency and precision of a process. You can read a complete guide to Six Sigma here .    Six Sigma was developed by engineers at Motorola in the mid-1980s, and Motorola later trademarked the name. The technique became a cornerstone of General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s approach in the 1990s. It’s important to note that while Six Sigma and Lean are not the same, the management philosophy and the methodology complement each other very well. Lean alters processes to remove waste, and Six Sigma alters processes to improve the quality and consistency of output. As such, they both play important roles in process reengineering. The Six Sigma methodology pursues process improvement through Six Sigma improvement projects, which adopt one of the Sig Sigma sub-methodologies. We’ll discuss two of these sub-methodologies: DMAIC and DMEDI.   DMAIC: This acronym (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) is used in Six Sigma projects that aim to revamp or improve an existing business process. The define phase involves defining the scope of the problem to be examined, establishing customer requirements, and setting goals for the project. Measurement is the evaluation of the process’s current state through data collection. Analysis is the process of examining the data collected to identify the root cause. Improvement involves the use of process-improvement techniques to optimize the process, thus moving it to its future state. Finally, control involves monitoring the new, future-state process to ensure quality of output. You may repeat DMAIC until your reach the desired level of quality consistency.

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DMEDI: This acronym for (Define, Measure, Explore, Develop, Implement) is used in Six Sigma projects that aim to design a new process. It’s less data-driven and more creative than DMAIC. The define phase in DMEDI is similar to that in DMAIC: defining the process to be designed and the goals for the new process. Measurement is the identification of customers and their requirements. Exploration is the process of examining alternative process designs to evaluate which will best serve customer requirements. Development is the actual production of the design that is considered optimum for meeting consumer requirements. And lastly, implementation involves pilot-testing the new process to ensure that its output does indeed meet customer requirements.   Deciding whether to use DMAIC or DMEDI really depends on evaluating the state of a process, if it exists at all. Conventional thinking says that DMAIC is used to improve an existing process, and DMEDI to establish a new process. In some cases, however, an existing process might be so full of problems and root causes that it’s easier to design a new process than to try and improve the existing one. If this is the case, DMEDI may be a better choice than DMAIC.   Six Sigma uses a martial-art-style belt system to indicate levels of certification. The belts, in order of increasing expertise, are: White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt. Black Belts and Master Black Belts lead Six Sigma problem-solving projects and train others seeking Six Sigma certification . Learn more on Six Sigma certification here.

Lean Six Sigma: Combining Focuses on Waste, Quality

 Lean Six Sigma is a process-improvement methodology that marries the waste-reduction principles of Lean with the quality-improvement efforts of Six Sigma. Performance management practitioner Arun Hariharan explains that you can classify Lean Six Sigma projects into three broad categories:

  • Quality improvement projects rely primarily on Six Sigma methods to improve the quality of a process output. 
  • Revenue enhancing projects rely equally on Six Sigma and Lean to improve quality, reduce waste (thus increasing speed), and thus to increase company revenues.
  • Cost savings projects rely primarily on Lean principles to cut waste from a project, making it faster, more efficient, and thus cheaper.

Six Sigma: Project Example from Medical Manufacturing

Perhaps the most iconic Six Sigma project is one conducted at Motorola in the late 1980s, when Motorola engineers who wanted increased granularity in quality measurement switched from measuring defects per thousand opportunities to defects per million opportunities. This change in how to discuss and perceive quality would eventually lead to more than $16 billion in savings for the company via increased precision and conformance to quality requirements. Since then, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma methods have been implemented at thousands of organizations in the U.S., including Ford, General Electric, and the U.S. Army.   Another example of the benefits of Six Sigma is Orchid, a manufacturer of artificial joints used in hip and knee replacements among other products. Their process involves lost wax casting of molds that are used to form the artificial joint from cobalt. The company found that six percent of its molds would crack, wasting the cobalt.   A Six Sigma team including a plant receptionist began investigating the issue around 2010. They identified 200 variables in the manufacturing process that they speculated could contribute to the cracked molds. The receptionist noticed that there were two kinds of wax employed in the casting, virgin wax for the parts that would be in contact with surfaces implanted in the patient, and reclaimed wax for non-contact parts.    Testing by the Six Sigma team found that the waxes melted at different temperatures, which could account for the cracking. They sought to verify this with 100 castings using only virgin wax. In that test, not a single mold cracked. Sixteen years earlier, the company had started using the reclaimed wax to save 60 cents a pound over virgin wax, but the decision was causing waste of cobalt that cost $7.50 to $15 a pound. The move to all-virgin wax, a variable identified through Six Sigma methods, saved Orchid an estimated $2.1 million a year.

Kanban: Limit Work In Progress to Speed Completion

Kanban is another Lean method that originated at Toyota. This methodology focuses on eliminating backlogs of work in progress and keeping work flowing smoothly. To read how both manufacturing and software companies use Kanban, check out this reference .   In an ideal factory, work would proceed at a consistent pace — sometimes termed continuous flow — and would never be bottlenecked. In reality, however, some processes are slower than others, and if these processes are downstream of faster processes, they cause backlogs. Backlogs occupy space and cost money to store, and they can conceal problems such as quality defects. Read more about Kanban in inventory management here .    Toyota fixed this problem by implementing a system of visual cues — cards called Kanban cards — to indicate when a process was available to take on new work. As such, the pace of work is set by the slowest link in the production chain, which would “pull” production by using card signals to indicate when it was available to process work. As discussed earlier, the “pull” approach limits backlogging and controls bottlenecking to decrease waste. Kanban also limits the number of items being processed at any one time.   The classic Kanban system is a board divided up into sections, with a number of movable cards. Each section depicts a particular process, and individual cards represent work items that move through these processes. Visual cues makes it easy to spot inefficiencies and backlogs, so Kanban can be a great way to identify processes for improvement.   Given how easy and effective it is to use, Kanban is widely adopted by organizations and teams of all sizes that run multi-process production lines. Kanban is also ideal for knowledge work such as content publishing, which involves multiple processes (writing, editing, proofreading, and typesetting and printing). By using cards to symbolize individual pieces of content, you can track progress through the editorial and design chain, and allocate human resources to backlogs when they develop. You display the cards are on a Kanban board - this was traditionally a physical  bulletin board but today is often created online.

Simple kanban representation

Kanban has become popular in services and knowledge work. When applied to these projects, the main principles are:

  • Visualize work
  • Limit work in progress
  • Teams pull work when they have completed existing tasks
  • No sprints (time-based work intervals)

Kanban Project Example: Website Reaps Efficiencies

An impressive example of Kanban’s success comes from, a top U.K. comparison-shopping website that serves more than 120 million users a year. The development team was suffering from high demand, constantly shifting priorities, poor morale, and low throughput. The use of the Kanban board highlighted obvious bottlenecks and blockers, and made it clear where the team needed to focus to address problems.    After implementing Kanban, the team’s lead time dropped from 120 days to 25 days, and throughput soared. Developers cleared the backlog of 469 jobs in five months.

Implementing Lean: Tips for Making Lean Work for You

When implementing Lean, the most important thing to remember is that it is best employed as a long-term philosophy, rather than a quick fix to waste-related problems. Waste reduction is an ongoing process, and developing a philosophy of Lean thinking and consistent performance measurement ensures greater, sustained benefits over time. It also makes the application of Lean principles easier, as workers learn to recognize waste through practice.    One of the ultimate goals of Lean is creating and maintaining a continuous flow of processes — where work moves through sub-processes without stopping and creating waste. To do this, organizations will implement “pull” approaches, thus drastically reducing the costs of inventory, storage, and maintenance by producing end-products on demand. In the long term, this “pull” approach leads to a more even distribution of work, which can mitigate the problems associated with overwork — for both machines and people.    Of course, Lean also recognizes that flow may be interrupted not only by production processes, but also by the flow of information. Fostering a culture of strong, rapid communication is vital to the success of Lean management. Implementing tools that facilitate communication, such as Kanban, is often a necessary supplement to streamlining and improving workflows.   To incorporate principles of Lean management, start with small, well-defined projects delivered to short deadlines. This is helpful for a number of reasons. For one, it teaches people to recognize waste and decide what to do about it. Additionally, it has the potential to provide quick gains through waste reduction. Since these tend to be more immediate for short projects, this can do wonders for project managers trying to develop a culture of Lean thinking in a project team.    Project managers should also champion the core Lean principle of continuous improvement (Kaizen) with regard to their people and teams. Encourage continued training and learning, and project managers can obtain certifications in Lean project management, such as those offered by Villanova University and the Management and Strategy Institute .

