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Lean Case Study Exercises

Lean Management Examples from a Variety of Businesses

The following case studies of Lean Management principles in action show you how a variety of real businesses solved real business problems under diverse conditions.

We've arranged the stories in 16 categories to help you find the examples you need. There is some overlap. For instance, a "Lean Manufacturing" case study may also appear with "Privately Held Companies."

Many of the executives who took part in these transformations are interviewed in LEI's Senior Executive Series on Lean Leadership. After reading the case studies, be sure to get their personal perspectives on leading change. (Feel free to link to this page, but please respect the copyrights of LEI and journalists by not copying the articles.)

Are you doing something new or notable in the practice of Lean Management? Let us share what you learned with the lean community. For more information, contact LEI's Director of Communications Chet Marchwinski at cmarchwinski at lean dot org

Learn about the latest case studies, interviews, and other practical content from the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI). Join over 100,000 fellow lean practitioners by subscribing to LEI's weekly newsletter.


Lean Manufacturing

Thrustmaster Turns Around

Learn how Thrustmaster of Texas successfully adopted lean thinking and practices to make sustainable improvements in a short period of time, and how other manufacturers of highly engineered, low-volume products can follow their lead using the Lean Transformation Framework.

Lean + Circular Principals = a New True North for Manufacturer

SunPower's lean journey resembled most others until it defined a new mission, a new True North by combining lean principals with those of the “circular economy” to launch what it is calling a CLean Transformation.

Sustain Your Lean Business System with a "Golden Triangle"
After a medical device maker took a hit to margins to fight off global competition, it rebuilt them by lifting its lean operating system to a higher level and keeping it there with a "golden triangle" of sustainability.

Followup Story:

Manufacturing Balancing Act: Pull Versus ERP

In this follow-up to “Sustain Your Lean Business System with a ‘Golden Triangle,’" a case study about Phase 2 Medical Manufacturing, the company needs warehouse space to keep pace with sales growth spurred by the lean transformation. Instead, it expands a pull system by connecting the plan-for-every-part database that underpins one-piece flow production with ERP, typically associated with big batch production.

Cultivating a Lean Problem-Solving Culture at O.C. Tanner
If you are in the "appreciation business", you have to live it in your own workplace. For O.C. Tanner that meant a lean transformation had to show the company appreciated and wanted people's problem-solving ideas. Here's a report on that effort, including what worked and what didn't.

Lean Partnership with Dealer Network Helps Vermeer Reduce End-to-End Inventory on Top Sellers

A lean transformation had taken heavy-equipment manufacturer Vermeer away from batch manufacturing, but batch ordering by dealers was delaying how quickly they got equipment like brush chippers. Learn how it  began converting its domestic industrial-line distribution network to lean replenishment, improving service to end customers and improving cash flow for Vermeer and its dealers.

Herman Miller's Experiment in Excellence
At Herman Miller, the Lean Management effort helps it build problem solvers as well as world-class office furniture. And as this case study shows, lean practices also helped it weather a brutal recession.

Build Your "House" of Production on a Stable Foundation
Rigorous problem solving creates basic stability in a machining intensive facility.

A Journey to Value Streams: Reorganizing Into Five Groups Drives Lean Improvements and Customer Responsiveness
An approach to creating a Value-stream culture centered on autonomy, entrepreneurialism, and lean principles.

Change in Implementation Approach Opens the Door at EMCO to Greater Gains in Less Time
A relatively quick, intensive project accelerates the rate of improvement and creates a showcase facility for spreading lean concepts.

Creating the Course and Tools for a Lean Accounting System
A lean accounting implementation fills the frustrating disconnect between shop-floor improvements and financial statements.

For Athletic Shoe Company, the Soul of Lean Management Is Problem Solving
After taking a lean tools approach to change, management re-organized the transformation around problem solving and process improvement to create a culture that engaged people while boosting performance.

Knife Company Hones Competitiveness by Bucking the Status Quo
An iconic family-owned company turns to lean manufacturing to reduce costs by at least 30% to keep its U.S. operations open.

Lean Transformation Lives and Dies with Tools and Dies
After a failed first try at just-in-time production, a company transforms tool maintenance, design, and fabrication to create a solid foundation for a second attempt.

