If you’ve heard some buzz about Lean tools and principles, you’re not alone. Lean tools got their start in America as early as the 1900s, when Henry Ford used Lean methodology to create the Model T assembly line. Lean methodology also has an expansive legacy outside the U.S., with companies such as Toyota making considerable breakthroughs in the application of Lean Tools throughout the 1930s.

In addition to being the first to correctly implement the Lean tool Just-In-Time, for example, Toyota is also known for creating its own Lean Production System. In this article, we’ll explore what Lean tools are and discuss the applications for seven common ones that you’ll encounter in Lean Six Sigma.

What Are Lean Tools?

The Japanese word for waste is muda, which is defined as “uselessness.” Lean tools are designed to reduce Muda in organizations and improve quality control. In other words, Lean tools seek to eliminate processes that aren’t valuable.

Lean tools are utilized across many industries—from manufacturing to engineering to finance— and organizations often leverage them together with Six Sigma methods. Though there are some differences between the two frameworks, the underlying philosophies behind Lean and Six Sigma complement each other exceptionally well: Lean tools are designed to eliminate invaluable processes, while Six Sigma focuses on lessening variation within a process. When used together, the two are referred to as Lean Six Sigma, a process that reduces and manages different types of waste in organizations.

Though there are several different types of Lean tools, this article will focus on seven of them, and how they can be applied.

Lean Tools Summary
Bottleneck Analysis Structured way of looking at workflows
Just-in-Time (JIT) On-demand system of production
Value Stream Mapping Analyzing and optimizing a process
Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) Measure of productive time
Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) Method to manage change
Error Proofing Analysis tool based on prevention
Root Cause Analysis (RCA) Method to get the foundation of an issue

Lean Tools and Their Applications

Bottleneck Analysis

How many times have your projects gotten stuck somewhere between development and delivery? Bottleneck analysis is a structured way of looking at the processes and workflows for developing a product or service. Bottleneck analysis is also used to address both present and future issues, by identifying and addressing operational and process challenges.


Utilizing Lean practices to spot and rectify a bottleneck saves companies time, energy and money. Depending on the type of bottleneck, there are several things you can do to address it. For example, bottlenecks caused by inefficient processes can be fixed through streamlining and improving those processes; if it is instead caused by a lack of resources, you may need to hire more people or purchase technology to make your existing resources go further.

Just-in-Time (JIT)

Just-in-time manufacturing is an on-demand system that allows manufacturers to go into production only after the customer has requested a product. This means that companies do not have to stock up on unnecessary inventory, lowering the risk of some components or products being overstocked or damaged while being stored.


Professionals who use Lean principles should consider JIT if their business is capable of working on-demand and can minimize the risk of only carrying inventory as needed. JIT can be an effective framework for managing inventory, but it can also make it more difficult to meet customer demand if there is a breakdown in the supply chain.

As an example, the self-publishing sector often uses this model, only printing books as they are ordered. Digital distribution for media products has also helped to minimize the costs associated with excess materials.

Organizations in sectors like manufacturing should carefully evaluate their supply chains and minimize the potential for disruption when implementing JIT. If a critical supplier has to suspend operations, for example, it’s important to have a backup plan to ensure that the final product can still be developed.

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is a technique developed from Lean manufacturing. Organizations use it to create a visual guide of all the components necessary to deliver a product or service with the goal of analyzing and optimizing the entire process.

Value stream mapping is used in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, finance and healthcare. This principle takes all the people, processes, information and inventory necessary, and displays them in a flow chart in order to get an overview of the business.


Value stream mapping can be applied to your organization by methods such as:

  • Encouraging continuous improvement in processes
  • Enabling culture change within an organization
  • Facilitating clear collaboration and communication

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)

Overall equipment effectiveness (or OEE) measures how much planned productive time is actually productive. For example, imagine you’re planning to work on a project for an hour, but then spending 20 minutes of that time answering a client call, meaning your OEE would be about 67% (40 minutes of actual production time, divided by 60 minutes of planned production time).

In terms of manufacturing, OEE takes into account the percentage of “good parts” produced (“good parts” being the parts that meet the quality standards of that particular company). In the example above, if your project has parts that are poorly constructed, those would not count towards the “good parts” or overall OEE score.

According to oee.com, overall equipment effectiveness can be calculated by multiplying the following three factors:

  • Availability
  • Performance
  • Quality

These three factors are defined as follows:

  • Availability = Run Time Divided by Total Planned Production Time
  • Performance = (Ideal Cycle Time Multiplied by Total Count) Divided By Run Time
  • Quality = Good Count Divided by Total Count


Companies apply OEE in order to increase production effectiveness and perform effectively and efficiently by establishing accurate baselines of performance—while still maintaining quality standards. This efficiency saves companies money and time.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

Plan-Do-Check-Act is a scientific method used to manage change, and is also known as the Deming Cycle. It was developed by Dr. W Edwards Deming in the 1950s. The PDCA cycle involves four parts:

  1. Plan – Recognize an opportunity or process that needs improvement.
  2. Do – Create a small test.
  3. Check – Analyze the results of the test.
  4. Act – Move forward based on those results.


Lockheed Martin used PDCA to create a more efficient process in material management. One of its award-winning achievements was its ability to reduce the time to move parts from the receiving department to the stock department. Initially, this process took 30 days, but the entire process was shortened to four hours.

Error Proofing

Error proofing—also known as poka-yoke—is a common process analysis tool that is based on the idea of prevention. As stated by BusinessMap, a project management software company, poka-yoke focuses on making sure that the right conditions exist before any process is put in place. This step lessens the chance of defects and human error happening.


There are a few steps companies can take to successfully implement root cause analysis:

  1. Recognize the issue you are trying to solve.
  2. Learn details about how long the problem has been going on, and how it is specifically affecting your process/business.
  3. Collect data about the problem, and try to identify as many potential causes as possible.
  4. Once you have data, decide what the source of the problem is.
  5. Decide how to lessen the chances of the problem happening again.

The Value of Lean Training

Because Lean tools and principles can be applied to so many different industries around the world, professionals in many different settings and stages of their careers can take advantage of learning these methodologies. According to the career research platform Burning Glass, for example, some of the top industries looking for professionals with expertise in Lean methods include aerospace manufacturing, employment services, engineering services, control system and measurement tool manufacturing and medical hospitals.

Six Sigma metrics and methodology continue to be adopted by thousands of organizations globally as a model that can deliver dramatic performance improvement and cost savings. Learning these practices through advanced studies like a Lean Six Sigma certification program will help you stay competitive in today’s manufacturing and business marketplace by giving you tools to create efficiencies in your work.

About Purdue’s Online Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Certificate Program

Purdue University offers comprehensive online Lean Six Sigma (LSS) certificate programs designed for working professionals with varying levels of Lean Six Sigma experience. The online Lean Six Sigma certificate courses prepare professionals to satisfy the immense demand for Lean expertise, skills and certification.

Purdue offers the following courses 100% online:

Get Started Now


To learn more about Purdue University’s online Lean Six Sigma Training and Certification program and , fill out this form. You can also email us at LSSonline@purdue.edu or call us at (888) 390-0499 to speak to one of our program advisors.

Purdue University has engaged AllCampus to help support your educational journey. AllCampus will contact you shortly in response to your request for information. About AllCampus. Privacy Policy. You may opt out of receiving communications at any time.

* All Fields are Required. Your Privacy is Protected. Are you enrolling from outside the US? Click here.