The Best Tools for Lean Project Managers

Lean project managers have developed some tools to aid in project management and organizational transformation. Some of these tools are conceptual or process frameworks, while others exist as software and systems.   Value Stream Mapping: As we’ve discussed, value stream mapping plots the flow of materials and information involved in the creation of a product. Use a value stream map to analyze the current state of a value stream and to design improved future states that remove waste and create value according to customer demands. Value stream mapping was traditionally done on paper, but online tools are now available, too.   Work Cells: In manufacturing, a work cell is a strategic arrangement of resources designed to improve the flow of a process and decrease waste. You may create work cell arrangements using either physical equipment or human resources, and often a combination of both. A cross-functional team is an example of a work cell based primarily on human resources, while manufacturing workspaces are an example of work cells centered on physical equipment.   One-piece Flow: One-piece flow is the practice of moving work items through a work cell one piece at a time (instead of in batches), and is done mainly to decrease work in progress. Processing one work item at a time is quicker than having each worker produce batches of work before moving them to the next step (as batches take longer than single items to process, and work cannot move downstream until the entire batch is complete).   Kaizen: Named for a Japanese word that roughly translates to “good change,” Kaizen is an approach to work that emphasizes incremental improvements in processes and work streams. The end goals of Kaizen are improved efficiency and higher quality. The concept encourages an organization to welcome small, easily implemented improvements that, taken together, provide major benefits in the long term. A popular way of implementing Kaizen is to start with a Kaizen Event, a short-term project (around one week) with a single, specific improvement goal. A common plan for a Kaizen Event (also sometimes called a Kaizen Blitz) assigns a function for each day such as current state documentation, current state evaluation, characterizing future state, implementing future state, and operationalizing future state.    To run your own Kaizen Event, use this template to keep track of your work.

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5S: A workspace organization method that organizes work-related resources in a manner that facilitates efficient, effective work. The name 5S comes from five Japanese words which, translated to English, mean sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain . 5S is commonly used in Lean Six Sigma as a methodology to organize workplaces and use visual cues to achieve more consistent results. The steps involved are remove items not needed for current operations, label and arrange items so they are easy to use, keep everything tidy every day, standardize a system for keeping things in order, and avoid backsliding. While this system started in factories, it is equally relevant to offices. Try this 5S checklist in your workplace.

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Poka-yoke: A mechanism for error- or mistake-proofing. It helps human operators identify, prevent, or correct mistakes as they occur. The idea behind Poka-yoke is accounting for defects as they occur, minimizing waste that would otherwise be caused if defects proceeded down the production chain. Typically, Poka-yoke are divided among control and warning mechanisms. One example of a control Poka-yoke are electrical connectors designed so that they will only fit together the correct way. In a broader sense, Poka-yoke can be any technique that safety-proofs a process so it can’t be screwed up.    Gemba Walk: The Gemba walk is an application of the principle of observing work as it occurs, where it occurs. It is a supplement to the Kaizen process, and is based on the idea that work processes are best observed, and thus best improved, in real time and in the actual work environment. Sometimes described as “management by walking around,” Gemba is more than a manager ambling around the office and overseeing work. In Lean, the purpose of Gemba is to observe, engage, and improve, and should occur where the most critical activity happens (the production line in manufacturing, the classroom in education, etc.). Your interactions are designed to engage the people and processes in Kaizen or continuous, incremental improvement.   Obeya Room: The Obeya room, or “war room,” is a large physical space used during the development of a new product or process to facilitate interdepartmental thinking and communication. All individuals involved in the development process meet in the Obeya room to communicate and make decisions about a specific project. The Obeya room is typically furnished to facilitate discussion and problem solving, and speed up decision making.   Visual Cues: The basic premise of Kanban is that it’s easier to understand and run processes visually than solely by words or numbers. As such, the use of Kanban-style visual cues (sticky notes, colored golf balls, visual control charts, or software tools that represent work items visually) is a proven way of simplifying and speeding up communication, as well as of facilitating understanding of a process.   Documenting Metrics and Progress: Since Lean thinking is ultimately concerned with decreasing waste and improving flow (and typically seeks to do so incrementally), it’s vital to establish metrics that measure flow, and to consistently record performance on these metrics. You can assess flow, for example, using metrics such as work in progress, lead time, queue time, and throughput. It’s best to measure these metrics are using software tools, which can quickly determine and visualize performance via graphs or summary statistics.

How Lean Relates to Agile Methods

In software development, there’s a tendency to conflate the principles of Lean thinking with the methodologies of the Agile manifesto. So exactly how similar are they?   Agile methodologies are a set of iterative development approaches designed specifically to meet ever-changing customer requirements in software development projects. The signature characteristic of an Agile project is its flexible scope, meaning that Agile methodologies are designed to easily accept and implement changes in requirements. Agile software development consists of a series of iterations, and Agile software development teams target incremental improvements in each iteration.   There are some similarities between Agile and Lean project management. Both prioritize customer satisfaction - Agile through extensive customer feedback and iterations and Lean by identifying value through the eyes of the customer. Both also focus on incremental improvement, rather than big, one-time fixes.   Lean and Agile project management are similar in other aspects, too: 

  • Adopting a culture of blame-free employee involvement that ensures buy-in to the Lean philosophy and contributes to efficiency for Agile methodologies 
  • The role for a strong facilitator or project leader to ensure the project stays on track and effectively applies the principles of Lean or Agile 
  • Elimination of waste or redundant work, and the replacement or re-engineering of inefficient processes 
  • The practice of pipelining projects to ensure ongoing project delivery

In other fundamental ways, however, Lean is quite different from Agile:

  • Lean is an extensive, far-reaching business philosophy that is designed to improve the efficiency of processes while eliminating waste. It results in process improvements that last for long periods and that will benefit future projects. By contrast, Agile is simply a method to ensure that a customer’s requirements for a discrete project are met quickly and efficiently.
  • Lean principles work best when applied throughout an organization, encouraging overall efficiency and improving entire systems of processes. Agile, by contrast, targets good, quick decision making within development projects, and it is not applied outside of project work.

Lean Management across Industries

The core principles of Lean thinking can benefit many industries and types of projects. Here are a few examples of Lean management in action.   Lean Brings Greater Efficiency in Healthcare As Daniel T. Jones, one of the authors of The Machine that Changed the World and Lean Thinking , notes, the application of Lean management principles in healthcare can “deliver better quality (and safety) and a better patient experience (less queues and rework) while at the same time making better use of existing resources (to treat more patients) and improving the work experience of staff (less frustration and stress).” This, he says, is vital at a time when healthcare systems around the world face increasing stress.   Hospitals are an extremely challenging but rewarding environment for Lean. They’re a distinctively complex set of interconnected processes, ranging from admissions to patient care to managing expensive, delicate facilities and coordinating medical supplies. Consistently cutting waste thus leads, in the long-term, to more cost- and time-efficient operations overall, and generally a more pleasant experience for patients.   This white paper by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement details the success of Lean management at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. By eliminating waste, Virginia Mason increased their program capacity and saved millions of dollars on expanded facilities that were no longer necessary. They also managed to reduce the number of full-time equivalents despite a no-layoff policy, due to improved processes that increased productivity and thus reduced the need to replace retired staff. The center also saw remarkable decreases in setup and lead times, floor space used, and distances traveled.   Financial Services: Fewer Errors, Faster Processing   The financial sector was, in general, slow to adopt principles of Lean management. However, the 2008 economic crisis drove home the importance of cost cutting simply so financial institutions could survive. As such, increasing numbers of financial institutions are turning to Lean management and discovering quite serious efficiency and waste problems in the process.   Since financial institutions use customer service to differentiate themselves from competitors, Lean thinkings focus on value in the eyes of the customer has proved valuable. Banks have focused on cutting times for customer services. They’re also able to price products more attractively by cutting non-value-adding services. On the back end, banks see the expected improvements in efficiency and running costs, as well as decreased processing times for operations that shouldn’t take nearly as long to complete.    By using Lean, banks often see 15 to 25 improvements in efficiency, Boston Consulting Group has found. One bank was able to process transactions 30 percent more efficiently while improving customer satisfaction with Lean, and a North American asset manager made product pricing 12 to 20 percent more efficient. According to McKinsey , a global investment bank reduced inaccuracies by 50 percent, and improved timeliness and productivity by 40 percent each.    Retailer Gets the Hottest Trends in Shoppers’ Hands with Lean Lean principles help retailers meet the perennial challenge of inventory management. Traditionally, retail outlets have found it difficult to keep shelves stocked with items that customers want, and lose out on potential sales when they can’t do this. The solution to this challenge is a Just in Time approach similar to that used in Lean manufacturing. This means optimizing, coordinating, and scheduling transport and handling, and cutting inventory costs. At the customer-facing end, Lean management can improve the shopping experience by reducing wait times, freeing up more staff to assist customers, and ensuring that customers can find what they want. And, of course, the lower costs brought by increased efficiency may translate to more attractive pricing, which is often the bottom line for retail customers.   Fast-fashion retailer Zara used Lean thinking to become one of the most lucrative retailers in the business. Among Zara’s Lean-inspired practices, JIT manufacturing allows for low inventory stocks and rapid updating of product lines, delaying commitment to particular designs until customer design preference is established, using Agile methods to quickly design fashion items according to customer preference, and the use of Kanban and One Piece Flow to quickly and accurately meet customer demand.   Lean Tools Help Educators Boost Academic Achievement Adoption of Lean thinking was slow in the public education sector, but there’s now an increasing appreciation of what Lean principles can bring to education.

