Questions You Need to Ask to Achieve Leaner Operations in Your Business

Lean engineering refers to the concept of eliminating waste in all its forms from your organization. Before you start value stream mapping, hiring Lean Six Sigma experts and trying to figure out which management fads to jump into, there are questions you can ask your staff to start eliminating workplace waste immediately.

More importantly, asking these questions can help your business achieve leaner, more effective operations without spending more money or completely reorganizing your business.


  • What is your core mission and purpose?
  • What are you doing that isn’t part of that mission that can and should be dropped? (This is where new products and services or old ones that linger can be identified for termination.)
  • What can you do to use up what you have before you order more?
  • Who is most efficient with the standard set of tools or software your team has? Find out so that they can share this knowledge with everyone else.
  • What small, low cost steps can you take to dramatically improve your customers’ satisfaction? For example, would emailing them when their product is shipped or emailing assembly instructions when the product arrives help them?
  • What individuals are considered subject matter experts and consistently called for questions, hurting their productivity? (And who can be trained as a backup for critical processes, so we don’t grind to a halt because Joe had a heart attack?)
  • Who isn’t used to their fullest potential and how can you put them to better use?
  • What projects have sat on the back burner for ages that should be finally put out?
  • What projects do we have in development that never come to fruition? Compare these to your mission, kill those that don’t fit the core of your business, identify efficient ways to make them reality if they are.
  • Which small changes in your current processes would yield significant ROI? (And don’t forget to measure this ROI as the cost of implementing it versus the benefits it yields, not compared to the whole operation.)
  • What can you do to improve communications within the group? And what reports, events and sessions can you eliminate to clear the overflow of information?
  • What meetings can you eliminate to save everyone time?
  • What stakeholders should be added to current meetings so that you do not have to wait for authorization to act? Who can be dropped from current meetings without affecting the team’s productivity?
  • Who wants to join a quality circle?
  • What services, contracts or licenses are you paying for that are not fully utilized? Determine what can be cut back or dropped to save money.
  • What metrics are no longer useful and can be dropped, saving time and money?
  • What regular training classes can be shortened or dropped?
  • What credentials do your employees actually need, such as food safety certifications, information security credentials or annual legal reviews? Which ones are no longer value added and can be dropped from company job descriptions and professional requirements, saving employees time and money while allowing more people to be considered qualified for job positions?
  • How can you better utilize current suppliers and contractors, shifting work or value added services to them for little additional cost?
  • What work have you outsourced and seen quality decline? What should you bring back in house?
  • What are you throwing away that could be recycled, sold or donated? And how can you set up a single step process to do exactly that so you don’t have to worry about it anymore?
Filed under: An IE in IT

About the Author

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Tamara Wilhite is the IE in IT blogger for the IISE. She is a Six Sigma green belt with experience in IT, PDM software, the defense industry and recycling industries. She currently works as a freelance technical writer.