Many people describe Lean as a collection of continuous improvement techniques. Others see it as a systemic process that drives continuous improvement. The distinguishing words are techniques versus process. The visions of Lean differ and so do the implementation approaches. These differences can have important implications for your people and your company. 

Bill Sandras does not see Lean as a perfect place void of any waste. Lean is not a place; it is a process to drive continuous improvement, a process to help you along the journey to that perfect place.

The system of Lean encompasses a number of techniques as shown in the graphic below. (Initially, this technology was called the Toyota Production System. Then the Western world renamed it Just-in-Time, followed by other names. Today’s term de jour is Lean.)

An important element that makes Lean more than a collection of techniques is the “one less at a time” process. Central to the “one less” process is the notion that inventory hides problems. If we have a machine that takes a long time to changeover, we increase the lot size. It if breaks frequently we put “buffer” inventories after it to protect the downstream operations. If we have a lack of cross-trained people, we increase the inventory in critical areas to insulate ourselves from the problems the scarce resource can cause. 

Today, many cigarette packages have a warning that nicotine is addictive. We need a similar warning on inventory – it too is addictive. We tend to put inventory around our problems so that we can ignore them, rather than stimulating ourselves to focus on their root causes to eliminate them. 

The “one less at a time” process is shown in flowchart form below. 

“One less“ recognizes that inventory may be necessary given our current processes. But, it also recognizes that inventory masks underlying problems. By systematically removing inventory, one or a few pieces at a time we can expose the weak links in our processes. By making the problems visible to those involved, we can stimulate customer and supplier communication, which in turn generates motivation to solve the problems, rather than cover them up. That visibility, communication, and motivation, coupled with the Sandras Rapid Breakthrough Events©, will allow your people to continuously expose, prioritize, and correct problems, thereby turning each problem into a competitive opportunity.

PCI will help you implement the Lean techniques appropriate to meeting your objectives. Note that our primary focus is on your business objectives, not simply on implementing every element of Lean within an area, nor on implementing a single element across all areas regardless on need. We will help you implement the Lean elements necessary to achieve your objectives, plus elements from any other technology that are appropriate. We will also help you integrate the “one less at a time” process so that you will have a systemic driver of continuous improvement to help you hold the gains. Finally, we will help you integrate Lean with Six Sigma, Enterprise Resource Planning, Design for Excellence, Teams, and another competitive technologies. PCI does not believe Lean is the only business technology you will need; but we also do not think organizations will remain competitive for long without it. 

PCI will help your implementation team use, and become certified in, the Sandras Rapid Breakthrough Events. Typically, the Alignment RBE is used to develop actionable steps to achieve your vision. We use the Value Stream RBE to streamline and link factory and support operations throughout entire product line(s). Next, we help you prioritize point improvement opportunities by systematically lowering inventory using the “one less at a time” process. Then we help other cross-functional teams focus on specific improvements using Process and Data Rapid Breakthrough Events©

In short, our approach to Lean is to always keep the implementation team focused on the higher-level business objectives. Using the Sandras Rapid Breakthrough Events©, we help them quickly, safely, and economically implement the necessary changes to achieve your business objectives.

Example of the implementation of Lean in a Value Stream RBE

If the objective is to implement Lean across a major product line, we might follow the agenda shown in the inset. The VS/RBE for Lean implementation begins with 2-3 days of education, customized to the needs of those attending.

We begin with a discussion of the changing characteristics of competition. Then, we show how Lean (a.k.a. JIT) and Six Sigma (a.k.a. TQC or TQM) are two pedals on the same bicycle, and part of the Seven Competition Killer technologies. 

Once Lean is positioned in the larger customer/ competitor context, we then establish an understanding of the Lean philosophy and process. The “one less at a time©” process allows Lean to serve as a systemic driver of continuous improvement. An understanding of the “one-less©” process also ensures that Lean is recognized as a company wide competitive weapon, not just as a few isolated manufacturing or industrial engineering techniques.

Next the education moves lower in detail to address Lean techniques applicable to your specific environment. The content is always focused on achieving your business objectives, not on implementing all the Lean techniques in one area, nor on layering one or more techniques across all areas. Improving your business it the focus; Lean is an important tool to help you make it happen.

Immediately after the instruction and exercises, those in attendance will develop breakthrough objectives (e.g., reduce lead times by 90%). Then they will immediately develop the detailed action plans necessary to achieve their objectives – with name and duration assigned to each task. On this last day of the Event, it is obvious that Lean will happen -- quickly. People leave with action items due the following day!