Perhaps the most fascinating application of Lean principles in education concerns education’s core function: helping students to learn. Pedagogical debates rage over the most effective ways to do this, which means that a systematic, Lean-inspired approach to identifying less effective pedagogical techniques — and recognizing the more effective ones — can help standardize the best teaching practices. Lean thinking could help close disparities in education and benefit students everywhere.   The Lean Enterprise Institute reports on the success of Lean thinking in improving academic achievement at public schools in Columbus, Ohio. Using Lean tools such as process mapping and value stream mapping, the schools boosted academic achievement by reducing the time between testing and reviewing test materials to ensure that students learned and reinforced concepts more effectively. School principals adopted a more standardized approach to recording and sharing classroom observations, spotting macro trends in the process. Application of the 5S workspace organization system helped streamline processes at principals’ and secretaries’ offices.   Lean Construction Helps Sick Infants Go Home Faster The Lean Construction Institute (LCI) sees Lean delivery as a way of responding to customer and supply chain dissatisfaction with the building industry. The LCI cites decreased productivity and efficiency in the construction industry as a driver towards Lean approaches, and uses its trademarked Last Planner System to reduce workflow variability so projects are more predictable and coordination is simpler. Lean construction, perhaps the signature application of Lean thinking in project management, focuses on core Lean principles of defining customer value, maximizing value while minimizing waste, adopting a “pull” approach, seeking continuous flow, and empowering project participants with information and decentralized decision-making authority.   As an example of Lean construction principles in action, at the Ambulatory Surgery & Critical Care Tower at Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio, a variety of stakeholders including builders, architects, doctors, nurses, and patients and their families participated in the design process. This enabled project owners to gauge value from the perspectives of multiple “customers.” Realistic simulations of the facilities based on these designs were repeatedly tested and then redesigned based on feedback.    For example, the Akron Critical Care Tower purposely built private rooms for new mothers and their infants based on evidence that critically ill newborns become well enough to go home faster. In discussing the most effective and efficient ways to locate and design facilities, to store equipment and supplies, and to house patients while meeting target-cost goals, designers reduced baseline square footage by up to 20 percent on each floor.

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Lean Six Sigma Case Studies

Welcome to the Lean Six Sigma Academy’s Case Studies section! Here, you will find a collection of real-world examples of how companies have successfully implemented the Lean Six Sigma methodology to improve their business operations. Each case study includes an overview of the business challenge that was faced, the approach that was taken, the results that were achieved and feedback from the client on their experience. These case studies showcase the wide range of industries and organizations that have benefited from Lean Six Sigma, and serve as inspiration and guidance for those looking to implement the methodology in their own business. 

OE Partners

Orrcon Steel

The toyota production system.

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We Only Succeed If You Do.

85% reduction in time to market, industry: grid solutions, result: 85% reduction in time to market.

How do you maximize a team of exceptionally skilled people to deliver the best possible product to market under a highly constrained time frame? This was the problem a grid solutions company in the Bay area was trying to solve…

According to the CTO, the team, both highly motivated and innovative, was ready to embrace a new method and toolset and decided to implement Playbook. The adoption of Playbook’s lean and agile approach was key in aligning so many different work streams, and the results were astonishing.

“What we have achieved with a unified method and tool is multidisciplinary communication synchronized at high-speed...We took what is typically a 6 to 9 month timeframe for designing, building and launching high-powered custom transformers down to 5 weeks. Simply amazing.”


“...Playbook added that catalytic capability to use all the other pieces in the right way.”

- CTO, Grid Solutions Company

This Silicon Valley based company is the leader in grid optimization solutions that leverage its patented modular power flow control technology. Driven by a world-class leadership team, the company works with utilities globally to address the unique challenges of the rapidly evolving electric system.

14 Month Project Completed in 7 Months

Industry: medical devices, result: 15 million in extra profit.

How do you develop a highly complex medical device in a highly regulated environment in half the time—while you’re busy hiring new people?

As a result of an acquisition, a new division had seven months to hire engineers and launch a product before their next major trade show. However, their baseline plan showed it would take fourteen months to complete the product.

Fortunately, their Engineering Director had worked with Accuer at a previous company. So rather than jump in and ramp development as fast as possible, they paused for a week and brought in Accuer to teach them the lean and agile project management methods and implement Playbook. This allowed them to create flexible plans, communicate correct priorities, and keep everyone informed so that the project wouldn’t slip a single day without them knowing right away. It also created a great framework for getting the newly hired people productive very quickly. Sure enough, seven months later they achieved their goal of making it to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons conference where they received over 150 pre-orders for their product. Their early-to-market success netted them an estimated $15M dollars in extra profit.

“The level of communication, the level of accountability, the visibility of progress is unprecedented here. So we are very happy with that.”

- Engineering Director, Medical Device

This global medical device company is a leader in new product development and medical education in orthopedics. With a corporate mission of helping surgeons treat their patients better, they have pioneered the field of arthroscopy and developed more than 11,000 innovative products and surgical procedures.

Enhanced Team Collaboration Means Unprecedented Success for Milwaukee Valve

Industry: industrial manufacturing, result: additional orders from happy customer.

Due to a recent increase in new business opportunities, Milwaukee Valve's new product development initiatives had outgrown what the current processes could support …

To put it in the words of John Labellarte, Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Milwaukee Valve: "Things were done more on an ad hoc basis and we were doing far too many projects concurrently without, quite honestly, the realization of how resources were or were not being applied towards those projects. The short version is that not many product development projects were getting completed at all, or on time. And there wasn’t a general understanding organizationally of the collaborative nature in which these projects needed to get done in the future." Based on their current state, Milwaukee Valve decided to hire Strategy 2 Market (S2M) to perform a formal assessment of their development process. At the same time, Milwaukee Valve was in the process of being awarded a very large order for new products, and it was time to put the right tools and Lean Product Development processes in place to ensure their success. Milwaukee Valve wanted consistency in delivery, meeting and exceeding deadlines, and maintaining quality. But because they were busy, the solution had to be implemented concurrently with the workload from current projects. John Labellarte had this to say about the implementation of Playbook and Lean Product Development processes and methods. "It was a case of both reinvigorating the process alongside the right tools in order to support a new vision of collaborative delivery, where core functions were aligned around strategic goals. We brought in Paul DeLong from Playbook for about one week. Actually, the implementation of the software was extremely short. I would say probably within two to three weeks maximum, people were up and utilizing the software. In conjunction with Paul, we had Therese Graff from Strategy 2 Market's help. This was that blended approach that I was talking about. We had Lean Product Development principles as well as core process changes we wanted to make organizationally. We blended change management with the implementation of Playbook software. Paul and Therese did a fantastic job in setting the tone for the company that this wasn’t just a project, it was a change in process…meaning it was going to be around forever. We are going to continually work to improve it (the process). This was something that we knew we needed some folks with some strong outside experience to reinvigorate our folks. We had an opportunity to do it better. And our people are really good at embracing continuous improvement. That whole concept really moved us into utilizing cross-functional teams. Once we started to do that, this notion of utilizing the software, developing game plans, and then the huddles and rolling wave planning…fell into place rather quickly. "(At that time) We were awarded a rather large contract. So, in my view, this was 100% the best litmus test of how Playbook would work, of how the work with Strategy 2 Market would go off, and operationally, organizationally, cross-functional teams, getting everyone...all of the pieces would this work. I am very pleased to say that we had our first significant major milestone with them (our new client), and not only were we on time, we were slightly early. More importantly, everything worked out as planned. And to come through with something like that spoke volumes. Not only to me as an executive in the company, but the feedback that I got from people involved in the process. Project team members told me point blank that we would not have done this had we not had Strategy 2 Market and Playbook help us organize and launch the activities that we put in place. I really felt good about how we communicated with the customer, and more importantly, as an organization, to meet that most important first deliverable...and that was a significant order for our company." The benefits of Lean project management and Playbook "It’s early recognition and communication of tasks and this awareness across the organization and all of the functional disciplines of what is required to get this done. It’s an organizational effort that has got to be communicated and have some built in plans for failure. We had successful failures, we had iterations within the game plan. So that when that occurred people said yes we expected this. We consumed some buffer. We have dashboard metrics that the executive team sees, that the project management team sees and that our customer sees. We have early recognition and communication within Playbook. It is so clearly visible what the critical path tasks are. It’s been wonderful. We've been working with Strategy 2 Market for about 18 months or so and with Playbook for about one year. And we are completing projects so we have definitely seen the throughput and the ability to stay on task and on schedule... A product development cycle is something now that we really understand with consistency...consistency, demonstrated repeatability, the ability to hit schedule..."

“A product development cycle is something now that we really understand with consistency, demonstrated repeatability, and the ability to hit schedule...”

- John Labellarte, VP & Chief Operating Officer of Milwaukee Valve.

Established in 1901, Milwaukee Valve excels in quality and service from concept through engineering, manufacturing, and installation and service. Today, Milwaukee Valve manufactures more than 5,000 manual and actuated valves that meet the exacting demands and rugged service conditions across many industries.

Toss manual project boards and complete 28 projects in 9 months

Result: twice the throughput.

A medical device company had been using manual project boards for several years with great success. However, due to the recent launch of a major new platform, their backlog of sustaining projects suddenly swelled to twenty-eight. Based on prior experience, they estimated it would take 18 months to complete all of them with their already strapped resources...