Seasoned Lean Effort Avoids "Flavor-of-the-Month" Pitfall
A look at how one company's approach to what new tools it introduced, in what order, and how it prevented each new technique from being viewed as a "flavor of the month" fad.

Shifting to Value-Stream Managers: a Shop-Floor Revolution Leads to a Revolution in Plant Organization

Two years into a lean transformation, the low-hanging fruit has been plucked and progress has started to slow. Read how a Thomas & Betts plant recharged the transformation and reached higher levels of performance by using value-stream managers to span functional walls.

Using Plan-Do-Check-Act as a Strategy and Tactic for Helping Suppliers Improve

At Medtronic’s Neuromodulation business unit, the plan-do-check-act cycle is used on a strategic level to guide overall strategy for selecting and developing key suppliers as well as on a tactical level for guiding lean transformations at supplier facilities.

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Logistics, Supply Chain, and Warehousing

How a Retailer's Distribution Center Exemplifies the Lean Precept "Respect for People," and Reaps the Benefits

To make sure training engaged and resonated with people after previous attempts at a lean transformation faltered, LifeWay matched Lean Management tools and principles to its Bible-based culture and language.

Manufacturing Balancing Act: Pull Versus ERP

In this follow-up to “Sustain Your Lean Business System with a ‘Golden Triangle,’" a case study about Phase 2 Medical Manufacturing, the company needs warehouse space to keep pace with sales growth spurred by the lean transformation. Instead, it expands a pull system by connecting the plan-for-every-part database that underpins one-piece flow production with ERP, typically associated with big batch production.

Lean management case study series: Lean in Distribution: Go to Where the Action Is!

Starting with daily management walkabouts and standard work, this distributor had laid the groundwork for steady gains for years to come, just two years after its first kaizen workshop.

Putting Lean Principles in the Warehouse

Executives at Menlo Worldwide Logistics saw an opportunity to leapfrog the competition by embracing lean in its outsourced warehousing and receiving operations.

Lean Thinking Therapy Spreads Beyond the Shop

A company expands the lean transformation from the shop floor to international distribution, domestic shipping, and product development.

Sell One, Buy One, Make One: Transforming from Conventional to Lean Distribution

Large inventories to cover fluctuations in demand once characterized Toyota's service parts distribution system -- but no more. Here's how one DC made the switch.

Using Plan-Do-Check-Act as a Strategy and Tactic for Helping Suppliers Improve

At Medtronic’s Neuromodulation business unit, the plan-do-check-act cycle is used on a strategic level to guide overall strategy for selecting and developing key suppliers as well as on a tactical level for guiding lean transformations at supplier facilities.

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Material Handling

Following Four Steps to a Lean Material-Handling System Leads to a Leap in Performance

Creating the critical Plan for Every Part was one step in a methodical four-step implementation process to replace a traditional material-handling system.

Low-volume, High-mix Manufacturing; Tool and Die

Thrustmaster Turns Around

Learn how Thrustmaster of Texas successfully adopted lean thinking and practices to make sustainable improvements in a short period of time, and how other manufacturers of highly engineered, low-volume products can follow their lead using the Lean Transformation Framework.

The Backbone of Lean in the Back Shops

Sikorsky managers apply the lean concept of "every part, every interval" (EPEI) to level the mix in demand and create flow through a key manufacturing cell.

Landscape Forms Cultivates Lean to Fuel Growth Goals

With single-item orders 80% of the time, a low-volume, high-mix manufacturer decided single-piece flow cells were the best way decided the best way to add new products without having to constantly reconfigure production.

Lean Transformation Lives and Dies with Tools and Dies

After a failed first try at just-in-time production, a company transforms tool maintenance, design, and fabrication to create a solid foundation for a second attempt.

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Government

Canada Post Puts Its Stamp on a Lean Transformation

The "inventory" of mail already is paid for, so moving it faster doesn't improve cash flow as in lean manufacturing. But Canada Post discovered that traditional batch-and-queue postal operations could benefit from lean principles.

Lean Thinking in Government: The State of Iowa

This story examines a kaizen event at a veterans home and more broadly at the lean effort in Iowa government.

