Professionals in various departments, testing, in representation of lean engineering and how it may be applied at work.
Image: © VectorMine/

Keeping it trim with lean engineering in the workplace

7 Jun 2024

What is lean engineering and how can companies adopt its practices to build more efficient processes?

As we move towards a society in which sustainability and employee welfare are key considerations for employers, lean engineering is a topic working its way into the conversation more and more. Defined as a people-focused philosophy that identifies and eliminates waste in engineering departments, lean engineering optimises efficiency to the benefit of both the employer and employees.

Lean engineering can have a major effect on how a company operates, particularly in areas of leadership principles, team structures, efficiency tools and techniques, and engineering intelligence. 

It is worth noting that there are numerous ways of approaching lean engineering tactics, and every business will approach it differently. But there are fundamental areas that all companies should address to successfully integrate routine lean engineering into their businesses. 

Identifying waste

Defining waste in engineering processes is not as clear cut as you might assume. Unlike a manufacturing line where the physical evidence of waste may be visible, waste in relation to engineering exists in the activities, processes and products that fail to add value for the consumer. 

Some businesses utilise the eight wastes method to isolate the areas in which they are haemorrhaging their resources. The first area to look at is overproduction, which is the designing of features or add-ons that are extraneous to the requirements of the customer. 

The second area is waiting or stalling work because you are dependent on additional resources or information to continue. Transportation is another area to consider, wherein the flow of information is ineffective and often laborious. Motion, which is the unnecessary movement of people between various locations in an engineering setting, such as the on-site premises, departments and laboratories, can also be wasteful.

Overprocessing, which involves performing tasks that do not add any value, or are surplus to requirements, such as writing an extensive report, could be scaled down. Overstorage, which is the continued storage of unused parts or the retention of unnecessary data and information, is another wasteful process to consider. 

The issue of defects or errors in design and construction that demand additional corrections and amendments can be time-consuming, and lastly, unused talents, which is the under-utilisation of employee talent, aptitude and skills, is an area where improvements might be made. 

Continuous improvement

A key aspect of incorporating a lean engineering model into a company is a core focus on continuous improvement, which delegates the responsibilities of sourcing and solving issues across the entire workforce. 

Rather than instituting disruptive, widespread changes all at once, by incrementally introducing adjustments over time, companies and the people who operate within them can maintain a steady pace of improvement. 

Lean engineering is not solely about the improvement of a company for the sake of the employer. The collaborative environment created by a business-wide emphasis on waste reduction can improve morale, increase job satisfaction and make team members feel that their ideas are being heard. 

This process of constant evolution and system maintenance enables a company to seek out innovation, stay competitive and maintain a sense of order. 

Green initiatives

Waste reduction as a result of lean engineering is a critical contributor to a company’s green initiatives, which can in turn compel environmentally minded employees to engage more. It also can attract interest and investment from stakeholders eager to reduce their own carbon footprint. 

By limiting waste production and optimising the use of resources, companies can deploy consistent sustainability practices and build a strong reputation as an eco-friendly business.


Businesses choosing to implement lean engineering practices should note that it requires patience, commitment and a willingness to test and trial a range of methods. 

For example, some companies may find that a PDCA (plan, do check, act) cycle works best for them. This can be useful for companies who aim to create a culture of continuous improvement and make incremental changes over time. Alternatively, VSM (value stream mapping) might prove more useful to an employer who requires a more visual plan. VSM is a tool that enables the visualisation and analysis of information and material flows for products and services. 

It comes in many forms, but for lean engineering, it is often used to build diagrams displaying the many steps in the design, development, testing and delivery of an engineering product, identifying areas of waste and inefficiencies. 

If you plan to develop a lean engineering policy, there really is no way to know what will and won’t work until you try the various different tools and techniques, but as you work towards a company that is sustainable, employee conscious and constantly innovating, it won’t be time wasted. 

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Laura Varley
By Laura Varley

Laura Varley is a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic. She has a background in technology PR and journalism and is borderline obsessed with film and television, the theatre, Marvel and Mayo GAA. She is currently trying to learn how to knit.

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