Ken Rizner tried a straightforward approach at Hyde Tools, in Southbridge, Mass. Rizner, the company's vice president of manufacturing, walked with teams of line workers through every process used to make each hand tool at the 300-employee manufacturing company. The employees counted steps and eliminated those that didn't add value to the final product. They rearranged machines and tossed arcane reports.

After combining two major operations and cutting out at least 30 steps, Rizner estimates, Hyde cut nine-tenths of a mile out of the production process. That reduced the time required to turn raw material into finished product from more than 10 weeks to 15 working days, he says.