Toyota Motor Corporation, is a Japanese automotive manufacturer that has been in business for 82 years. It is the second largest automobile manufacturer in the world and was the world’s first automobile manufacturer to produce more than 10 million vehicles per year. Toyota’s success is no accident and is attributed to the development of a sophisticated efficient manufacturing process called the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS now known more generically as “lean manufacturing”. It focuses on the flow of the product through the manufacturing process and the elimination of waste in the process. Resulting in rapid, low cost and high quality production. For a more detailed outline on the history and outline of lean refer to this article.

In 1990, James P. Womack, Daniel Roos and Daniel T. Jones wrote a book “The machine that changed the world” in which they documented the principles and advantages of lean production and really put the principles of lean on the map. Since then, diverse industries all across the globe have embarked on lean implementations including services, retail, healthcare, construction and even start-ups with great success. However, not all lean principles easily translate from factory floor to office cubicle. Thus industries and lean practitioners have had to get creative and adapt and distill the relevant aspects of lean manufacturing and apply those to diverse environments to realize the full benefits of lean. This article will focus on applying lean outside of manufacturing.

Case Study: Lean in Testing Laboratories

The goals of lean in laboratories are the same as lean in manufacturing, identify the value, flow the value through the value stream and eliminate waste in the process. Which will reduce cost, decrease throughput time and improve quality. However, laboratories are not the same as manufacturing environments and thus the application of lean is not the same. While in manufacturing, tackling Muda, such as reducing inventory, reducing motion in the plant, reducing defects etc, will produce some of the main benefits of lean. In laboratories, these kinds of significant wastes are different and harder to reduce or eliminate. Here, the other wastes in lean Mura and Muri come to the forefront and become the biggest opportunities for lean with the greatest bang for your buck.


Unlike manufacturing which will often have a fairly consistent demand in incoming workloads. In laboratories, there is Mura, which is volatility in the incoming workloads, some weeks there are multiple batches incoming while other weeks there are less batches incoming. Often times, companies will try and cope with this volatility by resourcing to handle the peaks in workloads. However, this is inefficient, as during slower weeks (troughs), there are more resources and equipment than work available which leads to low productivity. Additionally, during busy weeks (peaks), the workload will surpass the resources and equipment which can lead to delays. There may also be high mix volatility, in the types of projects by effort. For example, some batches taking great effort with more testing requirements than others but no standardized approach of sizing up the product from the start by effort. In order to tackle this volatility, a reap the rewards of lean, the deeper concepts of lean tools such as leveling and flow are going to produce the most benefits. Shifting the focus from individual tests and task accuracy to the overall project outcome.


Furthermore, tacking Muri, which is overburden of resources will provide the second best opportunity for lean. There may also be a mixture of routine versus non-routing testing and non-test tasks which is inefficient use of resources time. In some companies, there can be dedication by product causing or amplifying individual workload volatility. The solution for this is optimizing and balancing roles into a defined sequence called standard work and also separating out the routine testing from non-value add non-testing activities. Using your best time and task managers to build those roles and others can copy the process. The same goes for testing and reviewing of test reports. Cross-training across multiple testing and activities becomes very important and creates a flexible workforce. Breaking the dedication by product/test will be more efficient and also getting rid of any “soft-start” to the day.

Operational Excellence

Laboratories, will generally be less operationally excellence and productivity focused than manufacturing. This includes a lack of visual management or visibility on workloads and schedules. With no awareness what each testing analyst or reviewer are working on and no obvious capacity planning. There is often poor or no performance management with no targets for best practices. There are no visual short interval controls such as “green”, the project is on track or “red” to signify if there are issues while the process is running. This leads to the “trail being cold” for errors and makes it harder to resolve issues. There is often incomplete or no error tracking or management, so errors are repeated over and over again without corrective actions. There is a lack of flow between testing and reporting, with delays, long lead times and /or low productivity. Start-stop-restart cycles cause disruption and duplication of efforts. There is often high volumes of work in progress with no visual Kanban approach. There is no standard approach to report writing, disparate methods for generating reports and a new report layout is composed each time for each client. Other basic lean initiatives are often absent including 5S, Gemba walks, A3 problem solving and process mapping.


Lean manufacturing disrupted the automotive industry back in the 1950’s, it allowed a small automotive company from Japan, Toyota to become a leader in car manufacturing and compete on the world stage. Since then, lean principles have been adopted by multiple industries and produced great results. As this article outlines, lean manufacturing principles can and should be applied to other industries such as laboratories. However, they must be adapted and it is not a one-fits-all approach. In this example, a deep understanding of lean is important in order to choose the correct lean solutions to tackle the industry-specific problems and issues and to gain the best results.