Concepts of Lean

Education is about why we do something. Training is where you learn how to do something.

Illinois BIS is an organization committed to helping Illinois businesses thrive. Michael Pop, senior consultant at Illinois BIS, shares the Lean principles he helps implement at organizations across the state.

Lean focuses on doing more with less. Create the highest quality product while using the least amount of resources—time, personnel and money. It’s not about working harder, but working more effectively. It began with Dr. Deming’s Quality Chain Reaction.

Identifying Waste

To understand waste, it’s important to know the different types of work.

First and foremost, there is value-added activity (VA). This produces something that a customer will pay or wait for and is done right the first time. These activities either change or transform your product or service.

There is also business value-added activity (BVA) which is essential and valuable for the company process but is not necessarily perceived by the customer. This includes regulations, legal processes and more.

Waste is determined by non value-added activity (NVA), which consumes resources without creating customer value. This type of activity is rarely complete or accurate.

These are the eight main forms of waste, or NVA:

Correction: Reworking a project due to some form of error.
Overproduction: Producing more than is needed now. This form of waste is key, as it often causes the other forms to occur.
Motion: Unnecessary movement of people around the facility that does not add value.
Material Handling: Movement of things that does not add value.
Waiting: Wasted time spent when people or materials are not ready.
Inventory: Having an overstock of products stored when they are not needed.
Processing: Time spent on processes that aren’t perceived to add value from customer’s standpoint.
Under-utilization: Not utilizing equipment or people at their highest potential.

Begin by identifying waste in your organization. Are supplies disorganized or overstocked to the point that employees waste time looking for things? Is your staff stretched so thin that they are under-utilizing their abilities? Begin to think of solutions for minimizing the identified waste. This could mean cutting back on materials, buying a new piece of equipment that increases efficiency, altering a process and more.

Lean is about continuously improving your process and having respect for your people. If you are struggling to identify waste, ask yourself if it meets the must-have criteria for value-added activity. If it is not done right the first time, it does not transform the product or service and the customer is not willing to either wait or pay for it, then it is either BVA or NVA activity.

Little’s Law and Improving Throughput

Little’s Law, established by John D.C. Little, follows this formula:

Lead Time = Work In Process/Throughput

The 5S System is a rapid improvement tool of Lean helps improve your throughput. The steps are as follows.

1) Sort

2) Set in Order

3) Shine & Inspect

4) Standardize

5) Sustain

Think of a supply closet with a chart that standardizes where you can find things and where you should place things when you return. When you create organization and hold standards, you can enforce accountability when those standards are not met.

A key step to efficiency is designing something so that it can’t be done wrong. Michael uses the example of a three prong outlet where it’s impossible to insert the prong incorrectly. Make your systems mistake-proof to help eliminate waste and improve throughput.


Many organizations looking to implement Lean begin by learning the tools. Once the tools are understood, members and leaders of the organization must begin to adopt systems that maintain Lean efforts and create a sustaining way of thinking. The tools are highly successful and create quick wins, but sustainability is key. Typically, an organization will spend 5-7 years implementing Lean and will continue working to perfection.

Guide your implementation with these 5 steps:

  • Specify Value – Clearly define what people pay you to do and why.
  • Map the Value Stream
  • Create Flow
  • Implement Pull – only purchase supplies and inventory as they are consumed.
  • Work to Perfection – There are no tools for this fifth step. It’s about adopting a mindset and attitude as you continuously improve your systems.

About Michael Pop

Michael R. Pop is a full-time senior consultant with Illinois BIS and has spent thirty years providing Quality Engineering, Quality Management, Lean, Lean Six-Sigma and Systems Thinking support to various Industries. Including, manufacturers, universities, not-for-profits, and healthcare organizations.

Michael is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with Illinois BIS and a senior member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ).  He holds certifications from ASQ as a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB), Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) and a Certified Quality Auditor (CQA).

For more information, visit and see CFBC’s upcoming events here.

This post is a recap of the Breakfast Club program on Lean Principles with Mike Pop of Illinois BIS on February 28th, 2018.

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