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Definition of Quality Management -- it is a method for ensuring that all the activities necessary to design, develop and implement a product or service are effective and efficient with respect to the system and its performance. It is also a principle set by the company to endure the continuous advocacy of quality services and products, or the further improvement of it.

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The Five-Phase Lean Approach

Jack N. Fults II, 3/17/2008
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Companies today continually strive to eliminate waste in order to maintain a competitive edge. In order to remain competitive, organizations must adopt principles and concepts that will help them operate more efficiently.  As many companies face increasing pressure to drive down prices they become more open to new ways of thinking, such as the five-phase lean approach.

Tool/Concept Defined

So what is lean? “At a high level it is a way of giving people at all levels of an organization the skills and a shared means of thinking to systematically drive out waste by designing better ways of working, improving connections and easing flows within supply chains.” (Wood) By eliminating waste companies can simultaneously reduce costs, make better use of resources and deliver better customer value. (Wood) The five-phase lean approach is one approach that allows companies to overcome obstacles such as, proper integration and communication involved in becoming lean. This approach builds the principles of lean which are customer defines value, eliminate waste, customer establishes pull, involve and empower people who add value, and the total cost is the ultimate performance metric. The five-phase lean approach is a systems approach that allows each phase of implementation to build on each other. The different phases of implementation are as follows: stability and flexibility, continuous flow, synchronous production, pull systems, and level production.

Stability and Flexibility

            Building a lean system can be disastrous if the systems don’t allow for stability and flexibility. “Systems must handle the changes involved in lean manufacturing and the instability that occurs as change takes place.” (Allen) All companies are unique and require a certain strategic fit for successful implementation. It’s important to understand that problems will arise and changes will need to be made in order for the system to function correctly. Don’t overreact or rush processes just because a problem arises. This doesn’t mean that the lean approach is a complete failure. It’s important to realize that lean is not a collection of tools but a way of thinking across your company. (Flinchbaugh) Companies must be open to new ideas and ways of solving complex problems. Problem solving techniques such as the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) can help determine any sort of deviation from the standard.

Continuous Flow

A balanced production line requires improvements and ongoing observation to eliminate waste and examine connections and flows. Continuous flow requires products to flow from workplace to workplace. (Wood) If product isn’t flowing the way it should then customers aren’t getting what they need. Document the way the process is done, and use that standard to eliminate variation in the process or how the operator does the job.” (John Allen) McDonalds, for example, has a very detailed operations manual that consists of several hundred pages and weighs about four pounds. (Schlosser) Detailed documentation of processes allows companies to standardize production and synchronize employee workstations. A clear view of processes helps eliminate wastes and identify areas where bottlenecks might occur.

Synchronous Production

            Synchronous production occurs when the rate of production equals the rate that satisfies the customer.(Allen) The rate is called the takt time. The takt time can be defined as the maximum time allowed to produce a product in order to meet demand. (Wikipedia)  If products aren’t continually flowing then the takt time will be at an unacceptable level. Standardized production will allow for acceptable takt time rates and appropriate measures to complete production on time.

Pull Systems    

            Pull systems pull products from one workstation to the next. (Allen) Pull systems are unique in the fact that they require seamless coordination among different workstations. Each workstation can’t complete the desired task unless the previous workstation performed their intended duty. Unfinished work creates waste and an increase in takt times. John Allen suggests, “Structure your line or conveyor process so that it will stop if the unit is not accepted in the next workstation. If the conveyor does not stop when a part fails to move on, work-in-process accumulates or operators struggle to produce more than one unit in the established takt time.” If systems aren’t flexible, then product will back up and customers won’t receive product.

Level Production

            Level production means all products must be leveled into the production sequence on the basis of volume, mix, and sequence. (Allen) Replacement parts should be made in small volumes in order to level out the production. The purpose of this is to level production of the highest volume units and have long-term objectives built into the others. Smaller component parts can be made periodically at times that don’t disrupt higher volume items. This shows how the lean phases can accommodate unique situations and adapt to changing issues. Frequent tests of these tools should match against underlying principles of lean. Commitment to the implementation of lean and development of a long-term strategy are essential to the five-phase lean approach.

An Example Where the Tool/Concept is Used

            A company that manufactured merchandising equipment in the Midwest had a huge spike in demand. The welding process was one of the major processes that were slowing production at the plant. Managers decided to implement lean into the process where the base of the equipment was welded together. The company needed immediate results so they moved to the flow and pull phases of implementation.

The company had processes and workstations all over the place. In between each workstation, material was moving by forklift which was very inefficient. In order to pull things together they hired another group leader; eliminated a scheduler in one line; moved unneeded people to other departments; gave one operator two jobs; moved component materials closer to workstations; and established new systems to allow product to move freely. “In five months, subassembly inventory decreased 61%, manpower was reduced 9%, and ROI was 281%. (Allen) Since product was continually flowing through the system, inventories decreased and takt time decreased.  However, since the first two phases of flexibility and stability were ignored, preventative maintenance was almost non-existent, employees weren’t properly trained, and eliminating errors wasn’t a primary focus. Companies must follow all the steps of the five-phase lean approach to achieve maximum results. Skipping phases opens the doors for small mistakes that will become major problems in the future. Every company is unique and must form the five phases of lean to adapt their strategic fit.


Works Cited and other valuable resources

Allen, John H. “Make Lean Manufacturing Work for You”. Manufacturing Engineering. Dearborn: June 2000. Vol. 124, Iss. 6; pg. 54.


Flinchbaugh, Jamie. “Lean is Born from How We Think: Fostering Sustainable Business and People Success Through New Ways of Thinking”. Products Finishing. 2007-06. Vol. 71, Iss. 9; pg. 34-35.


Hicks, B.J. “Lean Information Management: Understanding and Eliminating Waste”. International Journal      of Information Management. 2007-08. Vol. 27, Iss. 4; pg. 233 (17)


Jacobs, F. and Chase, R. Operations and Supply Management: The Core. New York: McGraw-Hill   International Edition, 2008.


Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: the Dark Side of the All-American Meal. US: Houghton Mifflin Books, 2001. 1-356.


Wood, Nigel.“Lean Thinking: What It Is And What It Isn’t”. Management     Services. 2004-02. Vol. 48, Iss. 2; pg. 8-11.





More information

“Evaluation Of The Lean Approach To Business Management And Its Use In The Public Sector”.  November 11, 2007.   


Hicks, B.J. “Lean Information Management: Understanding and Eliminating Waste”. International Journal      of Information Management. 2007-08. Vol. 27, Iss. 4; pg. 233 (17)


Nash, Mark, and Sheila Poling. "Strategic Management of Lean." Quality 46 (2007).


Ozelkan, Ertunga, Gary Teng, Thomas Johnson, and Tom Benson. "Building Lean Supply Chain and Manufacturing Skills Through an Interactive Case Study." Industry & Higher Education 21 (2008). Keyword: lean implementation.


Peccei, Riccardo, and Jimen Lee. "Lean Production and Quality Commitment. a Comparative Study of Two Korean Auto Firms." Personnel Review ( Farnborough ) 37 (2008).

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