What are the 4 Ps of Lean Manufacturing?

Businesses and companies register drastically different results when adopting lean practices. The lean philosophy is seen by many as just a tool used to reduce waste within an organization, but approaching implementation with this mindset can lead to failure.

Implementing lean manufacturing requires a careful look at other aspects of the organization that play a critical role in the success of the program. These are collectively called the four Ps.

In this article, we’ll be answering what the 4 Ps of lean manufacturing are and the role each plays in ensuring the success of your lean initiative. We’ll also be looking at an additional P that has been introduced in recent years.

What are the 4 Ps of Lean Manufacturing?

The four Ps of lean manufacturing are Philosophy, Process, People, and Performance. Just like the principles of lean manufacturing, the four Ps are a product of the Toyota Production System.

These should not be confused with the five principles of lean manufacturing, i.e., value, the value stream, flow, pull, and perfection. The implementation of lean manufacturing is guided by the five principles. However, the four Ps influence this implementation, and ignoring them will ultimately undermine your lean project.

Importance of the 4 Ps of Lean

Each of the four Ps plays a unique role in determining the direction a company should take when introducing lean manufacturing practices. These are elaborated below.

Philosophy

The philosophy of a company is also referred to as its purpose. This is usually placed at the bottom of the 4 Ps pyramid because it is the base upon which everything else will be built.

The philosophy of your company is the force that motivates every major action and decision that is made within the company. This can be profit, service to a specific group, making the best of a specific product, etc.

Regardless of what the philosophy is, you must understand it to know how the lean principles can be aligned with it or whether this philosophy will have to be changed. Without the right philosophy in place, many aspects of lean manufacturing can’t be effectively implemented.

Process

In this context, process refers to both the methods your company uses to make its products and the methods you use to reach your target customers. When there are good processes in place for different things, your company will tend to get satisfactory results.

Most of lean manufacturing’s main principles have to do with changing the existing process. This is usually because the process generates one or more of the eight wastes of lean.

Changing existing processes can be challenging due to the short-term disruption and you may encounter resistance from both top company leadership and workers. Some of the functions that require good processes in place are:

  • Production of goods e.g., pull and flow
  • Hiring of new employees
  • Delivering goods to customers
  • Getting orders from customers
  • Training of employees
  • Dealing with manufacturing defects, etc.

Some of the measures that can be used to create the best processes include standardization, the use of visual controls, spreading the workload, and early quality control.

People

Your lean project will live or die by your people because you have to deal with people at every stage. The key people you have to consider when implementing lean initiatives include:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Suppliers
  • Distributors

How you treat and relate to these people is important. When you don’t take the time to understand your customers and offer them good value, they will simply not buy your products.

Employees who are not adequately trained or motivated will work inefficiently leading to slow production, defects, and other wastes. Suppliers who are not respected may not obey delivery schedules or break the partnership leaving your production system without raw materials.

The wrong distributors can cost you more money or fail to deliver on time leading to consumer dissatisfaction. To ensure you have the right people by your side while implementing lean manufacturing, you should take measures such as:

  • Understand your customers’ needs and always aim to meet these needs
  • Create opportunities for your employees to grow and develop to make the most out of their talents
  • Respect and help your suppliers to grow and serve you better
  • Build leaders who are committed to the company’s philosophy
  • Consult employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders when implementing major changes. Consider their perspectives and how you can accommodate their interests.

Performance

Performance is often also referred to as problem-solving or just problems. It refers to a need to have continuous improvement in the company and it aligns with the last principle of lean manufacturing, i.e., perfection.

To continuously improve, your company has to recognize any opportunity it has to do better. This could be an opportunity to eliminate more waste, improve a product, or add more value to the customer.

This P is crucial because lean manufacturing is a long-term project and will go through several cycles before success is achieved. Many solutions will have to be tried and not all will work as expected. Without a commitment to improving performance, it will be easy to go back to the old and inefficient way of doing things.

The Fifth P: Platform

The platform on which your processes are built can also influence your ability to implement lean manufacturing. Platform in this case refers to various tools, machines, computer hardware, and software that are available to you.

Certain platforms will make it easier to make certain changes while others will limit the changes you can make. For example, if your company uses specific software to handle a certain process or machine, it may be unable to effect a fairly simple change to eliminate waste. In some cases, certain improvements can only be achieved by changing this platform.

Conclusion

The principles of lean manufacturing are a helpful guide when implementing lean practices. However, the effectiveness of the implementation will also be determined by the 4 Ps.

Your company’s philosophy, processes, people, and commitment to performance will help determine the suitability of lean practices for your company. In some cases, it may be necessary to make changes to ensure that these factors are aligned with lean practices.

Finally, it’s also important to consider an additional P. This is the platform you’re working with. Your existing platform can make it easier or harder to meet your lean goals.

Additional Resources