Lean Thinking Helps City of Chula Vista with Budget Crunch

Goodrich Aerostructures' Chula Vista plant introduces city government to lean thinking and practices so in order to maintain municipal services without resorting to further cuts in the workforce.

Using Lean Thinking to Reinvent City Government

Grand Rapids, MI, turns to lean principles to consolidate operations, eliminate wasted time and effort, and streamline to improve productivity while providing the quality of service that residents want.

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Healthcare

Transforming Healthcare: What Matters Most? How the Cleveland Clinic Is Cultivating a Problem-Solving Mindset and Building a Culture of Improvement

The Cleveland Clinic reinvents its continuous improvement program to instill a problem-solving mindset and the skillset to solve everyday problems among the clinic's thousands of caregivers.

Followup Story:

View from the Hospital Floor: How to Build a Culture of Improvement One Unit at a Time

In order to do more and improve faster, the Cleveland Clinic is rolling out a methodology for building a "culture of improvement" across the 48,000-employee hospital system as this followup to the above story shows. Here's how it works according to the people making the changes.

Dentist Drills Down to the Root Causes of Office Waste

Dentistry is a job shop that Dr. Sami Bahri is out to improve fundamentally for the benefit of patients through the application of lean principles.

Lean management case study series: Pediatric Hospital in Tough Market Pegs Growth to Lean Process Improvement

Lean improvement projects at Akron Children's Hospital have saved millions of dollars, increased utilization of expensive assets, and reduced wait times for patients and their families.

Lean Design and Construction Project an Extension of Lean Commitment at Akron Children's Hospital

Input from nurses, doctors, therapists, technicians, and patient parents heavily influenced design decisions..

"Pulling" Lean Through a Hospital

A thoughtful rollout of lean principles in the ER and eye-opening results created a "pull" for lean from other departments.

Best in Healthcare Getting Better with Lean

Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, stresses to doctors that the lean effort is aimed not at changing the moment of care, the touch moment between doctor and patient, but the 95% of the time when the patient is not in the doctor's office

Fighting Cancer with Linear Accelerators and Accelerated Processes

Cross-functional team design and implement a lean process to dramatically increase the number of patients with brain and bone metastases receiving consultation, simulation, and first treatment on the same day without workarounds or expediting.

Massachusetts General Looks to Lean

A proton therapy treatment center, for many adults and children the best hope of beating cancer, applies lean principles to increase capacity.

New Facility, New Flow, and New Levels of Patient Care: The wait is over for patients at the Clearview Cancer Institute in Alabama

Physicians and staff have tirelessly reengineer processes and patient flow to eliminate as much waiting and waste as possible.

The Anatomy of Innovation

At a hospital in Pittsburgh, the emerging vision for the "hospital of the future" is described as giving the right patient, the right care, at the right time, in the right way, all the time.

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Accounting

Creating the Course and Tools for a Lean Accounting System

A lean accounting implementation fills the frustrating disconnect between shop-floor improvements and the financial statement.

Landscape Forms Cultivates Lean to Fuel Growth Goals

With single-item orders 80% of the time, a low-volume, high-mix manufacturer decided single-piece flow cells were the best way decided the best way to add new products without having to constantly reconfigure production.

Knife Company Hones Competitiveness by Bucking the Status Quo

An iconic family-owned company turns to lean manufacturing to reduce costs by at least 30% to keep its U.S. operations open.

Office and Service Processes

Canada Post Puts Its Stamp on a Lean Transformation

The "inventory" of mail already is paid for, so moving it faster doesn't improve cash flow as in lean manufacturing. But Canada Post discovered that traditional batch-and-queue postal operations could benefit from lean principles.

Lean Landscapers

At an Atlanta landscaping company, lean practices are making inroads into a service industry in unusual yet fundamental ways.

LSG Sky Chefs Caters to New Market Realities

Business at airline caterer LSG Sky Chefs dropped 30% when airlines cut flights after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Sky Chefs responded with a rapid launch of a lean initiative.

leveraging Lean to Get the Oil Out

Aera Energy LLC, a California oil and gas company,  relies on lean principles to improve key processes, including drilling new wells, repairing existing ones, and maximizing the number of barrels of crude pumped each day.

