December 24

The Lean Audit: What (Really) Goes Into a Lean Production System That Works


Using a lean audit can help gauge where your business is, in relation to those that are ahead of you in the journey.  

Is the lean audit an all encompassing magic formula?


You need to develop lean processes to suit where the problems are and what needs to be improved, specifically to your business. In fact, the real skill lies in diagnosing where the waste is in your business and how to implement change based on the current culture.

What a lean audit can give you is a good foundation of what should be implemented in the business to make your lean production system a success.

This audit is based on Iwao Kobayashi's 20 Keys to Workplace Improvements, with some subtle differences, too.

  • 1
    For each section, enter a score from 0-5 depending on which description and level applies, across the 14 common lean tools. The scores range from a zero (non existent), to a 5 (World-class).
  • 2
    Add up your scores
  • 3
    Compare your score to typical companies who are 1 year in and greater than 3 years into their lean journeys
  • 4
    For maximum impact, have each team member conduct the lean survey individually, first.
  • 5
    When completed, agree the standard score for the collective team and create actions to keep improving on your scores.

1. Leadership Commitment & Culture

It's important that the senior leadership team is totally committed to a lean improvement programme. If there's a half-hearted commitment and enthusiasm, the lean effort will most likely die out over time. This is normally because improvement ideas and decisions often hit a brick wall at the senior level. People normally lose heart when they see that they're trying, but their leaders aren't.

Alternatively, a leadership team that's focused and clear on what it wants has a great chance of making a lean culture work. They'll set the direction and enthusiasm to making a business-wide commitment. 

If they're trained in leading cultural change, then this whole module will set a strong foundation for growth.

Lean Audit Questions:

No Evidence: The senior leadership team are not aware of lean. There's no intention to implement a lean project. There's also little evidence of a 'no-blame' culture


Trying it out: The leadership team are aware of lean but have not implemented anything. Managers are not trained in conflict management and change management, too.


Developing Capability: The leadership team are fully aware of lean and understands it. They don't lead the lean programme. They do let their employees get on with implementing change. There's also limited employee engagement.


Continuous Improvement Capability: There's a lean implementation plan in place and being worked on. There's evidence of some leaders coaching and leading their teams. Managers are all trained in lean and performance management. There's regular communication across the business to support the change programme.


Proactive Capability: Senior leaders are fully supportive of the lean programme and lead by example. There are metrics in place across the business. There's a clear lean champion in the business, too. Employees raise issues and ideas for improvement and are comfortable doing so.


World-Class Capability: Lean is the way things are done in the business. All departments deploy it. All leaders support it and actively play their part in walking processes and coaching others. Value stream management happens every day and there's feedback on company performance regularly. 


2. 5S - Workplace Organisation

5S stands for:

  • Sort the area
  • Set locations and limits
  • Shine and bring the place to a high standard
  • Standardise the new levels of cleanliness and organisation
  • Sustain the gains

5S is the foundation of a good lean programme. It's about making the workplace visual, so you can find items and information quickly. This enables the teams to make quick wins in productivity improvements.

It's also about ensuring teams follow the 5S system. By cracking 5S and sustaining it, they'll be in a stronger position to use and sustain other lean system tools, too. 

Lean Audit Questions

No Evidence: There is no 5S system in place. The business does not work to 5S. There are are no set routines for maintaining organisation, and there are multiple, unstructured locations for materials and equipment. There's also a heavy dependency on cleaners and the place is largely untidy and dirty.


Trying it Out: The company is aware of 5S and organisation. There's been no formal training under way or completed, yet. Non structured cleaning routines may take place, but there's still a reliance on cleaners. There are some areas that are tidier than others.


Developing Capability: 5S training across the business is completed. There are signs of structured cleaning in places. Some areas are showing signs of improved organisation and cleanliness.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Most areas are showing signs of workplace organisation and have begun 5S. Materials, tools and equipment have permanent locations. Teams are now generally taking responsibility for cleaning and improving their workplace.


Proactive Capability: 5S audits are consistently happening across the business. All teams and areas are working on standardising their area. The business is now looking world-class and organised. There's evidence that employees are taking pride in their areas and there is very minimal reliance on cleaning staff.


World-class Capability: 5S is part of the culture. Everyone is using root cause analysis to identify and improve causes of dirtiness and contamination. 5S improvements are constantly being highlighted and implemented every month. There's almost no cleaning staff needed. Everyone takes responsibility for 5S.


