Top 5 Lean Tools that You Wont Need a Lean Consultant to Implement
Visual Management in a Lean Enterprise
Red Green Tee card board

Top 5 Lean Tools that You Wont Need a Lean Consultant to Implement

Lean manufacturing is a well known and proven management system, which has been implemented in thousands of companies and organisations and a huge range of industries worldwide. Now, plenty of people out there will say that you wont need a consultant at all to implement Lean, but the reality is that there are a lot of consultants like TXM, meeting a real need in helping businesses to get started. Implementing Lean manufacturing has its challenges and most companies engage or employ experienced experts or lean consultants such as TXM to get their Lean transformation underway. However there are many lean tools and principles that you can do yourself, without the need for a lean consultant or hiring an internal expert. Here are five simple lean tools that you can try (you can even try them at home – they are that safe!!)


  1. Kamishbai – Red Green Tee Card Boards. One of our favourite and simplest lean tools is the Red-Green Tee Card board or Kamishibai. These are a really effective way to make sure that everyone can see whether everyday tasks in your factory or office are getting done. A red green task board is a slotted metal rack in to which are inserted tee shaped cards. These cards are printed red on one side and green on the other. Typically the columns on the rack will represent days of the week (although other time intervals such as hourly, weekly or monthly tasks can also be scheduled) and the cards are then inserted underneath the corresponding day on which they are due. Each card is labelled with a task on the front and back. The cards are inserted in the rack with the red side facing out and are then rotated to show green as each task is completed. You can then see at a glance whether you are up to date with this week’s tasks. To learn more about Red-Green Tee Card boards view our videos and blogs
  2. Auditing to sustain 5S
    Auditing to sustain 5S

    5s – The most famous lean tool is also one of the easiest one to use. Simply pick an area and start to apply the 5S’s. Remove everything from the area except for fixed items, SORT out the items by frequency of use (ie. the things that you use every day, every week, every month or not at all). Get rid of obsolete items and place items you are not sure of away from the work area in a designated “red tag” area. Then work out where you want to place the items that you do regularly use. SET IN ORDER by placing most commonly used tools, materials and consumables in designated areas close to where they are used. Mark the areas where the items are to be stored with line marking and signs so it is clear where everything needs to returned after it is used. Then SHINE the area by giving the area the best possible clean. Remove all dirt and rubbish and fix obvious damage to machines and the workplace. Once everything is in its place and the area shining take a photo. That can become your visual STANDARD. You then need to organize a regular routine to SUSTAIN your 5s by  inspecting the workplace regularly to make sure that everything is staying in place. Almost anyone can get started on 5S and make a difference. Really sustaining and improving it may take some expert help, but why wait – get sorting today! Learn more about 5S from our 5S page

  3. Leader Standard Work (for yourself) – Leader standard work can be pretty demanding to implement as most leaders are reluctant to comply at the start. However, if you implement leader standard work for yourself, the excellent example you set and increased performance you achieve can then be a model for others! Simply make a check list of the things that you need to do and see each day. Work out how long each of these tasks take by measuring your own time to complete them. Make sure that you do not allocate more than about 30% of your day to these tasks and avoid too many tasks at fixed times. I did this when I was the manager of a blowmoulding plant twenty years ago. The list was on the inside cover of my diary. Fixed tasks might be to attend the Daily Production Meeting or the Planning Meeting, however most tasks were variable. Two or three times a day I did a full walk of the factory to observe how things were going. How were machines running? Were leak testing machines calibrated and working correctly? What was in the waste bin? Were supervisors and team leaders in the area and supporting their people? I would observe the various visual performance boards around the factory and take note of on and off target performance. I would observe compliance with 5S standards (or red green tee card boards if had had them back in those days). When I found problems I would ask questions to understand the underlying problems. Simply locking in this routine every day had a huge impact on the plant. Once technicians saw me personally testing leak testers, they made sure that they were always calibrated and working correctly, when team leaders had to explain large piles of defects or large lumps of purging material in the waste bin, they were more focused on avoiding defects and excessive purging. Learn more about leader standard work from our blog or one of the excellent books on the topic. Consider setting up a red-green task board of your own to track your own tasks.
  4. Five Whys and Concern Strips A key tenant of Lean is that we solve problems using scientific method or the
    solving problems everyday concern strips
    Problem Solving Concern Strips

    PDCA cycle. To solve problems we have to find the root cause and to find the root cause we have to ask why. Five whys is incredibly simple. Firstly we define the problem. What exactly is the problem, what is its extent and why does it matter? Clear definition makes problem solving easier. Then simply ask why did the problem occur. Keep asking “why” until you believe you have got a root cause that you can address. You then need to agree a countermeasure that will address this root cause. To record this and track the implementation of the countermeasure, you can use a concern strip. This is a simple and practical method to ensure that the countermeasure is fully implemented; that the problem is followed up; that the countermeasure works; that the problem doesn’t occur again and that the countermeasure is locked in to standards. Read our most popular problem solving blogs to learn more. Learn how to ask why from our Lean Minute Video.

  5. Example of Andon Lights
    Example of Andon Lights

    Andon Andon is a system that allows front line operators to signal a problem in the process. By pushing a button, pulling a cord or raising a flag (literally) operators signal to their team leader that they need support with a problem (e.g a defect, material shortage or faulty machine). The team leader then must come and assist within an agreed time or the operator can stop the production line. Andon may not be an obvious choice for “tools that you can implement yourself”, because many would see Andon as a higher level lean tool. However according to a colleague from Toyota Australia, the Andon system was the first thing that Toyota implemented when they first took over their plant in Port Melbourne,Australia. This is because Andon highlights problems in the process by empowering operators to raise those problems. It is also quite easy to set up. Simply providing a button next to the work station and wiring that up to a light or buzzer is well within the scope of most businesses. Even if this was too tough, making up some flags and a holder for the operator to insert the flag when he or she has a problem is even simpler. You will be amazed by the change that Andon can create. Learn more about Andon from our blog.

So with that list you can make quite a bit of improvement yourself. The five items above do not represent a whole lean production system, however they make a good start and prepare the ground for more improvement. Some lean tools are really best implemented with the support of a Lean expert or a competent lean consultant. I believe Value Stream Mapping is a good example of this. While there are lots of good books on value stream mapping, the technique can require a major paradigm shift for your business and therefore is best supported by someone such as a Lean Consultant, who has applied the technique before. Extending leader standard work and the Lean management system beyond yourself can also be challenging because most managers are not enthusiastic at the start. Other lean tools such as kanban, one piece flow and FIFO can require some technical knowledge to get right and specialist help from a Lean expert or lean consultant can also be valuable.

However, if you make a start by yourself, then by the time you do need some help. you will have a good understanding of Lean and what it can do. You will have hopefully recorded some successes (and perhaps some failures – which is fine) and will be ready to really make some major change.


Timothy McLean

Author: Timothy McLean

Timothy McLean is the Managing Director of TXM Lean Solutions and is an author of Lean books.