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Education

Columbus Public Schools Use Process Thinking to Improve Academic Achievement.

Columbus, OH, public schools, experiment with lean tools and process thinking to remove wasteful activities that don't help them help students learn.

Lean Inroads into Alabama Academia

How the University of Alabama in Huntsville integrated lean concepts throughout its industrial engineering curriculum.

Linking Lean Thinking to the Classroom

Value-stream mapping is one of many activities included in the Ford Partnership for Advanced Studies (Ford PAS), an academic program designed to link high-school classroom learning to the skills needed in college and business.

Problem Solving

Build Your "House" of Production on a Stable Foundation

Rigorous problem solving creates basic stability in a machining intensive facility.

For Athletic Shoe Company, the Soul of Lean Management Is Problem Solving

After talking a lean tools approach to change, management re-organized the transformation around problem solving and process improvement to create a culture that engaged people while boosting performance.

Pull Systems

Manufacturing Balancing Act: Pull Versus ERP

In this follow-up to “Sustain Your Lean Business System with a ‘Golden Triangle,’" a case study about Phase 2 Medical Manufacturing, the company needs warehouse space to keep pace with sales growth spurred by the lean transformation. Instead, it expands a pull system by connecting the plan-for-every-part database that underpins one-piece flow production with ERP, typically associated with big batch production.

Toothbrush Plant Reverses Decay in Competitiveness

The rapid introduction of a lean system, beginning with just-in-time production and pull, helps a highly automated Midwest plant fight off overseas competition by reducing lead times and inventory while augmenting the plant's advantage in service.

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Culture Change

"Pulling" Lean Through a Hospital

A thoughtful rollout of lean principles in the ER and eye-opening results created a "pull" for lean from other departments.

A Journey to Value Streams: Reorganizing Into Five Groups Drives Lean Improvements and Customer Responsiveness

An approach to creating a value-stream culture centered on autonomy, entrepreneurialism, and lean principles.

Cultivating a Lean Problem-Solving Culture at O.C. Tanner
If you are in the "appreciation business", you have to live it in your own workplace. For O.C. Tanner that meant a lean transformation had to show the company appreciated and wanted people's problem-solving ideas. Here's a report on that effort, including what worked and what didn't.

People Development

Making Lean Leaders -- Ariens internship program develops lean and leadership skills

Besides making snow-blowers, mowers, and string trimmers, Ariens Co., of Brillion, WI, makes lean leaders.

Privately Held Companies

Lean management case study series: Lean in Distribution: Go to Where the Action Is!

Starting with daily management walkabouts and standard work, this 84-year-old, family-owned distributor laid the groundwork for steady gains for years to come, just two years after its first kaizen workshop.

Sustain Your Lean Business System with a "Golden Triangle"

After a medical device maker took a hit to margins to fight off global competition, it rebuilt them by lifting its lean operating system to a higher level and keeping it there with a "golden triangle" of sustainability. You'll recognize two elements of the triangle right away: visual control and standardized work. The third, accountability management or a kamishibai system, is probably less well known but just as critical.

Manufacturing Balancing Act: Pull Versus ERP

In this follow-up to “Sustain Your Lean Business System with a ‘Golden Triangle,’" a case study about Phase 2 Medical Manufacturing, the company needs warehouse space to keep pace with sales growth spurred by the lean transformation. Instead, it expands a pull system by connecting the plan-for-every-part database that underpins one-piece flow production with ERP, typically associated with big batch production.

Knife Company Hones Competitiveness by Bucking the Status Quo

An iconic family-owned company turns to lean manufacturing to reduce costs by at least 30% to keep its U.S. operations open.

Lean Landscapers

At an Atlanta landscaping company, lean practices are making inroads into a service industry in unusual yet fundamental ways.

Cultivating a Lean Problem-Solving Culture at O.C. Tanner

If you are in the "appreciation business", you have to live it in your own workplace. For O.C. Tanner that meant a lean transformation had to show the company appreciated and wanted people's problem-solving ideas. Here's a report on that effort, including what worked and what didn't.

