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The Lean project is the tool for deploying a progress approach. From a few days to a few months, the Lean project aims for concrete and lasting results.


The Lean project is the most efficient way to implement methods and tools. From a few days to several months, a Lean project involves field teams and is a catalyst for change.

Lean projects rely on a management logic by piercing. Developed by Shoji Shiba, this management method aims to deploy a strategy through a multitude of projects with a well-defined scope.

Management by breakthrough

The breakthrough Management is a mode of transformation used for change procedures. It was Professor Shoji Shiba who developed the concept and showed the results.

Its principle is quite simple: It is better to focus the teams on small, easily attainable objectives that lead to major transformations, rather than driving large and long projects. This principle is based on the observation that long and complex projects discourage staff and do not succeed.

Le Toyota Kata

The Toyota Kata is a concept developed by Mike Rother, American researcher in management. Translated by “Form“, it is a learning routine, where daily, by repetition of gestures, facts … we are continually improving.

Highly practiced in Japanese martial arts, Mike Rother demonstrates this, that Lean aims every day to improve little by little through simple learning. It’s a routine process that allows you to create new ways of thinking and implement a new culture.

The 2 types of Lean projects

The norm NFX 06-091 « Skills Requirements of Improvement Project Managers and Workshop Facilitators  » defines different levels in the Lean hierarchy. There are 2 levels of complexity of « Lean workshops » divided into 2 sectors (industry and service).

Simple workshop

Also called Kaikaku*, a simple workshop is a set of activities carried out on a restricted scope of a process in order to achieve a local improvement. It is usually done in a short time by business teams and driven by local management. It requires a preparation of one to two weeks and is spread over a period of 1 to 3 days. A simple workshop does not require any particular follow-up.

It fits well :

  • For a small area where we know the problem well and where we already have a good knowledge of the solutions to implement.
  • To companies that already have an advanced approach and where the need for training and communications are less present.
  • When there is an urgent situation where fast and sustainable results are needed.
  • When you need to get fast results to convince teams.

The term Kaikaku

Most often opposed to the term Kaizen, Kaikaku (translated by« fast revolution »,  “fast change” and synonymous with  Lean BreakthroughLean EventHoshin workshop or Kaizen Blitz1), is found in Japanese culture most often in politics: Gyosei-Kaikaku (administrative reform), Seiji-Kaikaku (political reform) and Zeizei-Kaikaku (tax reform). It is also synonymous with Kakushin, a term meaning “Innovation“.

Complex workshop

A complex workshop is a set of activities carried out on a wider scope or a more complex theme. It requires a thorough preparation of two to three weeks and is spread over a period of 3 to 5 days in a row with a follow-up of one day a week for several months.

A complex workshop has the advantage of giving teams time to get involved. Indeed, the phase Do and Check takes place over several weeks allowing teams to understand the « why of how » and not to « to lose » in the middle of the project. Companies that do not have a fluid and autonomous approach have most often used this project mode..

1 – Identify and prioritize projects

The choice of a project2 is a complex process that must take into account a wide range of criteria. You have to be able to decide the scope, objectives, theme, format…

Step 1 : Identify sources of waste

At first, we will identify sources of waste. Several possibilities are available to Lean Expert to identify them :

  • A manager, an operator … asks for the setting up of a project directly.
  • Someone from the Lean team directly conduct observations (interviews, direct measurement, VSM, review of the indicators of stocks, lead time of the zone …) grounds by having previously warned the zone manager. For interviews, do not hesitate to challenge what we are going to tell you and ask for “evidences“.
  • See with management the strategic plan of development.
  • Work with the Finance department on sources of waste.

Step 2: Collect data

For each of the topics identified, you will be able to collect the maximum amount of data on the identified problem: quality problem, absenteeism, lead time … The objective being to be able to prioritize them.

Step 3: Conduct a strategic analysis

We will then correlate the different topics with the corporate strategy communicated via the Hoshin Kanri. The challenge is to be able to work on topics related to the global guidelines of the company.

Etape 4 : Prioritize projects

Financial criteria

These are the most obvious criteria and especially focused results. We find in this category 3 levers of decisions :

   1. Business Strategy : Be in correspondence with the development plan set by the management of the company. This plan of 1 to X years is itself built on the basis of a diagnosis of the company, the market … which has been shared and on which the consensus is obtained.

     2. Economic : Finally, the priority can be correlated with economic data. 2 ways to identify this priority :

The Cost Gain Matrix

Lean Six Sigma Equation

This matrix prioritizes projects by highlighting those that are the least expensive * for the most successful results :

  • Score of 1: the project has priority because generating a lot of gain for little cost.
  • Score of 5: the project is probably to give up because generating little gain for a high cost.

*Attention, the notion of cost is wide. It is necessary to take the costs to implement the solutions but also to maintain them. In the same way, the gains should not be only the short-term gains (resolution of the problem vis-à-vis the customer), but for example, acquiring knowledge about an area that we still know little, for example.