  • Can easily visualize interdependencies
  • Everyone sees the big picture
  • Critical chain management is improved
  • Better detail planning than using sticky notes
  • Can more easily see who is loaded with tasks
  • Much better tool for managing resources
  • Daily Meetings are more efficient
  • Task Owners and Team Members have more buy-in and ownership
  • Improved visibility of things that slip through the cracks
  • Better communication
  • Reduced multi-tasking
“The stickies were horrible, because you couldn't see the big picture. The top-level planning of tasks is good for everyone to see so people can understand what it is going to take to get it done. Yes, things change.”     --Task Leader
“Playbook is better because the ‘I am waiting for you’ or ‘I need something from you’ is in the system rather than in the stand-ups.”     --Task Leader

“I like how quickly we can see the impact of a delay on a small task. Now we can see when a task has an impact on the schedule.”

- Project Manager

+$1B medical device company.

100% of NPD projects with 50% Less Resources

Industry: engineering services for department of defense, result: 100% of projects completed with 50% less resources.

RAM had recently implemented Playbook Lean project management software to help meet critical project schedules for their customer when an unexpected 50% reduction in workforce occurred …

With only nine months left to finish their projects, they depended on Playbook to keep the priorities sorted and were able to finish their existing projects on time with only half of the originally planned people.

“My team is empowered. Their day is less confusing. They do their own planning. They are ‘tickled pink’.”

- Sr. Program Manager

Research Analysis and Maintenance, Inc. is based in El Paso, Texas and provides the complete spectrum of information systems services and support to meet Government and corporate customers' needs including technical services to our Department of Defense customers and have particularly strong credentials in research and analysis; developmental and operational testing; training development and implementation; threat systems; and operations and maintenance support for ranges, training centers, and other major facilities.

Twice the Scope, Half the Time…!

Industry: enterprise it project, result: a project completed in 10 months that could have taken four years.

A very large aerospace company had to upgrade one of their Enterprise PLM systems. They had done the same thing before, and due to the high number of customizations, it had taken two years to complete. The problem was, the scope of the project had doubled since the last time—more software, more data, more users and more customizations. The prospect of it taking more time than the last time was unacceptable …

Fortunately, the CIO was a fan of Lean and hired Accuer to show them how to run this project using the lean and agile methods on manual boards. The results couldn’t have been better. Instead of taking longer, the entire project was completed in 10 months—even though the scope was twice as large as the time before when it had taken two years to complete. When asked to explain the results, they listed these as the top benefits of Playbook. ⦁ Takes opinions and emotions out of decisions ⦁ PM knows months ahead of time that the end dates are changing and why ⦁ People know, every day, what their most important task is ⦁ People know, every day, what their next task is ⦁ People know what they are waiting for (if they are waiting) ⦁ Information handoff is faster ⦁ Resources in both departments are freed up months earlier ⦁ In many cases, the resources are working fewer hours on this project than they did on the last similar project, which was smaller ⦁ If we lose a person for their allotted time one day, it extends the schedule one day ⦁ If a single critical resource is not able to work the project for one week, the end date will go out one week ⦁ If we could double the capacity, or availability, of all the resources, the schedule could be cut approximately in half. Cost is the same. Same cost, shorter schedule, future flexible resources As a result, the team won a well-deserved company award for this project.

“There was added expense of hiring technical services and training our team in the methods used. But conservatively, the savings from the reduced project time paid for this expense within three to four months—at least a 300% ROI.”

- Sr. Project Manager

$20B multinational defense, security and aerospace company

Eight Months Early and 20% Under Budget

Industry: medical device, result: eight months early and 20% under budget.

ConMed Electrosurgery had a consistent track record—new product development projects for their most complicated product line took thirty months on average to complete. However, they had completed one in twenty months on one occasion. So they set a goal to beat that record by 10% and complete their next project in eighteen months …

As the division president said, “Cutting new product development cycle time was probably the most important thing we needed to do.”

However, there was one major problem. There was already a major design project that was late that was consuming most of the resources. In order to complete the new project, they were going to have to rely on a new hire in the critical mechanical engineering role, and use a part time project manager from Marketing that had never managed a full NPD project before. So they decided this was a good time to try something different. Ken Taylor, the Engineering VP had just read Don Reinertsen’s Managing the Design Factory book and was interested in implementing the principles, so he hired Accuer (the founders of Playbook) to help. After a thorough root cause assessment to determine what was causing the project delays, they customized eight different methods from Lean, Agile and Theory of Constraints. The end result was this project was completed in twelve months—literally eight months faster than their goal, and eighteen months faster than their average. And this was in spite of the fact that it was the second most important project in the company at the time. An additional benefit to being early was the project came in 20% under budget. As Ken Taylor said, “Not only do you have the revenue increase potential at the end, but we’ve actually spent less money.”


 “Cutting the project time by 50% is not something you can just sort of ignore.”

- Ken Taylor, Engineering VP, ConMed Electrosurgery

ConMed is a global medical technology company that specializes in the development and sale of surgical and patient monitoring products and services.

Playbook new.png

Address PO Box 18027 Boulder, CO 80308 303-323-4296 [email protected]

Lean Project Management Lean Product Development Agile Development

Lean Six Sigma for the improvement of company processes: the Schnell S.p.A. case study

The TQM Journal

ISSN : 1754-2731

Article publication date: 15 October 2021

Issue publication date: 17 December 2021

The aim of this study is to develop an in-depth case study on the implementation on Lean six sigma (LSS) in Schnell S.p.A., Italian company leader of an important multinational industrial group, highlighting the benefits that can be achieved from a careful application of this method, the main challenges and organizational learning from its implementation.


The study has been developed with a qualitative approach, creating a single in-depth case study, with the participant observation of researchers in the project which lasted 4 months. Periodic weekly meetings were done with the working group to exchange feedback on the development of the project to share opinions and data.

A project has been developed to stabilize the procurement process of a pull-type production cell, which experienced delays in supply lead times. The causes of the problems in their process of managing the supply of the production cell were found and some inefficiencies in the internal process of fulfillment of supply orders have been intercepted, the optimization of which has allowed the generation of an automatic system for sending supply orders, coming directly from the production line.


This study described the path and dynamics of the transformation process that business organizations undertake for optimizing their profitability and competitive advantage, placing emphasis on an innovative methodology for conducting business process improvement projects, which constitutes its operating philosophy on the effective and efficient use of company resources and skills, to guarantee to the company the achievement of a lasting and defensible competitive advantage over time.

  • Lean thinking
  • Lean production
  • Quality management
  • Continuous improvement

Murmura, F. , Bravi, L. , Musso, F. and Mosciszko, A. (2021), "Lean Six Sigma for the improvement of company processes: the Schnell S.p.A. case study", The TQM Journal , Vol. 33 No. 7, pp. 351-376.

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Federica Murmura, Laura Bravi, Fabio Musso and Aleksandra Mosciszko

Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at

1. Introduction

The development of an effective quality improvement or continuous improvement strategy is a key factor for long-term success of modern organizations. Over the last decade, Lean Six Sigma (LSS) has become one of the most popular and proven business process improvement methodologies organizations have ever witnessed in the past ( Antony et al. , 2017 ), and it has been accepted globally as a management strategy for achieving Process Excellence ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ).

Lean Six Sigma is a management strategy for improving corporate productivity and profitability, that aim to maximize the Customer satisfaction by reducing constraints which the company organization is subject in terms of activities that do not create value for the Customer. In practice, LSS is an improvement strategy that analyze quantitative data on business performance to identify, eliminate and control problems and inefficiencies related to manufacturing cost, service cost, quality, productivity and customer satisfaction ( Singh and Rathi, 2019 ; Snee, 2010 ) throughout the business processes.

The objectives of quality and efficiency, supported by Lean Six Sigma, are made by DMAIC: a structured method for improving the performance of existing processes ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ), based on the application of the concepts Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. It provides a standardized guideline for the elaboration of improvement projects and provides different statistical tools and techniques appropriate to each phase of the DMAIC cycle ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ) able to lead to the root causes of business problems and to eliminate the wastes and reduce the variation, thus, ensuring substantial improvement in business processes ( Bhat et al. , 2020 ).

The term LSS was first introduced into literature around 2000 LSS, while LSS teaching was established in 2003 as part of the evolution of Six Sigma ( Timans et al. , 2012 ). Since that time, there has been a noticeable increase in LSS popularity and deployment in the industrial world ( Shah et al. , 2008 ) and researchers had the interest to publish more papers on LSS to try to come up with a comprehensive approach to achieve continuous improvement. However, as suggested by Albliwi et al. (2015) , there are still many gaps that need to be addressed in LSS literature such as benefits, motivation factors, challenges and limitations ( Pepper and Spedding, 2010 ; Laureani and Antony, 2012 ), and there is also a lack of research in the relation between LSS and organizational learning and in recent years a lot of systematic literature reviews on the topic have been published on the topic but only few case studies have been analyzed in the research field to cover this gap.

Therefore, the aim of this study is to cover this gap, by developing an in-depth case study on the implementation on LSS in an Italian company leader of an important multinational industrial group, that is Schnell S.p.A., that constitutes its main research and production center and provides technological, organizational and commercial support for the entire group. Schnell operates in over 150 countries around the world through its 11 subsidiaries, over 50 agents and resellers, and a dense network of service centers.

This research work has the objective of highlighting the benefits that can be achieved from a careful application of LSS method in the company, the main challenges and also organizational learning from LSS implementation, showing its application in details in an important reality like that of Schnell S.p.A.

