Lean Tools to Support A Make to Order Production System

How to Support a Make to Order Production System

When looking at best practice outcomes across a range of industries, we can see that having a Production System that aims to make only what has been ordered by the customer, can achieve efficient results. When we focus on Make to Order Production the scheduling is based on actual orders, rather than based on projected volumes. Changing to make to order or “Just In Time” product system has become the foundation step for a lean production system. To assists in this change, there are key lean tools to learn and practice as the new systems are developed.

Here we will look at three key Lean Manufacturing tools to help support the implementation of a make to order production system. Each tool addresses a different issue and when done well, they do complement each other. This approach allows scheduling to start as late as possible and for orders to make it all the way through the production stages without minimal delays, quality concerns or increased costs. This builds greater confidence that your people, processes and products can work together to achieve the right outcomes more often. Let’s explore the three key Lean Manufacturing tools that support Make To Order production.

Load Leveling

Load Levelling is designed to decrease the overall lead-time from receiving the order to delivery of the products by developing the capabilities to intentionally manufacturing items at the last possible start date and in the smallest batch size that the processes can support. This helps to focus on reducing wastes within a process and support functions to be more agile to changes in volumes or mix. This results in lower inventory levels and reduces long-running batches.

The benefits of Level loading are identified during Value Stream Mapping and this will generate many actions to address during the implementation phase. As you begin to strive for level loading across your production processes, it will begin to highlight problems with quality and your team’s ability to tackle issues as they arise. This is where a quality focus and problem solving become important tools for your team


Quality Focus With Mistake Proofing

Reducing, or preferable eliminating, the possibility of errors occurring in production is a key aim in Make to Order Production systems. It does offer many challenges in the manufacturing world. We can begin by identifying and removing the causes of the error through a number of approaches; by redesigning the component, changing the tooling, checking the right information is available, adding automation into a process or adding software in the appropriate places. While some of these systems may be expensive to implement, there are many examples of low tech solutions that can be applied by your team to prevent defects in production.

The key to mistake-proofing is in the ability of the production process to highlight any potential issues before the defective products are allowed to be passed on to the next operation, and prevent errors reaching the next process or on to the customers. This is an effective lean tool that can make a big impact on the road to implementing Make to Order Production.

Quality metrics - TXM

Problem Solving Using PDCA Cycles

As we continue with implementing a Make to Order Production process, many problems will arise and we need to equip our teams with the tools to investigate and fix these problems. The lean problem-solving tools are based on the cycle of improvement; Plan, Do, Check, Act. Building this mindset into the way you and your team investigates problems is crucial to reaching your goal.

The core of a PDCA cycle is based on asking the right questions at the right stage. Here are a few questions to get you started while developing this mindset.

The PLAN Phase Questions

What needs to be done?
What are the facts?
How did this occur?
When did it occur?
Who was there?

The DO Phase Questions

What is getting done?
What isn’t not done?
Why has it not happen?
How do we correct this
Do we have new data?

The CHECK Phase Questions

What does the data show?
Why is it like this or not?
What did we accomplish or learn?

The ACT Phase Questions

Why the need to change the plan?
What can we try next or what to keep?
What need to befit to improve the result
What does the data show?

Fishbone Diagrams

Often with manufacturing problems, the solutions are not simple to find. Using complex problem solving, we can use Fishbone Diagrams. The fishbone diagram helps to define the problem in the production process and then begins to collect all the possible causes. This fishbone diagram is useful when working with a team as a reference map to build up knowledge and consider every possible angle. The fishbone structure is based on six categories that arrange the potential causes into groups.

The six categories of a fishbone diagram are:

  • Equipment
  • Process
  • People
  • Management
  • Material
  • Environment


Once the team has brainstormed the likely causes for the problem being addressed, the team can decide to take the best step to remove or control the most likely cause. In some cases, the fix may not be the perfect one, but considering the expense of fixing the most likely cause or that a fix may not be within their ability to complete, may be adequate to meet the team’s needs.


The goal of the Make to Order System that complete the order right the first time as per the customer requirements and deliver to the customer when needed. To support the implementation of a Make to Order Production system, start small and expand on the outcomes as you begin to level load the production process. This leads to a focus on solving quality issues with simple mistake-proofing methods and then use the PDCA cycle, partnered with a fishbone diagram, to work at the larger challenges as they arise.

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions