Lean Terms & Tools

Lean Terms & Tools

Kaizen Event

A one-week concentrated effort by a team to improve a process. Team members are those "who do the work". A kaizen event focuses on a repetitive process (that may be broke or a good process that could be improved) and works through a very structured method of assessment. The first two days highlight the current state situation, with Day 2 reviewing the ideal state. Day 3 focuses on the barriers and causes of each step of the process and starts to address improvement ideas. Day 4 allows time for actual assessment and review of the new way, with time for implementation. Day 5 is a short day with wrap-up and a final presentation to upper management.

Time Expectations: There is work leading up to a kaizen event, including a 4-hour planning session and data collection. The event, itself, requires 4 full days of the team's time (with 2 potentially long days on Day 3 and 4). Day 5 is only a couple hours. Much of the work is implemented through a detailed work plan after the event. Most actions are implemented within 3 months of the kaizen event. Two after action reviews (1.5 hours/each) are held at the 3-month and 12-month mark. Data collection may be required post-kaizen at various intervals after the event (but definitely at the 12 month mark), to assess sustainability.

Mini-kaizen events span 2 days, covering the full aspects of a kaizen event but in an abbreviated fashion. Mini-kaizens are best suited for small processes within one facility.

Taste of Lean

Six one-hour modules offered for all levels of staff. These are purposefully taught over a 6 month period (one session / month) to allow time for application ("homework"). Staff will be given a brief training and application during the hour and will have time to reflect on the previous learnings. This is a nice way to ease into Lean - it is strictly a "taste". The Taste Series is very beneficial when taken by groups of employees from the same department so they can go back to their workplace and apply the learnings together. Summaries of each module are provided below:

1. Lean Thinking
Learn about the Toyota Production System and the application to any industry/process through the 4 key rules and 5 principles of Lean.
2. Waste Elimination
Learn the 7 Wastes (transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, defects) with the goal of identifying and eliminating waste in day-to-day work.
3. 5S's
Learn and apply the 5S's (Sift, Sweep, Sort/Standardize, Sanitize, Sustain)with the goal of surfacing problems.
4. Standard Work
Learn that standard work ensures that tasks are performed exactly the same way every time, no matter who performs the operation and ensures that the desired outcome/quality is built into the process. Apply and utilize the standard work instruction as one tool to achieve standard work. Understand that standard work is dependent upon "high agreement", which values the common way more than your own way.
5. Visual Management
Learn about visual displays and controls with the goal of implementing simple, clear messages to provide "status at a glance" and standardizing the work environment.
6. Problem Solving
Understand that problems should be embraced as we can learn from them and continuous improvement can take place. Apply the systematic practical problem solving methodology which allows problems to surface quickly, engages employees closest to the activity, works through a root cause analysis (5 Whys) with a goal of not encountering the same problem twice.

Learning Lab

A learning lab is a small, discrete area where Lean thinking and the tools of Lean are utilized day-to-day. This is the forum where culture truly changes. A learning lab may involve up to 10-12 core team members (with additional folks from other departments that they interact with). A learning lab may be chosen based on various factors: a problem area, complicated processes, first point of entry, visible internally or externally, customer service oriented, management oriented, etc. A learning lab requires up to a year of formal education by the team (4 hours/month) with application between trainings. A learning lab includes huddles (3x/week at 15 min/huddle). A learning lab may also require special project team meetings and audits. All of the Taste of Lean modules noted above are covered in a learning lab (to a much greater extent). Additionally, the following modules are covered:


Learn what scoreboards are and understand the importance of measurement in an
organization. Apply simple tracking methodologies to day-to-day issues (make it
real time and beneficial to the parties involved). This is key to huddles.

Process Mapping

Learn about the process mapping tool and the ability to dive deep into "current state". Apply and utilize various current state maps to observe waste and improve a given process.


Understand the power of observation and the ability to "see" and ultimately improve activities, connections and flows.

Error Proofing

(part of an expanded problem solving module to ensure a problem never occurs in the first place)

A3 / Master Scheduling

(part of observation module - utilizing a simple tool (A3) to visually show the current state, target state and action plan to improve the process)

Appreciative Inquiry Learn a strengths-based model to facilitate change in systems. Focus on a positive approach with day-to-day work and relationships.

Demonstration Projects

Broader than a kaizen event and more specific than a learning lab. A demonstration project focuses on a major project that addresses a recognized issue or problem and utilizes Lean thinking and the tools to manifest thinking and work toward the ideal state. A demonstration project progresses over a period of months with the team meeting periodically for long blocks of time.

Value Stream Mapping

A method of creating a "one page picture" of all the processes that occur in an affiliate or department, from the time a patient/resident is admitted through discharge (or in the case of a "product-based" service, from the time a customer places an order for a product or service, until the customer has received that product or service). The goal is to depict process and information flow across and throughout all value-added processes required. Waste can easily be identified in a VSM. The VSM is a high-level snapshot of the current state and becomes the baseline for improvement. It allows for the creation of the future state and a roadmap to get there. A VSM can transpire over several days or be broken into half-day sessions.

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