The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 depicts the theoretical background, describing the merging of Lean Production and Six Sigma and defining the critical success factors of lean six sigma implementation; Section 3 defines the methodology used, Section 4 presents and discusses the results of the case study while the last section draws the main conclusions.

2. Literature review

2.1 the merging of two quality philosophies: lean production and six sigma.

The LSS notion was announced to the world in 2002, when Michael George used it for the first time in the book “Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma with Lean Speed” ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ; Sreedharan and Raju, 2016 ). He is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of the George Group, one of the largest LSS project consulting firms in the United States.

Although its appearance is quite recent, LSS arise from two complementary but different approaches ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ): Toyota Production System (TPS), a famous organizational orientation developed in Japan, from the 1960s and 1980s, spread with the concept of “Lean Thinking”; and Six Sigma, a technical quality management program, introduced by Motorola Corporation in manufacturing arena in 1987 ( Singh and Rathi, 2019 ).

The synergy between Lean and Six Sigma created a data-driven ( Sreedharan and Raju, 2016 ) and top-down business strategy to improve the quality and productivity of organizations ( Singh and Rathi, 2019 ; Sordan et al. , 2020 ).

When we talk about Lean Thinking, we are talking about a business culture, based on respect, trust and cooperation between employees and oriented by a constant search for perfection that allows to reach the highest quality of products and services offered by the company and consequently to maximize customer satisfaction.

To achieve this goal of perfection and to optimize profits, corporate actions must be aimed at a constant effort to reduce costs and wastes of tangible and intangible resources, by distinguishing valued-added activities from non-value-added activities and eliminating wastes that increases cost without adding value in the eyes of the customer ( Antony et al. , 2017 ; Cudney et al. , 2014 ): activities that are unnecessary and not required for the operations of the business ( Jayaram, 2016 ).

Lean Thinking emphasizes on productivity improvement along with speed to respond to customer needs and create a streamlined, high-quality system that produces finished products at the pace of customer demand with little or no waste ( Lande et al. , 2016 ).

Wastes are called Muda, and they can be defined as real sins that hinder the ideals of perfection. The eight types of waste are defined as transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, defects and non-utilized skills ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ). To identify and eliminate Muda, Lean strategy brings a set of proven tools and techniques that allow to reduce lead times, inventories, set up times, equipment downtime, scrap, rework and other wastes of the hidden factory ( Lande et al. , 2016 ). Corbett (2011) affirms that while lean focuses on the elimination of waste and improving flow, it has some secondary effects: quality is improved; the product spends less time in the process, thereby reducing the chances of damage and obsolescence.

But we have to remember that the commitment to Lean Thinking must start at the top management level and should be cascaded down to various levels across the organization to improve flow and efficiency of processes ( Antony et al. , 2017 ).

Six Sigma (SS) is a business process improvement and problem-solving approach ( Lande et al. , 2016 ) that seeks to find and eliminate causes of variability, as well as defects or mistakes in business processes, by focusing on process outputs which are critical in the eyes of customers ( Antony et al. , 2017 ). The main objective of Six Sigma is to obtain “zero defect” or, in statistical terms, to reduce defects up to 3.4 parts per million opportunities ( Singh et al. , 2019 ).

To study variability, Six Sigma utilizes a problem-solving methodology to define, measure, analyze, improve and control processes and implement cost-effective solutions leading to significant financial savings ( Singh et al. , 2019 ) not only for manufacture sectors but also remove the defects throughout the corporations ( Singh and Rathi, 2019 ). This methodology is called DMAIC and it emphasizes on variation reduction, defect reduction and process evaluation (the effectiveness issue).

The complementarity between both approaches can be justified when the deficiencies inherent in each of them are observed, acting in isolation ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ). Both had produced tremendous results but had limitations: Lean is not well suited to resolving complex problems that require intensive data analysis, and advanced statistical methods, and, Six Sigma implementation showed how not every problem can be resolved with only a big data collection ( Antony et al. , 2017 ).

Lean does not address variation within a process; rather it addresses variation between end-to-end processes which appears in the form of waste. One of the major limitations of Lean is that it cannot be used to tackle problems related to process stability and capability ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ) and it tends to work best with “solution known” problems, where we realize that we are not operating to best practices, Lean implements them and make rapid improvements with minimal data collection ( Hoerl and Gardner, 2010 ). Six Sigma is most effective when used for improvement projects intended to drive processes towards process entitlement, in situations where the solution to the problem is unknown ( Snee and Hoerl, 2007 ).

As stated by Pepper and Spedding (2010) if lean is implemented without Six Sigma, there is a lack of tools to fully exploit the improvement of its potential. Conversely, if Six Sigma is adopted without lean thinking, there would be a cache of tools for the improvement team to use, but no strategy or framework to bring one's application to a system.

Combining Lean manufacturing principles and Six Sigma tools and techniques enables organizations to form a powerful improvement combination ( Hoerl and Gardner, 2010 ; Lande et al. , 2016 ) that has allowed many organizations to solve more problems quicker ( Antony et al. , 2017 ). It is a successful integration because Lean focuses on improving the flow of information and materials between the steps in the process and Six Sigma works to improve the value-adding transformations which occur with in the process steps ( Antony et al. , 2017 ).

LSS defines an approach, but of course does not dictate the specific progression of the project or dictate the unique mix of tools to be used, which of course needs to be problem specific ( Hoerl and Gardner, 2010 ). The appropriate blend of Lean and Six Sigma tools useful on any one problem therefore depends on the nature of the specific problem being solved ( Antony et al. , 2017 ).

The marriage between these two methodologies provides a more integrated, coherent and holistic approach to continuous improvement ( Pepper and Spedding, 2010 ) and has led to the creation of a breakthrough managerial concept ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ; Chiarini, 2012 ) with the aim to create a new business culture that breaks the link with the traditional way of working in all productive functions. LSS adds a new task to daily working duties: the recovery of operational efficiency through training growth of people, extensive use of data culture and problem-solving methodologies; all activities that simultaneously allow the improvement of quality, the costs and business complexities reduction, the increasing revenue ( Galdino de Freitas and Gomes Costa, 2017 ; Jayaram, 2016 ) and, finally, greater reliability of the services provided to the end customer. The application of LSS methodology results in reduced waste, defects and improve process, which in turn provide high-quality products at minimum cost, and this leads to customer delight, which ultimately raises the societal living standard ( Singh et al. , 2019 ; Jayaram, 2016 ), the well-being of employees and the quality of the work environment (Galdino de Freitas and Gomes Costa, 2017 ).

LSS aims not only to improve financial results through the improvement of company production processes, but it targets to help organizations build an adequate relationship with society, employees and the environment ( Galdino de Freitas and Gomes Costa, 2017 ).

Both Lean and SS require a company to focus on its products and customers and LSS as a part of management strategy to increase the market share and maximize profit ( Lande et al. , 2016 ). It produces benefits in terms of better operational efficiency, cost-effectiveness and higher process quality, because it promotes total employee participation from both top-down and bottom-up as a win-win practice to both management and staff members ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ).

2.2 Critical success factors of lean six sigma implementation

Lean Six Sigma strategy is versatile in nature and has a lot of applications in a variety of industries.

It can be applied in manufacturing as well as non-manufacturing environment ( Singh and Rathi, 2019 ). It has broad applicability in service, healthcare, government, non-profits, education ( Antony et al. , 2017 ) automotive, textile, steel and aerospace industries ( Sordan et al. , 2020 ). Although LSS has its roots in manufacturing, it is proven to be a well-established process excellence methodology in almost every sector despite its size and nature ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ). It is useful in small-and medium-size organizations as well as large organizations ( Antony et al. , 2017 ).

LSS is also suitable for less experienced organizations: Bhat et al. (2020) write about the successful deployment of LSS strategy in an Indian industry with orthodox industrial practices, limited manpower, constrained capital and confined knowledge on scientific improvement practices, and the research proves that even a novice user can effectively participate and implement LSS with proper mentoring to enhance the system.

Regardless of the sector in which the LSS is applied, this shows the spread of LSS in various organizations as one of the best strategies for organizational excellence ( Sreedharan and Raju, 2016 ). But it is important to remember that achieving maximum strategic and management efficiency cannot be based on the replication of principles and models of Lean approach.

Each organization is immersed in different social, cultural and economic conditions. For this reason, lean tools must be sized and customized on business contexts and simultaneously the entire business organization must be adapted to the changes that Lean Six Sigma generates and that it needs to be applied effectively ( Lande et al. , 2016 ; Raval et al. , 2018 ; Singh et al. , 2019 ; Gijo et al. , 2019 ).

These requirements for cultural change are the main critical success factors for LSS ( Sreedharan and Raju, 2016 ).

Critical success factors are the actions and processes that must be controlled by the management ( Lande et al. , 2016 ) during the implementation of a LSS project.

Top management involvement and commitment ( Lande et al. , 2016 ; Gijo et al. , 2019 ). The top management involvement and commitment are essential for successful implementation ( Pepper and Spedding, 2010 ) of any LSS initiative. It must personally support all improvement initiatives and integrate the LSS culture into entire organizations. Its active participation can multiply the positive project effects and make a significant impact at all levels ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ). If the top management will not take initiatives and not show their full involvement it could cause the failure of LSS implementation ( Singh et al. , 2019 ).