3. Value Stream Mapping

The third of our lean audit tools - Value stream mapping is an extremely important tool. It allows the whole organisation to see waste and opportunities for improvement, throughout the business.

Value stream maps, cut through silos, and individual processes, and allows us to see the end-to-end processes from customer order to delivery to customer. 

We can see:

  • Wasteful activities
  • Where quality problems are
  • Imbalances of work
  • Processes which are overloaded
  • Processes which are under utilised 
  • The real total lead time to customer
  • Value stream efficiency

With a value stream map (VSM), we can also identify how we fix our processes, so we can improve the above bullet points. 

Without a VSM, we make blind improvements, which are often not linked to the bigger picture. Our VSM shows the bigger picture and how all improvement ideas will impact the business.

Lean Audit Questions

No Evidence: No processes have been mapped and there is zero thought in value stream thinking.


Trying it Out: There's an understanding of what a VSM is. There have been some attempts at mapping a process.


Developing Capability: A number of people have been trained in value stream mapping. There have been some processes that have been mapped, but no improvements have been seen.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Most people understand value stream mapping. Mapping is being used to uncover improvement opportunities. Improvement activities are being worked on, as a result of these VSMs.


Proactive Capability: Value streams are completed regularly. People are trained and mentor others using the tool. These VSMs are linked to the goals and objectives of the organisation, and uncovering improvements, too.


World-class Capability: VSM is recognised by all employees as a valuable lean tool, that helps identify improvements. VSM is a part of daily thinking and used consistently to identify and improve processes.


4. Quick Changeover

Quick changeover (QCO) is a very important tool in our lean audit and for an agile business. 

The definition of a changeover is: the length of time it takes to go from the last good unit of the previous job to the first good unit of the next job. 

The time to do this is the set up time (or changeover time, depending on your terminology). 

In order to be an agile business, changeovers must be fast. The Toyota model pushes for all of theirs to be under 10 minutes. This is because, the faster the changeovers, the more you can process. This also means that you can reduce batches sizes (which is a big step change in productivity and efficiency, too). By doing this, you become more agile and responsive to customer needs, without holding lots of stock.

Lean Audit Questions

No Evidence: Set up times are not measured and there's no attempt to reduce this in processes or on equipment. There's no real appreciation of how set up times impact the production plan - merely just accepting that they take a certain amount of time.


Trying it Out: Set up times are known on all machines and processes. Scheduling takes into consideration these times. There is very little knowledge in quick changeover thinking.


Developing Capability: Quick Changeover training has taken place in some parts of the business. There has also been some limited application of quick changeover in some locations in the business.


Continuous Improvement Capability: There's a formal quick changeover programme in place. A team works to identify and implement quick changeover projects and everyone is aware of the tool at a basic level. there have been some improvements across critical processes and machines.


Proactive Capability: The most critical machines and processes have been improved at least once. The business also prioritises quick changeover projects, based on the impact they have to the business' objectives. 


World-class Capability: Changeover times are less than 10 minutes on all critical equipment and processes. Everyone actively pursues quick changeover and follows the standard approach to driving quick set up times.


6. Total Preventative Maintenance

Total Preventative Maintenance (TPM) ensures that all critical equipment is in peak condition.

It consists of 4 key areas:

  • Corrective maintenance
  • Autonomous maintenance
  • Preventative maintenance
  • Predictive maintenance

In TPM, machines are returned to their peak condition, and items are fixed  (corrective maintenance); operators take the lead in daily and weekly checks and basic maintenance tasks, to ensure equipment is running well (autonomous maintenance);  yearly maintenance of the machine (preventative maintenance) is conducted; Operators are also able to spot issues and life-spans of parts and components and get them replaced, before the machine breaks down (predictive maintenance).

With TPM, machines aren't left to leak and become worse over time. They're looked after and provide a high return on investment.

Lean Audit Questions

No Evidence: Maintenance is only performed when machines breakdown. There's no TPM system in place in the business.


Trying it Out: Preventative maintenance is done by the maintenance personnel or contractors, but it's on an ad-hoc basis. There's no data collected on downtime, including life cycle of parts.


Developing Capability: A TPM system has been created. The system is visible in the workplace. Downtime is scheduled and machine history is tracked.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Daily and weekly TPM schedules are in place. The operators carry out basic preventative maintenance functions.