Lean Transformation Lives and Dies with Tools and Dies

After a failed first try at just-in-time production, a company transforms tool maintenance, design, and fabrication to create a solid foundation for a second attempt.

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Maintenance

Lean Thinking in Aircraft Repair and Maintenance Takes Wing at FedEx Express

A major check that used to take 32,715 man-hours was cut to 21,535 hours in six months. That translated into a $2 million savings, which dovetailed with the company's emphasis on reducing costs during the recession.

Lean Transformation Lives and Dies with Tools and Dies

After a failed first try at just-in-time production, a company transforms tool maintenance, design, and fabrication to create a solid foundation for a second attempt.

Construction

Lean Design and Construction Project an Extension of Lean Commitment at Akron Children's Hospital

Input from nurses, doctors, therapists, technicians, and patient parents heavily influenced design decisions—from incorporating emergency room hallways that protect the privacy of abused children to the number of electrical outlets in each neonatal intensive care room.

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Manufacturing Balancing Act: Pull Versus ERP

In this follow-up to “Sustain Your Lean Business System with a ‘Golden Triangle,’" a case study about Phase 2 Medical Manufacturing, the company needs warehouse space to keep pace with sales growth spurred by the lean transformation. Instead, it expands a pull system by connecting the plan-for-every-part database that underpins one-piece flow production with ERP, typically associated with big batch production.

Many organizations have found that implementing lean concepts and tools results in improvements in environmental performance, even when lean activities were not initiated for environmental reasons. Since environmental savings are often not part of the "business case" for lean improvement activities, however, organizations implementing lean do not necessarily quantify the environmental performance gains associated with their lean initiatives.

Below are examples of the types of environmental benefits that result from lean implementation. Click on each link to view a full case study of the organization's lean activities and the environmental implications of those activities.