Employee involvement, empowerment and training ( Lande et al. , 2016 ; Gijo et al. , 2019 ; Bhat et al. , 2020 ). The cultural growth of internal staff is the heart of LSS programs because it offers necessary tools to create a clear vision of the project, to focus on teamwork and, above all, to fight the resistance to cultural and operational changes ( Singh et al. , 2019 ; Sunder and Antony, 2018 ). Employee training also contributes to gain a high level of internal communication which facilitates the implementation of LSS ( Lande et al. , 2016 ; Singh et al. , 2019 ; Gijo et al. , 2019 ; Bhat et al. , 2020 ). Training is necessary to create a supporting infrastructure (the belt system) and a holistic approach to improvement including area of application and methodology used ( Antony et al. , 2017 ). The belt system includes Master Black Belt, Black Belt, Green Belt, Yellow Belt and depending on the complexity of the problem considered and skills required to solve it, the appropriate Belts are selected ( Gijo et al. , 2019 ) to play the role of leadership and guidance of the project team.

Linking LSS to business strategy and customer satisfaction ( Lande et al. , 2016 ). Improvement projects must be closely linked with maximizing customer satisfaction. Top management defines business objectives and identifies improvement projects capable of guaranteeing greater remuneration in terms of optimizing company productivity and profitability, as well as projects that can be reached using available resources, which do not require high investments and which allow to obtain undisputed results with limited deadlines in a limited period of time. Improper linkage between organizational objective and customer's requirement leads to failure of LSS implementation ( Singh et al. , 2019 ; Singh et al. , 2019 ; Gijo et al. , 2019 ).

3. Methodology

The study is a conceptual development and it has been developed with a qualitative approach, creating a single in-depth case study of Schnell S.p.A. that derives from a Group Purchasing Excellence Project. The case study allowed for examining in depth the implementation of a Lean Six Sigma improvement project for the transformation and simplification of the production process of the Schnell “Alfa” and “Beta” machines with the aim to reduce the delivery times of its products ( Yin, 1994 ). The case study was developed with the participant observation of researchers in the project which lasted 4 months, starting from November 4, 2019 to March 4, 2020. As for the participant observation, the researcher was directly involved in the LSS implementation activities, collaborating with the working group in the figure of the project manager, and facing directly obstacles and problems that emerged during these stages of the same (par. will define the detailed description of the project). Periodic weekly meetings were done with the entire working group to exchange feedback on the development of the project, to share opinions and data. Participant observation activity was triangulated with secondary data, such as company reports and the website, collected during the period of support in the company. Secondary data have been used mostly to describe Schnell history, structure and the services it offers to customers.

Minitab 19 statistical analysis software was used to describe and summarize the data collected during the project and shown in the result section.

4. Results and discussion

4.1 company profile: schnell s.p.a.

Schnell S.p.A. is an Italian company that has been operating for almost 60 years in the manufacturing sector of automatic machines and plants for processing iron for reinforced concrete. It was born in 1962 thanks to the devotion of a group of entrepreneurs, driven by the dream of transforming the tiring and dirty world of iron working, into a modern industry, dedicated to conquering the global market. The company embarks on its own path by offering a first innovative solution that allowed faster binding of the reinforcing bars, flanked by the production of construction site machinery for cutting and bending the bars. The rise in the automatic machinery sector has started with the development of mechanisms for the production of cylindrical cages; however, the real change of course compared to its competitors will take place with the addition of electric servomotors, used, before now, only in fields such as robotics and military industry. Thanks to this type of instrumentation, Schnell machines are characterized by high power, speed, reliability and precision. They guarantee to the customer the achievement of economies of scale and better production techniques due to the high productivity offered, reduced set up times and low maintenance costs. Schnell S.p.A. offers the market a high range of machines and systems that allow a variety of processing of iron for reinforced concrete, including straightening, stirrup bending and shaping machines for bending, shaping and cutting iron in rolls or bars; cage making machines for the formation of cylindrical poles and cages for construction; machines and plants for the production of electrowelded mesh; machines for wire straightening and cold rolling lines; rotor straightening machines for processing steel wires for the industrial sector; machines for the production of prefabricated insulating panels for building construction; software for the management of iron processing centers using Schnell automatic machines. As a result of the high quality of these products, Schnell S.p.A. has managed to win the trust of its customers all over the world, reaching a turnover of over 100 million euros.

The Schnell Group is characterized by a staff of over 700 employees worldwide, and is made up of 5 production plants; 7 centers for installation, sales, spare parts and after-sales services; Schnell Software (Spain), which is a center for the creation and development of software systems for the management and organization of production carried out using Schnell machines and Schnell Home S.r.l., production center of machines for the construction of innovative elements for building construction, called “Concrewall”. Achieving a highly competitive advantage over its competitors in the same sector was possible due to constant investments in research, development and technological innovation of products and processes. Product innovation, since the company is always ready to respond to market needs through the development of a customer-oriented approach, which allows to offer integrated and customized production solutions. Process innovation, since, as stated in the “Integrated Quality Policy” and “Purchasing Excellence Group Program” of Schnell S.p.A., the efforts of the whole company are oriented to create effective methods of managing internal operational processes, with a view to maximizing end customer satisfaction.

As a result of the constant commitment in this direction, at the end of 2007, Schnell S.p.A. managed to obtain the quality system certification according to the ISO 9001 standard, delivered by the prestigious certification body TUV Italy, and renewed in 2019 in compliance with the updates undergone by the standard in September 2015.

The important results obtained in terms of product and process quality was also possible due to the dissemination and application of Lean Manufacturing principles and methodologies.

4.2 The development of the lean six sigma project in Schnell S.p.A

The layout of the cell, the equipment and the production tools have been designed and arranged horizontally following the phases of the process;

The production plans were planned on order, therefore, on the basis of the orders received from its customers, following the production theories with the pull logic;

The manufacturing of the machines was organized in small batches conducted with the one-piece flow system;

The management of the entire procurement process of raw materials and production components has been entrusted to the Kanban system;

The line operators have been trained to complete all manufacturing operations in complete autonomy.

The products supplied with their own identification codes;

Periodicity of reordering;

Minimum order quantity;

Delivery Lead Time (in working days);

Safety Stock Level: quantity of products to be held in the warehouse as a mandatory stock;

Technical specifications of production;

Specifications for packaging and delivery.

For further stabilization of the production process, aimed at increasing product quality, the characterizing element of the In-Lining Line was to reach a Free-Pass quality level. This qualitative incoming methodology has allowed a high reduction in the variability of the external production process, of the components characterized therein, while requiring significant direct and indirect investments by sourcing.

The entire In-Lining apparatus is governed by a vital element for the correct planning of the production phases: the supply Lead Time.

This index represents the time elapsing from the time of issue of the purchase order to the time of actual receipt of the goods. It allows to efficiently plan the supply of production components, and therefore, to define the periods for sending purchase orders.

Lead time of supply;

On-time Delivery (the ratio between the number of orders processed on time and the number of total orders processed, in the period considered).

With a view to Project Management, a work team was set up with the task of studying and analyzing the procurement process of the In-Lining line, and the phases of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) and DMAIC approach were followed for the implementation of the project.

4.2.1 “Define” phase

The objective of the first phase of the project was to identify all the aspects necessary to define the process to be improved, therefore, to develop a planning prospectus called Project Charter containing: the representation of the problem detected, the objectives to be achieved, the requirements required from the customer, the inputs and outputs of the process and the metrics necessary to measure it, the enhancement of the current process and possible savings achievable by improving the process, the team members, and finally, the deadlines of the project phases. Project description

Analyzing the lead times of supply of the supplying process of the In-Lining Line, conducted with the Kanban system, it was reported that the most important supplier in terms of quantity, tends not to respect the agreed delivery terms.

Upper specification limit (USL) = LEAD TIME 5 days (working);

Lower specification limit (LSL) = LEAD TIME 2 days (working).

Analyze the deliveries to the line of the last available calendar period, from 01/11/2018 to 31/10/2019;

Perform stratification of the detected deliveries, until the root causes are reached;

Define the initiatives and control charts to ensure the stability of the procurement process over time.

Lead Time of supply;

Defects per Unit – DPU;

Defects Per Million of Opportunity – DPMO;

Sigma Level.

The project team was made up of the members defined in Table 1 .

The implementation of the DMAIC phases was organized through the Gantt Chart ( Figure 1 ), with the aim of a precise subdivision over time of the individual activities to be carried out, while all the information that defines the project was collected in the Project Charter document of Figure 2 . Project risk analysis

During the planning of the project, different potential risks were identified that could affect the smooth running of the project. These were found in relation to different sources from which they could derive (see Table 2 ).

Severity (P): expresses the potential damage that the occurrence of the risk could cause in the implementation of the project;

Occurrence (G): expresses the probability that the risk may occur;

Detection (R): expresses the probability of risk detection once it has occurred.

Each variable was assigned a score from 1 to 5, in which 1 represents an insignificant risk condition and 5 that of extreme risk (only for the Detection variable, the lower the score assigned, the greater the probability of risk detection).

