What Tools Are In Your Toolbox?

What Tools Are In Your Toolbox

By: Ronette Kersting


Lean tools are utilized across many industries—from manufacturing to engineering to business resources. Whether you are building a physical product or creating a Lean culture, these tools help improve production and efficiency by getting the most out of each resource.  Although there are several different types of Lean tools, this article will focus on a few of the most useful.


A visual lean tool that helps analyze and optimize an entire process.  It is a method for analyzing the current state and designing a future state for a series of events.  It visualizes the steps needed to take a product, service, or other deliverables from beginning through to the customer.  It displays the interaction between items within the process including information and material flow.  By visually mapping the relationships of all items within a process, potential problems, and waste (time, resources, inventory) are easier to identify.  All activities are also categorized as either value enabling, value adding or non-value adding.  The focus of this tool is to identify and eliminate the non-value-added activities in each process step as well as reduce the wait time between consecutive steps where possible.


Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “continual improvement.”  Created in Japan after World War II, Kaizen was utilized to help rebuild after the war.  This lean tool can foster continuous improvement in every function of a business from quality, technology, productivity to company culture, and safety.  Kaizen seeks to improve productivity, safety, and effectiveness by leveraging the knowledge and involvement of all employees.  As a result, suggestions for improvement come from every area of the business:  production, logistics, purchasing, business resources, safety, etc.  Kaizen events typically generate rapid changes and help create a continuous improvement culture through high employee engagement.



Kanban is a Japanese word meaning “signal card.”  It is a visual workflow management method that enables organizations with the visibility, metrics, and focus they need to better manage work and people.  Kanban provides visibility by utilizing physical or digital boards to represent a team’s or organization’s process.  Work is represented by cards on the board, moving from left to right as the process is completed.  This provides a real-time workflow management view for all personnel.  Thus, a shared view of capacity, productivity, process efficiency, etc.  Kanban also helps organizations ensure focus is maintained on work priorities, work-in-process (WIP) limits, and overall work distribution to ensure a more sustainable, healthy, and productive environment.  Overall, this tool helps provide visibility, focus and alignment needed to practice continuous improvement, respect for people and maximizing the value for the customer.


The 5S (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) tool is a Lean tool designed to improve workplace organization. The five-step process is a controlled method for improvement that creates standard work and discipline to quickly signal variance from standards.  The 5S process identifies and eliminates waste as well as providing a method for continuous improvement.  The 5S tool improves workplace efficiency and effectiveness by:

  • Removing unneeded items (Sort)
  • Organize each work area to maximize flow and efficiency (Set)
  • Clean each work area regularly (Shine)
  • Document improvements for ease of replication to other areas (Standardize)
  • Ensure each step is repeated to ensure continuous improvement (Sustain)


As a lean tool, 5S can be utilized in many industries, including manufacturing, IT, logistics, and healthcare. It also is one of the easiest lean tools to implement all while improving workforce engagement and empowerment.

In summary, there are many different Lean tools that can be utilized both independently to solve specific issues or together to provide a more comprehensive view.  Either way, embracing Lean tools like those outlined above can be very helpful toward maximizing customer value by identifying and eliminating wasteful practices and processes.  They all effectively support continuous improvement with respect for people.  It’s a WIN – WIN!

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