Proactive Capability: Maintenance and operators work together to improve uptime of the machines. Together, they conduct root cause analysis techniques to finding causes to machine downtime and pro-actively improve the machine through design or modification.  


World-class Capability: Operators have 100% ownership of their equipment and are trained to carry out comprehensive daily and weekly TPM tasks. Maintenance staff are alerted when a major overhaul is needed. The maintenance team coach and mentor the operators in TPM. 


7. Flow of Information and Product

Flow means to move something on in a steady and continuous stream. This means without delays and wasteful activities in the way.

Imagine your processes operating like an escalator - it's continuously moving and flowing little and often. This is what we want from our business processes.

Whether it's information or making a product, flow means we're highly efficient and productive and continuously process when it's needed.

As part of flow, the little-and-often approach means that work isn't waiting in batches. It's realised regularly and at the right time.

This approach gives us consistent and faster delivery.

Lean Audit Questions

No Evidence: There's no flow of processes. Large batches exist, and work is hidden amongst clutter and work-in-progress. 


Trying it Out: Some people know the principles of flow. There may have been an attempt to analyse and implement it, but no real improved result. The business is still largely run by batches and clutter.


Developing Capability: Flow has been attempted in some areas. People are understanding the concept of Takt, but there's little organisational-wide link to it. Large batches and excessive work in progress is still visible.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Continuous flow can be seen in a product family. This includes information flow and product flow. It's clear to see takt time is being used to optimise flow, as batch sizes have been reduced.


Proactive Capability: Most of the business' product families have been converted to flow. It's clear to see that batch sizes have drastically been reduced across the company and there's less work in progress. Most areas are following flow principles and standard work.


World-class Capability: All areas of the business have been converted to flow. All product families have been value stream mapped and linked to takt time. Standard work is in place in all areas and being followed to ensure consistent flow of products and information.


8. Pull System

A pull production system ensures that there is a specific limit in work in progress, and that, as production works, this WIP is controlled.

Pull allows us to process work without flooding our facility with inventory, and uncontrolled stock.

With too much WIP, you'll run out of space, find it hard to locate jobs and equipment, invest too much cash in work-in-progress and generally be too fat and slow, due to excessive resources consumed.

With pull, on the other hand, you can be agile, and run production with very little resource and space needed, whilst making to customer order, as opposed to a forecast.

The typical solution to pull is to use Kanban.

In Kanban, there is a controlled amount of inventory between processes, and this inventory is made, when the "product" is taken, indicating to make more.

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: Production scheduling is based on forecasting and making ahead. Inventory is not controlled or not optimised for lean. There's no pull systems.


Trying it Out: Customer demand is taken into account when creating production plans, but there's little knowledge and evidence of pull systems.


Developing Capability: There's some use of Kanban in the business. A small number of employees are training in Pull systems and Kanban replenishment. There's also use of good visual management in the areas that deploy Kanban.


Continuous Improvement Capability: There's widespread training of pull systems and replenishment. Kanban is in place for finished goods and is visual to see. There's also Kanban being used in the office processes and to suppliers.


Proactive Capability: The principles of Kanban is seen in most areas, including office processes. These Kanbans are constantly being monitored and improved. 


World-class Capability: Customers, suppliers and production is run using Kanban. All employees understand and develop pull principles. Each Kanban system is reviewed and continuously improved.


9. Plant Layout

Having the correct layout is critical to get a highly productive work environment.

WIthout the right layout, you'll find there's a lot of people moving between work stations and equipment.

You'l also find there's a lot of lost time and distance travelled, just moving completed work on.

It's extremely hard to implement continuous flow techniques if processes are a world apart.

The problem is, when businesses grow, new machines and cells get commissioned and set up where there's space. This is not conducive to flow. You need process and equipment positioned to make flow happen.

This can often mean a complete re-layout of existing practices and where things go. 

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: The layout of the factory reflects a traditional layout, whereas similar processes are grouped together in cells or departments. For example, CNC shop, Assembly, testing, and so on. There's no understanding of linking layout to efficiency and customer demand.


Trying Out: Some machines and equipment have been arrange based on product families. Work-in-progress is not controlled, though, and there are large inventory build ups. A lot of waiting still exists and excessive walking between processes.


Developing Capability: There are some equipment and processes that have been grouped, to help flow products through the business. Excessive work-in-progress is still evident and there's some understanding of linking output to a pace.


