LEAN thinking in functional safety

Whenever something works beautifully together, like pieces in a complex piece of machinery, it creates satisfaction for everyone involved. When the system consists of people working together on a complex project, we experience this type of satisfaction when there is a situation of flow in the project. Information is treated when it is received and flows without barriers to the next person who needs to perform a task or make decision based on this information. Unfortunately, this is far from reality in most functional safety projects. These projects are typically complex, with a variety of stakeholders and various agendas and levels of competence.

Good project planning and execution across interfaces is necessary to achieve a lean functional safety organization throughout the lifecycle of a safety instrumented system. The opportunities for quality improvements and the banashing of waste are plentiful and many of these opportunities are low-hanging fruits.


This field could benefit greatly from lean thinking and a culture geared towards achieving flow. This, however, requires better functional safety planning, more openness between stakeholders, and a clear picture of how functional safety activities fit with the bigger picture. Lean is all about banishing waste, and there is a lot of waste in functional safety projects. Typical types of waste encountered on most projects include:

  • People waiting for input to perform the next activity. A lot of this waiting is unnecessary and due to bad planning, follow-up or lack of understanding of follow-on effects of missing deadlines
  • Unnecessary work performed – a lot of documentation is created and never used. This is related to competence levels with stakeholders and “wrong” or “ultraconservative” interpretations of standards and regulations.
  • Re-work: work done several times due to lack of information, wrong people involved, inefficient review processes, bad quality, etc.

Optimizing the whole work process requires the whole value chain to be involved, and that inefficiencies can be rooted out across organizational interfaces. By systematically removing “waste” in the functional safety value chain, I would expect that better quality and lower costs could be obtained at once. And better quality in this respect means fewer fatalities, less pollution and better uptime.

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