The most critical risks have been identified through the Risk Priority Index – Risk Priority Number (RPN) obtained from formula f.1. f .1 ) RPN = S × O × D

The highest priority was checked for the risks “Inability to use software” and “Insufficient knowledge and skills of members” (see Table 3 ). Process representation

To obtain a macro view of the process, the Supplier Input Process Output Customer (SIPOC) diagram has been developed ( Figure 3 ) which highlights the main elements that make up the activities examined.

4.2.2 “Measure” phase

The second phase was aimed at defining and measuring the progress of the process at the current stage. For a better representation, the flow of activities necessary to replenish the In-Lining line has been outlined through the Flow Chart ( Figure 4 ) which identifies on the left side the operations that add value within the process (AV), while, on the right side, those with non-added value (NAV), therefore considered as waste.

The process was further represented through the Value Stream Mapping technique ( Figure 5 ) which allowed to estimate a total Process Time (P/T) of 11.6202 h (11 h 37 min and 12 s), divided into 11.40417h (11 h 24 min and 15 s) for value-added activities and 2.216 h (12 min and 57 s) for non-value-added activities. Together with downtime and shipping times, the entire process is performed with a maximum total Lead Time (L/T) of 8 days, 8 h, 5 min and 28 s. Data collection







These products are characterized by belonging to similar categories, therefore, with the aim of greater interpretation and a better comparison of data, the population has been grouped into stratified categories with reference to the product group to which they belong, type of production component and final product. Interpretation of data with statistical tools

In the first phase, the graphical summary analysis was performed ( Figure 6 ) showing the results of the Anderson-Darling Normality Test, the descriptive statistics and the confidence intervals for the mean, median and standard deviation of the data population in exam. The graphs show that deliveries are characterized by an average delivery lead time of 9.4324 working days which falls within a range of 70 working days. The recorded variation therefore determines a standard deviation of 14.4877.

Second, from the Anderson-Darling normality test, a p -value <0.005 is obtained: this value demonstrates that the analyzed data derive from a distribution that cannot be approximated to a Gaussian model.

The current result is a consequence of the fact that in the population, in correspondence with the value in the 3rd Quartile of 7 days and Maximum of 74 working days, irregular values can be highlighted, called outliers, which arise from particular causes of a special type, and which therefore prevent a regular data analysis and interpretation, negatively affecting all study results.

It was highlighted that these were four deliveries relating to the same order, made on August 31, 2018, of two components of CATEGORY C, in particular of PRODUCT C.2.

Through a more in-depth investigation, it was possible to observe that the supply agreement was drawn up and confirmed prior to the first delivery of the product in the sample phase. Consequently, the high delivery lead time was justified by the fact that the supplier had to provide totally new products, the production of which had to be studied and adapted to their production processes.

Given the particular situation, to carry out a more meaningful analysis, it was decided not to consider the indicated outliers values, and to run the graphical summary analysis again, this time on a population made up of N  = 70 units ( Figure 7 ).

In this case, the standard deviation assumes the value 4.1852, the average delivery Lead Time tends to reduce to the value of 6.1429 working days; however, again it is possible to deduce a p -value < 0.005; therefore, the data derives from a distribution that cannot be approximated to a Gaussian model. It is possible to conclude that the entire process is not under statistical control: the distribution consists of values that cannot be approximated to a Gaussian model, characterized by a supply trend that cannot be predicted over time.

On the basis of these results, it was possible to state that the supplier encountered numerous difficulties in fulfilling supply orders from the In-Lining Line, since the delivery process of the components was characterized by Lead Times that deviate significantly compared to the average lead time recorded (see Figure 8 ).

To express the supplier's performance in terms of Process Sigma, the values of Table 4 were taken into consideration, which summarizes the variables necessary for the calculation of the Defects Per Units (DPU), the Defects Per Opportunity (DPO) and the Defects per Million of opportunity (DPMO) index: (1) DPU = Numerosità   difetti   rilevata ( D ) Numerosità   campione ( U ) (2) DPO = DPU Opportunità   di   errore ( O ) (3) DPMO = DPO × 1.000.000

The supply of the In-Lining line is characterized by a Sigma Level equal to 1.85, therefore, the current process is carried out with a yield of 63.51%.

4.2.3 “Analyze” phase

Based on the considerations obtained from the measurements made in the Measure phase, in this third stage of the project the team's goal was to intercept the categories of components that found the greatest difficulties in the procurement process.

Considering the high variability of the delivery process, in order to identify priority areas of intervention, the analysis was further processed through the Pareto diagram and, for easier interpretation, it was carried out by stratifying the data on the basis of the single category of belonging (see Figures 9 and 10 ).

It was observed that 39% of deliveries ( Table 5 ), carried out in the period under consideration, were carried out outside the established lead time specifications of 5 working days. The supplier presents the greatest number of critical issues with the fulfillment of orders relating to the GROUP A category, in particular with the fulfillment of PRODUCT A.1 and PRODUCT A.2, and to a lesser extent, with PRODUCT B.1 and PRODUCT B.2.

For the GROUP B category, difficulties were found in the delivery of the PRODUCT C.2 and PRODUCT D components; however, for the latter, the non-conformities found cannot be analyzed, as they are insignificant.

4.2.4 “Improve” phase

In the Improve phase, the purpose of the study activity was to identify the root causes of the problems that the Business Partner identified in the process of fulfilling the supply orders of the In-Lining line, and secondly to identify the paths for improvement to correct the criticalities detected. Root cause analysis

The study was developed by analyzing the temporal trend of orders in the period considered for each PRODUCT category indicated at the end of the Analyze phase. For deliveries with greater difficulty, inquiries were carried out on the dates of issue and actual delivery of supply orders. In this phase, the help offered by the Production Planner of the Production Department who deals with the management of the production planning of the In-Lining cell was of great support. First of all, it was possible to deepen that in the delivery process of PRODUCT A.1 and PRODUCT C.2, in relation to the deliveries of the orders of the week 3/2019 and 2/2019, issued respectively with Lead Time of 23 and 22 working days, the supplier communicated the breakdown of a machinery necessary for the production of the components; therefore, it was not able to respect the contractual specifications. The Lead Time values detected here can be considered as outliers, determined by causes of a special type.

By analyzing PRODUCT A.2, it was possible to ascertain that some phases of the production process of the supplier in question were carried out in outsourcing to external suppliers not regulated by subcontracting contracts and, therefore, without evaluations in terms of lead time. As a result of this type of production management, instabilities in the internal delivery process have been generated.

For some deliveries, the supply lead time has been calculated incorrectly.

The supplier tends not to comply with lead time specifications, especially after prolonged company closure periods and in correspondence with orders processed in short periods.

To identify the root cause of the difficulties highlighted, the Five Why (5Why) method was used, which allowed to identify the cause-and-effect relationships of the problems to be analyzed ( Table 6 ). With the help of this problem finding tool, it was possible to ascertain that for some deliveries examined, the delivery lead time was calculated incorrectly as for orders corresponding to the deliveries themselves, the generation date did not correspond to the date of sending the order to the supplier. The system for sending supply orders for the In-Lining line provides that the verification and approval phase, carried out after the automatic proposal generation phase, takes place manually through the action of the Back Office – Purchase Department operator. In situations of absence of the operator, or late approval of the order, the supplier receives the document on a different date from that of issue.

With reference to the second problem identified, it was analyzed that the Business Partner highlights critical issues in terms of supply lead time, in relation to the fulfillment of orders received following prolonged company closure periods and for those received in short periods.

In the first case, these are deliveries made in the time interval corresponding to the periods of early January, late April and early September: time intervals that follow the periods of company holidays for national holidays.

It was assumed that prior to these company holiday periods, the warehouse safety stock was entirely consumed and not restored with further production of components. Therefore, it was considered that the supplier finds it difficult to ensure the restart of the post–holiday production activity through the forecast of its monthly requirements; therefore, it is unable to prevent the stock breaking of its warehouse.

For the second case, however, the supplier presented difficulties in fulfilling the orders placed in correspondence of short periods. More precisely, an out of specification Lead Time was highlighted in correspondence with the second/third order received in a monthly time interval. Also, for this criticality it has been hypothesized that there may be difficulties in ensuring an efficient planning of production activities and a correct forecast of one's monthly requirements, without incurring stock-outs in one's warehouse.

Activate an automatic system for generating, approving and sending orders to the supplier;

Arrange a meeting with the business partner in order to discuss the critical issues detected in the period studied.

With the aim of preventing further errors in the measurement system of the supply lead time indicator, and therefore overcoming the time gaps recorded between the generation phase and the order sending phase, the information technology (IT) department was entrusted with the task to generate an IT system that can automatically complete the entire process of fulfilling the supply orders coming from the In-Lining line. Considering the utmost importance of this improvement activity, the automatism created was implemented in the process starting from the first week of February 2020.

Check the efficiency of internal production planning;

Verify whether the process of managing the economic lot and purchasing the components creates an imbalance in the company loan;

Check if all the clauses contained in the stipulated subcontracting contract have been effectively understood;

Check if in the production planning phase, the periodicity of reordering of components is taken into consideration.

Lastly, having ascertained the delivery problems encountered when supplying the PRODUCT A.2 component, the Management of the production process of the In-Lining line carried out a strategic Make or Buy analysis. As a result of the evaluation carried out, on 14/11/2019, the subcontracting contract was canceled and the procurement of the components was entrusted to an alternative Business Partner.