Continuous Improvement Capability: There are some cells in the factory and work-in-progress is minimised in these areas. Processes are standardised too. People are being cross-trained to help flow work in these cells, linked to Takt.


Proactive Capability: there are many cells in the factory, all aligned to Takt and standardised to support flow. Workers have been cross-trained and now work to continuous flow techniques. WIP in these cells is low and controlled. One or two office and support staff are assigned to a cell.


World-class Capability: Pull systems exist across the business and between cells, when needed. Takt and delivery status to customer demand is clear across the entire business. There's flexibility across the business and office and support staff are assigned to cells.


10. Standard Work

Standard work is simply the steps needed to complete a process. 

What's important about it? If you standardise your activities, and get everyone to follow the same steps, you'll improve:

  • Quality - people will follow the current optimised way of doing things
  • Consistency of output and speed. 
  • A standard to help train others

With standard work, you improve performance and productivity.

In a world-class business, all processes use standard work. In production, this standard work is linked to time, which in turn, is linked to Takt.

Standard work can also cover how information is processed and moved on to other steps. Standard processes ensure there's clarity and stability in how things get done.

This doesn't mean standard work can't be improved. On the contrary. Standard work is used to standardise processes and observe how things can be improved.

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: Standard work doesn't really exist in the business. There is no link to creating standard work and linking it to continuous improvement.


Trying it Out: Standard work does exist in small pockets. These are largely to show how a product is made, but they're not up to date. They're also not displayed in the area.


Developing Capability: Some standard work is evident across the business and accessible. Preventative maintenance, set ups, reporting and other lean system standard work are mostly not in use.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Standard work to help standardise production are available in most areas. There is some evidence of standard work for non manufacturing processes.


Proactive Capability: Standard work is available in all production areas, including set-ups, Kanbans, and so on. Office processes are now largely standardised, too. When running processes, everyone knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it, without having to ask.


World-class Capability: Standard work is in place across the whole business. It;s being used to constantly improve processes and challenge existing practices. Leader standard work is also used to drive a lean  leadership system.


11. Lean Supply-Chain

Supply-chain management is a vital component of a lean system. It ties into just-in-time (JIT) management. Ideally, parts and raw material should be supplied when the business needs it.

This means challenging everything your current supply-chain process are delivering, to get ever closer to perfect JIT.

In a lean supply-chain, suppliers are consolidated so as to build deep relationships with preferred suppliers.

The idea behind a lean supply chain:

  • Increases the frequency of orders (regardless of the lead-time to get the products)
  • Works with suppliers to increase flexibility
  • Moves away from the cheapest supplier to the best supplier that can provide JIT
  • Reduces footprint in the warehouse, whilst avoiding stock-outs

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: Decisions on what to purchase are made on price alone. Demand is communicated to suppliers via a purchase order. There are no measurements of supplier performance.


Trying it Out: There's an awareness of pull systems in supply-chain and forecasts are given to suppliers. Some supplier performance may be measured, but it's not communicated to the supplier. There's still a push for using price as the motivator to purchase.


Developing Capability: There are some pull systems with a few suppliers and there are limited metrics to measure them. Some suppliers are being communicated to regarding their performance and how they fit in the supply-chain model.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Pull systems exist for key products, as well as critical suppliers and  customers. Supply-chain costs are analysed to make supply-chain decisions. Metrics are also being used on key suppliers, to track performance.


Proactive Capability: Pull systems are being deployed for more than 50% of customer demand. Metrics are being used across the board, and improvement projects being deployed with suppliers. A Supplier certification scheme exists to track supplier performance and acknowledge good delivery. 


World-class Capability: Demand is given to suppliers based on pull systems. Deliveries from suppliers, through to customer have been optimised. Suppliers are an integral part to the continuous improvement initiative and work with teams during improvement projects.


12. Continuous Improvement Framework 

The 12th section in our lead audit; Continuous improvement is the foundation to lean. It provides a system to ensure that all people in the business are constantly challenging how things are currently done - in view of making things better.

Continuous improvement (CI), has the PDCA model firmly embedded to its core.

This PDCA approach provides structured problem solving methods to:

  1. Identify any gaps to plan
  2. Establish what could be improved
  3. Test an improvement idea on a small scale
  4. Review if it worked
  5. If not, then try something else; otherwise make this a part of the new standard

A CI system should ensure that everyone in the business adopts the same improvement methods, and tackles problems in exactly the same way.

