Lean Process Improvement: Use These 8 Ways to Achieve It

At the twilight of 2018, we evaluate what we managed to achieve throughout the year and look forward with hope to what is to come in 2019. If you are among those brave leaders who are always chasing process improvement, at this time of the year, you are probably considering how to scale your efforts after the holidays.

We understand how difficult it may be to continuously identify room for improvement and actually manage to fill it. Therefore, we decided to give you some ideas by putting a list of 8 process improvement methods that have worked particularly well at Kanbanize.

Why Process Improvement is Important

Before going over our favorite methods, we want to remind you why you should even bother seeking constant process improvement. As the great Henry Ford said a long time ago, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.

Without constant process improvement, you will have a hard time staying ahead of your competitors or even keeping up with them. This is especially true in knowledge work industries such as software development and IT in general.

You need to have a plan and prepare a strategy both for short and long-term process improvement. Nonetheless, you must communicate it with your team and stay accountable for achieving it. Thankfully, Lean has proven methods that can aid you in every aspect of the journey.

Hoshin Kanri

Hoshin Kanri is a lean process improvement method for strategic planning. It is essential for communicating strategy across an entire organization. The method consists of 7 steps:

  1. Establish organizational vision;
  2. Develop breakthrough objectives;
  3. Develop annual objectives;
  4. Deploy annual objectives;
  5. Implement annual objectives;
  6. Perform a monthly review;
  7. Perform an annual review.

Hoshin Kanri is a perfect tool for creating a process improvement plan and ensuring that everybody in your organization follows it. Although it looks like a top-down approach, this lean method is focused on gathering feedback across hierarchy and creating discussion.


This is done with the help of practice called catchball. Explaining it shortly, every organizational level starting from the top develops a strategy and passes it down to the next (tossing the ball). The person that receives the ball has to provide feedback and prepare a tactics proposition. In the ideal case scenario, every person in the company must have the chance to contribute and not just execute tasks.

To learn more about Hoshin Kanri, visit our dedicated resource section.

Portfolio Kanban

Portfolio Kanban is a lean process improvement method developed for improving an organization’s ability to deliver value to the end customer. This is achieved by applying the principles of visualization, limiting work in progress and managing flow on a system level.

Implementing it is quite simple really. You visualize every workflow or project in your company on dedicated Kanban boards. Then, you start breaking down assignments from large initiatives to smaller ones until you have individual tasks that take no more than a few days to process.

Then, you connect them together using a system of task dependencies like:

  • Parent;
  • Child;
  • Relative;
  • Predecessor;
  • Successor.

Logically, a parent task or initiative is comprised of one or many children; predecessor and successor allow you to specify the processing order, and relative can be used for any type of assignment somehow related to another one.

Similarly to traditional Kanban, you need to limit work in progress, but this time you are doing so for each organizational level to optimize capacity on a global scale.

To learn more about Portfolio Kanban, visit our dedicated resource section.

5S Method

The 5S is a method for creating and maintaining order in your workplace. You can easily add it to any process improvement plan because of its simplicity. 5S stands for:

  • Sort;
  • Set order;
  • Shine;
  • Standardize;
  • Sustain.

Together these 5 practices allow you to keep your workplace a temple of productivity and reduce process wastes such as unnecessary motion and waiting. 5S is an adored method in the manufacturing world, but it has its application in knowledge-work as well.

With its help, you can organize and maintain any sorts of processes or information in your company’s cloud drives and pretty much put order to anything in your office.

To learn more about 5S, check our dedicated article on the topic.

Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)

Plan-Do-Check-Act is the most popular framework for achieving continuous process improvement. The PDCA cycle is an iterative approach for continually improving products, people, and services.


These steps are lightweight and can be integrated with any management method you’re using.

To learn more about PDCA, check our dedicated article on the topic.


Heijunka is another lean process improvement method we recommend trying in 2019 if you still hadn’t given it a chance. It can help you optimize your process to satisfy customer demand in the most efficient way. This is achieved by abandoning the traditional way of processing work in batches and organizing team capacity according to demand.

You can do this by leveling the order in which you process tasks according to the average number of customer requests you register. There are two ways of leveling work with Heijunka:

  • By volume
  • By type

Originally, to implement Heijunka you would need a special tool called Heijunka box. Basically, it is a system that visualizes the orders of each product and according to the average demand, it levels a production sequence for achieving an optimal flow. However, if you are already using Kanban, you can just break down your project boards into swimlanes for the different types of customer requests and distribute work items.

To learn more about Heijunka, check our dedicated article on the topic.


Jidoka is also known as autonomation, which is basically automation with a human touch. The method was developed to ensure that you deliver defect-free products to your customers relying on 4 simple principles:

  1. Discover an abnormality;
  2. Stop the process;
  3. Solve the immediate problem;
  4. Investigate and solve the root cause of the problem.

These 4 steps can help you achieve significant process improvement by allowing anyone in your organization to stop the workflow when they notice a problem or inefficiency.

Originally developed for manufacturing, this method can fit perfectly into a process improvement plan developed for a knowledge work environment. For example, you can easily automate the testing process of every new feature you are developing.

You just have to set up automated unit tests to check every functionality and signal when something is broken. As soon as a problem arises, your development team will know that there’s work to be done in order to fix it and they can attend the issue before proceeding to start new work.

To learn more about Jidoka, check our dedicated article on the topic.

5 Whys

The 5 Whys technique is one of the most effective tools for root cause analysis in the Lean management arsenal. However, its usefulness is not limited to that. The 5 Whys can help you achieve process improvement by providing you with a tool for analyzing the value of future assignments as well.

5 whys

The method is quite simple, really. You just ask the question “why” as many times as needed until you reach the core of a problem or idea. At Kanbanize, we are serious fans of the 5 Whys. We are using it for practically everything we do.

To learn more about the 5 Whys, check our dedicated article on the topic.

Gemba Walk

Last but not least, we encourage you to try a lean process improvement method called Gemba Walk. It basically takes a manager outside of their office and puts them where the real work happens.

The method consists of 3 core elements:

  1. Going around the workplace and seeing how the team works (without doing a formal inspection);
  2. Communicating with the team and asking for any problems that they might have spotted;
  3. Respecting people’s opinions and expertise.

The purpose of going on a Gemba is to observe the actual work process, engage with employees, and explore opportunities for process improvement.

To make the most of this lean process improvement method, we advise to take notes and document any valuable observations and insights you get from your team. Afterward, take your time to analyze your findings and discuss with other stakeholders how to proceed in the best possible way.

To learn more about Gemba Walk, check our dedicated article on the topic.

In Conclusion

Achieving continuous process improvement is vital for staying ahead or even keeping up with your competitors. As a methodology, Lean offers a variety of tools that can help you with that. They cover everything from strategic planning to daily workflow optimization on a team level.

We encourage you to take your time and research every lean process improvement method listed in this article. Together, or separately, they can help you achieve organizational harmony and deliver more value to your customers faster than ever before.

Oh, and if you want to try Portfolio Kanban with your team, why don’t you give Kanbanize a try? We promise it won’t disappoint you.

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