Use the Lean 6 Sigma equation. This is calculated using the following formula :

With :

  • B : The expected gain
  • I : Initial costs
  • C : The periodic cost to maintain the gain

We will then choose the project with the most important result and exceeding the score of 1.

Other criteria

We know that a change approach is a “made-to-measure” approach. For this reason, it is necessary to take into account a whole range of more complex and often less measurable criteria. We find :

  • Probability of success : Especially for a new approach, we can focus on the projects that have the best chance of succeeding and thus allow us to make a demonstration.
    Social: perhaps it is more convincing to set up a project on a “difficult” sector to demonstrate the effects and be able to deploy more easily later. But also, this may be the level of interest of staff vis-à-vis the project. This will increase the involvement of staff and show that we take into account their desires.
  • Maturity of the approach : perhaps to give impetus to the process, a flagship project, simpler and more visual can be privileged to another even if it is not on a key product line. Or on the contrary, the approach is mature on a sector, and one wishes to use a new tool on a sector where Lean has not been deployed.
    Strategic other than financial: we find notions of security or sustainable development. For example, following an incident, management wants to prioritize a security access project to show that these problems have been taken into account. We will use Eisenhower’s matrix to prioritize them.

The Eisenhower matrix

1 – Important and urgent projects to be done immediately.

2 – Important projects to do yourself and to plan in respectable deadlines.

3 – Urgent but unimportant projects that can be delegated in a short time.

4 – Projects to be done when we have time.

2 – Build the schedule

The project schedule always follows a process PDCA – Project Management3. Depending on the type of workshop, we have two different schedules :

Simple workshop (Kaikaku…)

Complex workshop


1 to 2 weeks

3 weeks


1 to 2 intensive days in the same week

3 to 5 intensive days (in the same week) + 5 half days (1 per week)


1 jour

1 to 3 days on the same week


1/2 days

1 day

Maximum total duration

5 weeks

11 weeks

3 – Choose the project leader

The first project of a zone

The first project in a sector is preferably led by a person from the continuous improvement department. Mastering the methods and tools, he is able to implement the project in the best conditions.

The n+1 projects

It is good practice to use the principles of ShuHaRi. The following project must be managed by one of the people trained in the previous project, while relying on the company’s Lean service. This makes it possible to increase the level of training of the teams, to better involve them and to deploy the projects more quickly.

For this, it is necessary to set up levels of authorization. It is at least a training theoretical, participation in one or more projects and co-animation of at least 2 projects.

4 – Plan : project preparation

Running 1 to 3 weeks before the beginning of the DO phase, the goal is to prepare for the smooth running of the actions. In collaboration with the pilot, the facilitator will identify a number of points.

4.1 The perimeter

The scope of the project should be relatively small. The most common mistake is to choose a perimeter too big and the risk is to « lose » in many actions of progress that will ensue. Enough for us to find ourselves « flooded » under the work with ultimately a project that turns into “steering the total change of the company“.

4.2 Select the project team

A project systematically involves several different « populations »2. The facilitator, le Sponsor, le pilot and the participants. Proficient in their business (purchasing, logistics, production …), they bring their know-how and knowledge of Gemba to improve it. Their origins depend on the scope and type of project: for a project Kanban, a logistician will be needed, a project TPM is done with maintenance….

The project will be the moment when they can trace all their problems, ask questions and sustain actions once the project is closed. Their ideas are therefore essential and must be listened to.

Beyond this central team, you can also integrate a « outer eye », always useful to bring more creativity and novelty.

The size of the group

Criterion 1: Group Dynamics

Guaranteeing the results of a Lean 6 Sigma project is first and foremost a good group dynamic. Studied by many researchers in sociology, group dynamics is directly related to the number of possible interactions between people who themselves are proportional to the number of people in the group. The formula4 is the following :

(3n – 2n+1 + 1) / 2

n being the number of people in the group.

Criterion 2: Precision in decision making

Assuming that all people have 60%* of “chance” to identify the good alternatives to solve a problem, the probability to make 99% that the group can make the right decision is calculated via the following formula * :

P = 1 – (0,4)n

n being the number of people in the group.

*The calculation assumptions are as follows :

  • We have enough information to evaluate each alternative.
  • An alternative can be clearly classified as good or not good.
  • The probability of identifying the right alternative is not dependent on the total number of alternatives.
  • Each person in the group has the same probability of identifying the right alternative.

It can be concluded that the optimal size of a project group is :

5 people

4.3 Validate the practical elements

A project requires a little material. The facilitator must ensure that everything necessary will be available on the day of the launch. In this, he must have a meeting room (closest to the Gemba), a video projector, the project board or a flipchart.

At the end of this step, the project driver :

  • Presents and validates all of these data with the Pilot, the Sponsor and the Lean Expert. In particular, the objectives will have reached consensus.
  • Set up the project board on the project area.
  • Set up monitoring indicators according to the project theme and expectations.
  • Sets up process indicators: presentationisms…
  • Takes photos of the current state of the project area.
  • Validate the project contract.
  • Validate the checklist of the elements necessary for the good progress of the project.