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: No formal methods of PDCA is being used. There's no talk about improving processes in a systematic way. There's a lot (if not all) firefighting from one problem to the next.


Trying it Out: Improvements are reactive. They usually come when a customer complains, or from management. There has been some training in problem solving.


Developing Capability: Some improvement methodology is being used. Teams are sometimes used to drive improvements. Continuous improvement and problem solving is largely driven by management.


Continuous Improvement Capability: There's a consistent and standard process to identify problems and make process improvements. There are clear process owners who help lead improvements, and results are documented in a Continuous Improvement Dashboard.


Proactive Capability: Continuous improvement is driven by the teams. Most workers are trained in continuous improvement tools and use them to advance the business. Improvements are linked to bottom line savings and the strategy of the business.


World-class Capability: All employees are trained in continuous improvement. Everyone adopts the continuous improvement way. The company has a clear CI culture which empowers all workers to identify and make improvements. 


13. Visual Management & Accountability

Visual management is a part of this lean audit because it's one of the foundations of lean.

Visual management is linked to team accountability and daily discussions around what's important to each team.

Using visual management and controls, a stranger should be able to walk to any part of the business and within 30 seconds, know exactly what's working and what's not.

This platform allows the team to identify issues and improve processes. When they can't resolve an issue, visual management allows teams to escalate problems quickly, for managers and support workers to help and overcome problems as they happen.

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: No visual controls are used in the business. There are no structured daily meetings, and people largely arrive, get their heads down and work. 


Trying it Out:  Production tracking charts are used in some areas. They're filled out irregularly and just focus on numbers. There's no or very little structured action driving gaps to plan.


Developing Capability:  Metrics charts are filled out regularly. Reasons for misses are sometimes detailed. There are some actions being taken, but largely slow and miss action dates.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Metrics are visual in each team and reviewed daily. Actions are regularly taken to improve quality, safety and delivery across a number of areas. There's some element of good problem solving being displayed.


Proactive Capability: Production charts are updated several times a day. Visual management is regularly reviewed to track real time performance. Each team knows the top flow inhibitors. Issues identified, lead to root cause analysis and process fixes are being completed.


World-class Capability: Accountability is the norm. Actions are identified and closed as part of the routine. Visual management is deployed across all areas of the business and teams take ownership. 

Policy deployment links corporate goals to daily metrics tracking and everyone works to and understands the process.


14. Training and Development

Training and development is critical to achieving a competent workforce, as well as improving morale and happiness in the workplace.

People should been seen as assets and coached and developed to increase their own skills. This in turn increases the capability of the business, as well as their own careers.

People who are developed and cared for create a great return on investment. In lean businesses, this is a key driver to success.

Lean Audit Questions

Not Evident: There's no discussion with employees on personal development. As a result, there's no formal skills matrix or training programme in place.


Trying it Out: Impromptu training occurs on immediate training needs of people, but it's not structured.


Developing Capability: Key people in the business have a personal skills matrix, that shows their abilities against the requirements for their role.


Continuous Improvement Capability: Most staff across the business have a personal skills matrix. Each one is linked to their specific role. Training plans are beginning to emerge to help bridge the skills gaps.


Proactive Capability: All staff across the business have a personal and up-to-date skills matrix, which shows the skills gaps for their current role and future roles, too. A training plan for each person has been identified to close these gaps.


World-class Capability: All individuals have regular one-to-ones with their managers, and personal development and skills gaps in current and future roles, is discussed. All discussions lead to action and improvement.


Benchmark Your Company's Performance

Now add up your scores for each section and compare your results against the table below. 

These scores are representative averages of companies on similar lean journeys, from 1 to 3 years in their lean development.

Lean Element

Companies < 1 year In

Companies >3 Years In 

Leadership Commitment 






Value Stream Mapping 



Quick Changeover 



Total Preventative Maintenance



Flow of Information and Product 



Pull System 



Plant Layout 



 Standard Work



Lean Supply-chain 



Continuous Improvement Framework 



Visual Management and Accountability



Training & Development 



Total Lean Enterprise Score 



Where do you need to improve?

What are your business' weaker areas?

Where do you need to apply focus right now?

Use the scores to help clarify your priorities.


You may also like

How to Begin Your Lean Journey: 5 Steps to Making an Impact

5 Reasons Why Continuous Improvement in Manufacturing Is Important

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