The goal of learning and leveraging lean principles in an organization is to improve value delivery. In order to get the biggest bang for the buck, practitioners need to take a systems approach to what they analyze and change. Lean, like agile, works best when we change the flow of work. This is one of the reasons value stream mapping is a powerful lean tool. Given the expansive – soup to nuts – perspective, lean practitioners use many techniques to stay focused. The 5 Ms from lean manufacturing is a focusing tool. The 5 Ms provides a framework to consider five of the controllable inputs into any process. While the 5 Ms are part of lean manufacturing, it takes very little imagination to use the 5 Ms as a focusing tool for any process flow. The 5 Ms are:

Man (sometimes stated as manpower). In most professional organizations, labor is the largest component of delivering value. Having the right number of people with the right capabilities is critical. When considering the labor component of any process there are several questions to ask. Do you have enough people doing the process (Muri)? Do the people doing the work have the right capabilities?

Methods – Every piece of work has a process or a set of processes they must go through to transform the input into the process into a final product. For example, in software, the needs/requirements are the input, which are then transformed into functional software. Another example, the flow of mortgage applications begins with the application, processing and error correction, approval and then a transformation into a loan agreement (the “happy path”). The method used to get from raw material to value delivery needs to be consistent, repeatable and known. Process flow diagrams are useful for mapping the process and determining whether the process is consistent and repeatable.

Machines – Each machine must be able to perform its intended functions with precisions and reliability. Machines in professional environments are combinations of hardware and software. A function to process mortgage applications include computers and the software they execute, networks, data storage and both cyber and physical security. The effectiveness of the machines used in the process impacts the value delivered.

Materials – Every process has materials that enter the process and are then transformed into something else. The quality of the inputs is one area to focus on when considering process improvement (remember the adage, garbage in, garbage out). In professional environments, one consideration that is sometimes overlooked is the movement of materials between steps. Organizations adopt workflow tools (a type of machine) to manage the efficiency of the movement of work. The adoption of ‘T’ shaped people that can perform multiple tasks in a process is one mechanism to minimize hand-offs seen in an assembly line/specialist driven process flow.

Money – Money makes the world go around. Without the proper investment, an effective and efficient process is not possible.

When kicking off a process improvement effort it is easy to look at a process and get lost in the dynamic movement of people and materials and lose focus. The 5 Ms are a tool to focus the attention of change practitioners. Once we find something does not appear to be efficient or effective we can apply tools (such as value chain mapping) or frameworks like A3 to determine whether the change is worth perusing.



Next – No Good Tool Goes Unimproved or Unbranded: The 6 Ms or the 5 Ms and 1 P.