In 1913 at Highland Park, the world was introduced to Flow production. In other words, the integration of interchangeable parts with standard workflow. And so, the assembly line was born. The originator of the concept was none other than Henry Ford. 

Two decades later in 1930s Japan, Kiichiro Toyoda and Taiichi Ohno revolutionised Toyota’s production capabilities, embracing the concepts introduced by Henry Ford and inventing the Toyota Production System, a series of simple innovations providing continuity in process flow across a wide variety of products. 

Since then, we have seen manufacturing and mass production around the world embracing LEAN working, simplifying processes to minimise waste and maximise resources along the same lines as Flow production. LEAN’s LEAN success has spread globally, across other non-manufacturing sectors too, including healthcare, construction, logistics, banking, and telecommunications. 

The world, as we know, never stands still and now, the question we need to be asking ourselves is: 

“Will applying LEAN principles help our organisation navigate through the minefield that is Covid-19?” 

LEAN in a Covid-19 World 

The Covid-19 pandemic is pushing the global economy into a recession of historic proportions. Organisations of all shapes and sizes, from multinational corporates to family-run SMEs must adapt change if they want to stay competitive. At the time of writing, there is no cure to Covid-19 on the horizon and so social distancing needs to be the norm for now. This obviously has a huge impact on both white- and blue-collar workforces. 

As businesses, we are now faced with the daunting task of assessing the roles and responsibilities of our workforces and reorganising operations to ensure the service or product remains commercially viable while keeping everyone involved safe. 

Here are just a few key areas to consider: 

  1. Can our organisation still operate effectively with a percentage of the workforce working from home?
  2. How can employee output be measured effectively whilst people are working remotely?
  3. Do we have adequate IT, software, and communication strategies in place to manage remote working teams?
  4. What impact will the social distancing measures placed on our workforce have on production output, programmes, plans, interfaces, cost, risk, and completion deadlines?
  5. Do we need to radically change our organisational structure and reassess the roles and responsibilities of our workforce?
  6. We might think we are still competitive, but how can we be sure the changes and redeployment of resources put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic have truly accounted for all associated waste streams?

How LEAN principles can help 

LEAN principles can help businesses achieve their immediate goal of ‘survival’, as well as provide structure and support throughout the journey of sustainability, growth and ultimately, long-term success and prosperity in the aftermath of Covid-19. They can help businesses in the following ways: 

  1. Observing new ways of working and introducing waste mapping procedures can help assess the viability of proposed changes to ensure that they adhere with the Government’s social distancing requirements and lessen the potential impact on service or operational delivery.
  2. The original seven wastes (Muda) was developed by Taiichi Ohno, the Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System (TPS). The seven wastes are Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Over processing and Defects. They are often referred to by the acronym ‘TIMWOOD’. Applying the seven wastes can help identify waste streams in proposed ways of working and highlight viable mitigation strategies.
  3. The Plan-do-check-act cycle is a four-step model for carrying out change. Just as a circle has no end, the PDCA cycle should be repeated and again for continuous improvement. PDCA can be applied to support the implementation of proposed changes through to a successful, sustained outcome.
  4. Visual management techniques can help introduce control measures and agree appropriate business KPIs.
  5. LEAN is a journey and embraces the ideas, thoughts, and suggestions of the whole workforce. Great ideas are often proposed by employees directly impacted by change and LEAN encourages and promotes these behaviours.

If your organisation has not adopted the principles of LEAN yet, then now’s the time to start! For more information on how LEAN can help your organisation through these challenging times, get in contact with us at:


  • The LEAN Start up – Eric Ries.
  • LEAN Turnaround – Art Byrne.
  • Running LEAN – Ash Maurya.



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