Learning Exercises and Mini-Simulations

Exercises and simulations are designed to enhance the learning process and to begin the necessary behavior changes. These occur in the classroom, on the shop floor and in the office areas. They include:

  • Determining your customer’s 3E’s (exciting, expressed, and expected characteristics), 
  • Creating a Value Stream Map of the overall product/service and information flows through the operations (depending on the depth of analysis needed, this may be done in advance with the results being used in the Event),
  • Learning to identify the seven fundamental wastes,
  • Practicing with various types of kanban systems in a pull environment,
  • Brainstorming the changes necessary to reduce changeover times, and
  • Documenting the flow of a part, document or transaction, and person.

In addition, discussion provoking pictures, videos, and questions occur throughout the sessions. 


Four comprehensive hands-on simulations allow the attendees to physically and mentally experience the techniques and changes that will occur when they implement Lean. The products that are manufactured, and the simulation instructions, are not staged to provide desired results. What is taught and experienced genuinely leads to significant improvements in customer responsiveness, product and process flexibility, quality, and cost. All four simulations use consistent measurement methods that isolate the results of the changes from one simulation to another. 

The manufacturing process consists of two sub-assembly shops feeding a final assembly shop. The activities simulate shearing, breaking, punching, trimming, painting, inspection, changeovers, assembly, serialization, aligning, shipping and packaging, as well as most of the traditional support processes such as stockroom, tool room, planning, material handling, and labor collection.

The first simulation follows traditional manufacturing techniques for six products. Planning provides work orders to authorize production. A stockroom issues material to functional shop areas. Direct labor reports their time by job, part number, and operation. Work is moved in specified batch sizes.

The second simulation requires production of the same six products. Brand Name kanbans are introduced to authorize production. Physically not much is changed except material is now stored at the point of use. Labor collection is by exception (rather than by detail). Customer and supplier relationships are clearer. Teamwork begins to flourish. Results improve.

The third simulation demonstrates the flexibility and responsiveness of the Lean process. Variety increases to forty-eight products, up from six in the previous two simulations. Group technology and Generic kanban techniques are introduced. The power of Lean becomes obvious, and so do the necessary changes that are required in all areas.

The fourth simulation uses an Process / Rapid Breakthrough Event (Process / RBE) to incorporate process changes recommended by the attendees. Then the power of Lean to stimulate thinking workers becomes apparent.

Throughout the Event, photos and videos are used to help reinforce the instruction. Students will receive a notebook of instruction visuals and a copy of Bill Sandras' text titled Just-in-Time: Making it Happen (Unleashing the Power of Continuous Improvement). Instruction visuals reference pages in the text. Many examples of how other companies and industries have implemented Lean reinforce the learning. However, the main focus will be on your products, processes, problems, and people. This in not a theory class, it is a "make it happen" Event.

Note: If the VS/RBE is held on site, we typically do hands-on exercises on the factory or office floor. But, if the Event is held some distance from the workplace, we sometimes make better use of everyone’s time by conducting the four Full-Simulations rather than commuting to the shop and office floor for Learning Exercises. Usually we do not do both, but with enough time it is possible. They both have their learning advantages.

Who should attend?

People that will be directly involved in the implementation should attend this Event. This includes the managers, supervisors, workers, and support personnel in the value stream. The support functions typically include quality, product/process engineering, planning, purchasing, warehousing, information systems, cost accounting, and human resources. If the implementation is for a new product or service, product/service development should also attend. All interested parties are welcome, but the focus is on those that need to know to make the necessary changes happen – now. A typical VS/RBT Event ranges from 20 - 30 people. The maximum size should not exceed 40 people, except for the opening overview portion.

Top ten reasons to hold PCI’s Value Stream/Rapid Breakthrough Event

  1. Receive a copy of Bill's book Just-in-Time: Making it Happen (Unleashing the Power of Continuous Improvement) and virtually all instruction overheads, many of which are cross-referenced to the textbook to aid post-class recall.
  2. Understand the synergy that exists among Lean, Six Sigma, Design for Competitive Advantage, High Performance Work Environments, Activity Based Management/Costing, and Enterprise Resource Planning.
  3. Comprehend of the Lean philosophy, process, and techniques that have empowered people to achieve competitive results in leading companies.
  4. Recognize how Lean's simple, yet highly effective, "One less at a time*" process that stimulates people and drives continuous improvement.
  5. Learn Lean‘s impact on each area of the company, and on your suppliers and customers.
  6. Understand your role in making the changes happen, whether you are management, worker, union, customer or supplier.
  7. Establish expectations in terms of the implementation costs and breakthrough competitive benefits.
  8. Learn from the good and bad experiences of others. 
  9. Recognize Lean as a way to develop people, not just as techniques.

And the number one reason to hold PCI’s Value Stream/Rapid Breakthrough Event:

  1. Quickly and safely implement order of magnitude business level improvements in a major product line or service area of your organization.



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