5 – Do : intensive days and project monitoring

It is essential to understand that these intensive days are done with the entire team, full time and on a work area is available. In other words, if the subject of the project is a 5S on line 1, this line will have to be as much as necessary stopped during the intensive days to be free to carry out the desired operations. Having all the operational and the available line has several objectives :

  • The team will be able to take the time to share the experiences and knowledge of all, to make trials and demonstration if necessary to get the consensus on the new standards of work.
  • The importance of such actions is demonstrated in contrast to having to do this on the sly to avoid losing productivity in the short term. We position the project in a long term vision.

Intensive phase: introduction to the project

The first day of the intensive phase begins with the training (1hr for a simple workshop and 1/2 day for a complex workshop). The facilitator provides theoretical training (including a chapter on Lean Spirit) and animates it with one or more games. This allows you to upgrade the team and share a common vocabulary.

Then, the pilot informs the project team of :

  • Objectives
  • Planning
  • Data already collected and collected
  • Project panel
  • How the file works PDCA project monitoring

It is good practice to involve the Sponsor at the end of this first intensive day to make a first point and show that the project is supported by management and the results are expected.

Intensive phase: Definition and implementation of actions

On the Gemba, the facilitator gives the first indications and follows the following sequence* :

  1. Muda hunting, building the VSM in group, data collection (Lead Time, default …), calculation of the Takt Time.
  2. Identify opportunities for improvement, identify root causes, generate ideas for improvements.
  3. Implementation of improvements.
  4. Validation of improvements, construction of standards, implementation of the action plan for the next phase of monitoring.

* It is noted that the proposed process is generic. It must be adapted according to the theme of the project (Kanban, 5S…).

Project follow up

Once the intensive days are over, the facilitator will follow the project for a few weeks for 5 half days. During these follow-up hours, he will make sure that each person has done these tasks and will redistribute the work until the next follow-up.

6 – Check: control of actions

In the preparation phase, the project pilot defined the set of project indicators. Throughout the project, the pilot will compare in real time the current state of progress with the initial state of the project and validate that the project is progressing correctly.

7 – Act : project closure

7.1 Encrypt project earnings and costs

Essential for justifying the process and promoting it, the project leader will have to demonstrate profit generated by the group’s actions. It will be necessary to relate them to the costs: cost of stop of the line, time operators on the project … (Excel model downloadable opposite).

7.2 Set up the audit

The facilitator will set up an audit of the improvements made by the project. The challenge is to be able to control that improvements are maintained and applied over time. These audits are opportunities to conduct reminders, coach teams and maintain involvement.

The facilitator should include these audits in the standard Lean service schedule. Generally, the frequency is 1 to 2 times a year for the first 3 years.

7.3 Elaborate the A3

In order to communicate and standardize, the presentation of the results is always done in the format of A3. This A3 presents « the history » the project in a clear and simple format. It will be this A3 that will be presented at the closing and preferably by a member of the team and not the facilitator.

7.4 The closing « ceremony »

Its aim is to highlight the project group and communicate around the results. The project leader invites the Sponsor, the pilot, team members and people from other sectors or the executive committee. We carry out the feedback, share the feelings, exchange on future projects…

Success Conditions

A lean project is not a distraction to « go out » the staff of his daily life. A Lean project is part of a strategy and results are expected. As such, the project leader must ensure some essential for the smooth running.

For participants

For the management

Presence of all members of the team is at each appointment.

Respect for the state of mind.

Listen to the ideas of others without judgment a priori.

Actions must be done on time.

Is present on the Gemba.

Undertakes to make staff available to perform actions.

Respect for the state of mind.

The actions decided by the group have priority over the opinion that the management may have.

Ensures the availability of means.

Provides unwavering support to the project.

Integrates projects into a global approach to business improvement.

And above all: WORKING IN A TEAM

Project tools

The PDCA file

Le fichier PDCA (Excel template downloadable here) is the tool that will allow the facilitator to plan and know where it is in the progress of the project. Ideally, it is on the project board in the DO phase, and it is the project participants who complete it as they go along..

The project panel

You have to set up a project board on the Gemba. The challenge is to allow the facilitator to organize the project and communicate visually. For teams, the panel, about 1m2 will be used to directly transcribe the progress of actions and to be aware at all times of what is happening and what is planned.

The project board is especially an important vector for accelerating change. He is here to :

  • Inculcate Gemba culture by organizing meetings at the project site rather than in a classroom.
  • Communicate to all staff that things are moving and getting better.
  • Centraliser toutes les informations et donc faciliter la communication montante et descendante.


We present below a panel content template.


1 – C. Hohmann (2012) – Lean Management

2 – P. Dupin (2014) – Le Lean appliqué à la construction : comment optimiser la gestion de projet

3 – Sarkar, Debashis (2008) – Lean for service organizations and offices : a holistic approach for achieving operational excellence

4 – J. M. Stébé (2008) – Risques et enjeux de l’interaction sociale

B. Tzawa, N. Bodek (2001) – The idea generator

A. Laraia, P. Moody, R. W. Hall (1999) – The kaizen Blitz

M. Baudin (2004) – Lean Logistics

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