The application of Lean concepts in the lab is supported by a rather large box of Lean tools. The tools range from simple to sophisticated, meaning that the more simple ones are well suited to application by the labs just learning about Lean. As Lean skill and culture is developed, the lab can move on to using the more advanced tools.
But where to start? There are a handful of “starter” tools that can be learned and applied with a minimum amount of training or facilitation. Here are 4 tools that will get you started.
- Workplace Organization (6S) is a foundation for waste elimination. 6S brings order to the workplace by eliminating the hidden waste caused by frequent inability to instantly find things. Workplace organization means being able to put your hands on what you need, when you need it, without wasted time.
- Value Stream Mapping is the set of all actions (both value added and non-value added) required to bring a specific product or service from raw material through to the customer. Value Stream Mapping typically shows that 92 – 95% of cycle time is wasted time and thus identifies opportunities for productivity gains.
- Kaizen involves working in teams within an organization to make improvements without large capital investments. Kaizen leverages the extensive amount of untapped knowledge that exists within the skills and experience of the employees to focus on eliminating waste and solving problems.
- Root Cause Analysis is used to identify, isolate and eliminate a problem so it can’t come back. A team of people is used to identify what behaviors, actions, inactions, or conditions need to be changed to prevent the problem coming back.
It is strongly recommended that the lab conduct a process evaluation to determine exactly what tools (maybe not just the ones listed above) may be best suited to the existing culture of the lab. For instance, a perfectly clean, well-organized lab may not benefit from a focus on Workplace Organization since it is already part of the existing culture.
A word of caution: Lean isn’t just a set of tools for process improvement because tools alone aren’t enough. Labs that merely use the tools and do not embrace the Lean philosophy (Focus on the process, Eliminate waste, Involve employees, Continuously improve) will not sustain changes nor utilize the tools for maximum effectiveness.