  • Apollo Hardwoods Company
    • Uses fewer trees and less energy to produce the same amount of product
    • Designed equipment that can use smaller pieces of wood, which reduces wood scrap and alleviates the need to harvest large-diameter, mature black cherry tree
  • Baxter Healthcare Corporation
    • Over a three-day event, an interdepartmental team developed value stream maps (VSM) that detailed the plant’s use of water and identified processes with potential for improvement
    • Using the VSMs, the team developed an implementation plan that will save 170,000 gallons of water per day and over $17,000 over three months, with little or no capital investment
  • The Boeing Company
    • Boeing Everett
      • Realized resource productivity improvements of 30-70 percent from lean initiatives
      • Eliminated the use of 350 cubic feet of cardboard and bubble wrap packing material per 747 wing panel set
      • Reduced chemical usage per airplane by 11.6 percent
    • Boeing Auburn
      • Defects have been reduced from 1,200/10,000 in 1996 to fewer than 300/10,000 presently
      • Reduced floor space by 200,000 square feet
  • Canyon Creek Cabinet Company
    • Expect savings of almost $1.5million annually from process changes
    • Process improvements included reduction in lead time, work-in-progress, defects, overproduction, downtime, operator travel time, and material loss and damage
    • Decreased VOCs which will reduce permitting requirements
  • Columbia Paint & Coatings
    • Environmental savings included:
      • Reduction of 15,000 lbs of paint solids from wash water
      • Saved 18,000 lbs of shrink wrap
      • Removed 2,820 lbs of hazardous materials from the waste stream
  • DuBois-Johnson Diversey and Steelcase
    • Lean practices resulted in:
      • Energy savings of a 60 percent reduction in the BTUs required
      • Reduction in water usage by 80 percent
      • Waste stream was cut by 85 to 95 percent
  • General Electric
    • Peebles, Ohio Facility
      • General Electric's jet engine facility in Peebles, Ohio has found ways to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by implementing Lean methods, while also producing significant cost savings. Lean events contributed to the following successes at the facility:
      • Reduced fuel consumption for GE90 engine testing from 20,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons.
      • Produced 5,000 metric tons less of GHG emissions from the GE90 in 2007 compared to 2006.
      • Achieved cost savings of $1,000,000 due to fuel use reduction.
      • Reduced GHG emissions from the CFM testing cycle by 1,600 metric tons annually.
      • Streamlined engine balancing process and troubleshooting techniques.
    • NBC & Universal Studios – The Treasure Hunt Model
      • NBC Universal, which is 80% owned by GE, is one of the world’s leading entertainment companies and is involved in the development, production and marketing of various entertainment ventures throughout the world. Through the Treasure Hunt model, many savings were realized at Universal Studios Hollywood.
      • Conducted well over 200 treasure hunts globally with a combined emissions reduction of over 250,000 metric tons of GHGs.
      • Seen over $14 billion dollars in revenue from ecomagination products and services.
  • General Motors
    • Saturn Kanban Implementation
      • Saved 17 tons per year in air emissions
      • Eliminated 258 tons per year of solid waste
      • Reduced hazardous waste generation from 9.0 pounds per car in 1992 to 3.2 pounds per car in 1996
    • Fairfax Assembly Paint Booth Cleaning
      • Reduced purge solvent used by 369 tons in the first year
    • Lean Supply Chain Development
      • Eliminated 7 tons per year of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, hazardous wastes, and transportation-related impacts by working with suppliers to eliminate a painting process step
  • Goodrich Aerostructures
    • Lean Chemical Management at California Facilities
      • Eliminated four 5,000 gallon tanks containing methyl ethyl ketone, sulfuric acid, nitric acid, and trichloroethane
      • Eliminated the potential for large scale spills and the need to address risk management planning requirements for these tanks under Section 112(r) of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments
  • JEA
    • Process improvement efforts at JEA have produced the following overall results:
      • Achieved a utility-wide cumulative cost savings of $579 million from Lean and Six Sigma initiatives.
      • Avoided an impact of $95 million on the utility's 2010 budget from projects specifically focused on cost reduction.
      • Saved an average of $950 per customer and avoided rate increases of $20 per month directly related to process improvement efforts.
      • Completed over 580 projects since 2000.
  • Lasco Bathware
    • Process improvements include:
      • Reduced production bottlenecks and established cleaner and more organized work areas
      • Decreased variability in spray operations
      • Reduced energy use and FRP wastes
      • Reassigned over 1,900 annual labor hours to other value-added activities
  • Lockheed Martin
    • Reduced hazardous waste resulting in cost savings due to the elimination of RCRA permit requirements
    • Reduced facility size by 1/3 (a reduction 550,000 square feet)
    • Reduced chemical storage capacity to 2% of it's original size
  • Plymouth Tube
    • At a facility in West Monroe, LA, Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) and Production personnel were able to identify environmental wastes that presented opportunities for working with lean techniques to improve their processes
    • Their lean efforts reduced lubrication used at this facility by 1400 gallons, saving almost $4000 annually in lube costs and $1800 is recycling fees
    • The team was able to completely eliminate a costly hazardous waste stream of ink by changing their printing process
  • Rejuvenation
    • Lean practices made quality control everyone's job, allowing quicker identification of problems and reducing rework
    • Use of Lean has cut work-in-progress (WIP) on the floor from seven to eight days to about one and a half days
  • Robins U.S. Air Force Base - General Overview
    • Waste Collection Process
      • Used methods such as Value-Stream Mapping (VSM), standard work, and 6S to reduce the lead time to collect and haul away hazardous waste on schedule
    • "Point-of-Use” Distribution of Hazardous Materials
      • Through a series of rapid process improvement events, the environmental, safety, and occupational health (ESOH) staff at Robins AFB instituted point-of-use (POU) cabinet systems for distributing “right-sized” quantities of hazardous materials/chemicals for use on the shopfloor
  • 3M
    • Lean Six Sigma has helped 3M reinvigorate its highly successful pollution prevention program by training more than 55,000 salaried employees since 2001 and involving them in improvement projects that often have environmental benefits
    • Lean Six Sigma is a valuable tool that contributed to 3M exceeding its corporate Environmental Goals from 2000-2005, reducing volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by 61 percent, Toxic Release Inventory releases by 64 percent, waste generation by 30 percent and energy use by 27 percent (when indexed to net sales)

Other Examples

EPA is working with other organizations to highlight lean and environment success stories and to identify good practices for maximizing the environmental performance of lean efforts. If you have any examples or perspectives you would like to share, please contact EPA.

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