4.2.5 “Control” phase

In the last phase of the DMAIC project, some activities were identified and implemented in order to keep under control the improvement activities introduced in the Improve phase.

To verify the operation and validity of the automated system for generating, approving and sending the supply orders of the In-Lining line, the IT department has launched a checkup mechanism with the aim of transmitting to the Purchase Department a daily report on the effective sending of orders created automatically.

Considering, however, the need to investigate the possible difficulties encountered, the meeting with the Business Partner was scheduled for the second week of March.

4.3 Benefits deriving from the implementation of the project

After an accurate analysis of the problem related to the reduction of lead time and its causes, it has emerged that the main concern is that in most cases the supply lead time has been calculated incorrectly, while in others supplier tends not to comply with lead time specifications, mostly after company closure periods and when orders are processed in short periods.

First, the implementation of the project has made the company become fully aware of the inefficiencies present in the delivery process of some of its components, allowing a high reduction in the variability of the external production process of these components. Reducing delivery times has also allowed to better plan the supply of production components, defining the periods for sending purchase orders. An automatic system for managing supplier orders has been activated, and it has permitted to reduce errors during the order creation and management process, having a positive effect on the consolidation of the process under consideration. Moreover, a meeting with suppliers was carried out and it has permitted to discuss and confirm together with the business partners the clauses contained in the subcontracting contract, to better plan the periodicity of reordering of components, but also internally improve the efficiency of production planning. From a quantitative point of view, the benefits will be assessed over the long term, with a careful analysis.

5. Conclusion, implications and future research directions

This study was carried out with the main objective of describing the path and dynamics of the transformation process that business organizations undertake with the aim of optimizing their profitability and competitive advantage following the profound environmental changes to which they are subject to, placing emphasis on an innovative methodology for conducting business process improvement projects, known as Lean Six Sigma, which constitutes its operating philosophy on the effective and efficient use of company resources and skills, to guarantee to the company the achievement of a lasting and defensible competitive advantage over time. Lean Six Sigma has been presented in this research as a methodology for improving business productivity, which operates through the reduction of the constraints and inefficiencies of each production and transactional process, aspiring to the maximum satisfaction of the internal and external customer and is configured as a real strategy, which offers to the human resources an innovative way of thinking and working based on training growth, data culture and the use of problem-solving methodologies that allow the improvement of quality, the reduction of costs and company complexities. In this detailed case study, the DMAIC technique was applied in a project to stabilize the procurement process of a pull-type production cell, which experienced some problems in terms of delays in supply lead times.

Thanks to the analyses carried out and the results obtained with the processing of the DMAIC phases, it was possible to highlight the potential causes of the problems that the business partner could have presented in their process of managing the supply of the production cell. Furthermore, some inefficiencies in the internal process of fulfillment of supply orders have been intercepted, the optimization of which has allowed the generation of an automatic system for sending supply orders, coming directly from the production line; a small tweak that will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the consolidation of the process under consideration, as the purchase department will be able to both keep order fulfillment under control and develop a more efficient measurement of business partner performance indicators.

With the development of the project, it was possible to structure the initial guidelines for the subsequent in-depth analysis of the critical issues identified. In particular, for the stabilization of the entire process, Schnell S.p.A. will have to develop an intense relationship of collaboration and mutual growth with his supplier to identify and implement the best solutions to the variability of the supply order fulfillment process.

The practical implementation of the Lean Six Sigma project confirmed the validity and power of the principles professed by this improvement methodology: the importance of customer orientation and the elimination of waste of resources; the value of a work team and the continuous search for qualitative and quantitative data that support and facilitate the decisions of each member of the group.

It was particularly fruitful to discover how collaboration and involvement within an LSS working group amplifies the skills and knowledge of each participant and generates a widespread climate of enthusiasm and strong determination for continuous improvement in every area, both at work and personal level.

Another practical implication that emerged from the study was the high importance to be attributed to the process of measuring company performance. From a consistent database and their level of reliability, it is possible to identify important opportunities for improvement and savings in terms of company resources; the data make it possible to highlight significant problems and inefficiencies, otherwise not recognizable, which are the result of high company costs that impact on company profitability.

The research shows how Lean Six Sigma can offer companies high advantages in achieving the highest quality in the value creation process, however, to ensure the successful success of projects, the desire for change must arise from the depths of top management; it will have to assume the role of promoter of the LSS culture and philosophy, so that the tools of the methodology are effective in managing and guiding the improvement and transformation actions, one step at a time, with rigor and discipline, but with the involvement of all own resources, with the greatest possible efficiency and effectiveness.

The main limitation of the study derives from the qualitative methodology adopted, that while it permits to analyze in depth and broadly all the phases of implementation of the LSS in the company, highlighting the difficulties encountered during the activities and the benefits obtained, these results should be integrated with an analysis on a large sample of companies that have developed similar projects to be more generalizable. Future research should be oriented on developing a quantitative analysis on LSS implementation. In any case, a qualitative study of this depth can give ideas for improvement and development for companies similar in structure and dimension to Schnell S.p.A.

lean project case study

Gantt Chart of the project

lean project case study

Project charter

lean project case study

SIPOC diagram – supplier, input, process, output, customer

lean project case study

Flow Chart: Diagram of the procurement process through the Kanban system

lean project case study

Value stream mapping of the procurement process of the In-Lining line with Kanban system

lean project case study

Population stratification

lean project case study

Graphical summary statistical analysis of Lead Times recorded in the period 01/01/2018–31/10/2019. Population with numbers N  = 74

lean project case study

Graphical summary statistical analysis of Lead Times recorded in the period 01/01/2018–31/10/2019. Population with numbers N  = 70

lean project case study

Frequency of deliveries with centered and delayed lead time (a) and boxplot lead time (b) for sub-category

lean project case study

Frequency of deliveries with centered and delayed lead time (a) and boxplot lead time (b) for sub-category type

Composition of the project team

Project risk analysis

Project risk and calculation of the Risk Priority Index

Process sigma calculation

Report of the performances analyzed in the period November 2018–October 2019

Five why matrix

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The authors acknowledge Schnell S.p.A. for supporting the research providing the data that allowed the realization of the case study.

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Case Study: Lean Project Management

This case study focuses on the effectiveness of using lean project management to evaluate, define, implement and sustain consistent operational efficiency. A small, innovative manufacturing company was struggling with a lack of clear communication for the two shifts of their production. In most cases, the company made changes on the first shift that were not being followed by the second  shift. The changes and instructions on how best to implement them were not known by the second shift personnel due to this lack of communication and inclusion of the second shift in the decision making process.

Prosit was brought in to address this problem and help the company develop a standard process for any future changes. The evaluation process uncovered several issues that needed attention. One example was only the first shift had a dedicated forklift driver assigned. The second shift operators, not having that dedicated resource, had to stop production and get the forklift themselves to move material to where it was needed. That inefficiency caused the company production and cost issues.

To solve the problems, multiple lean project management sessions were run for small groups of first shift personnel over a period of two days. The goal was to get their input on what changes could be made and create a definitive “wish list” of improvements. With that model in place, the exact same thing was done for the second shift personnel. Prosit managed both shifts; gathering the input, defining scope and documenting gaps. In the end, most of the issues stemmed from the lack of personnel on the second shift compared to the first shift.

Improvements implemented for both shifts included the new communication protocol for identifying and executing on improvements, a new protocol for shift changes and an active hiring process to staff up the second shift and establish more consistency and efficiency in the daily production cycle. Morale improved also in the second shift since they now felt fully included and listened to within the company. The management team were pleased with the recommended improvements and Prosit’s ability and willingness to integrate, improve and standardize the two shifts.

Please contact us for assistance with lean project management or any other lean service. We can help your company succeed!

EJ Lydon has extensive experience in Operations and Manufacturing management. He now passionately provides Advanced Process and Strategic consulting services to small to medium sized companies, focusing on Lean Manufacturing methodologies with roots in the Toyota Production System.

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Lean Process Improvements at Cleveland Clinic

By: Izak Duenyas

This case study teaches students about lean process improvement projects at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world's leading hospital systems. The majority of the case focuses on one lean improvement…

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This case study teaches students about lean process improvement projects at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the world's leading hospital systems. The majority of the case focuses on one lean improvement project and leads the student step-by-step through the Kaizen events, and the tools, approaches and outcomes of the project. The case study ends with two short mini-cases on additional process improvement projects at the Cleveland Clinic. The detailed and concise case is ideal for a discussion about lean process improvement in the services industry.

Learning Objectives

After discussing this case study, students will be able to:

1.) describe appropriate business terms and principles appropriate to this case

2.) apply critical concepts from earlier learning to define a solution to the case

3.) successfully articulate data and information in support of the solution proposed

4.) critically analyze and discuss other responses and solutions to the case

5.) draw lessons from the case analysis

6.) generalize the learnings of this case to other business challenges and decisions in organizations other than the one analyzed in this case study

7.) demonstrate leadership and scholarship in analysis.

May 14, 2009


Operations Management


United States


Healthcare service industry, Scientific and technical services

WDI Publishing at the University of Michigan


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