What is Lean Management?

In today’s world of rapid change, demands for efficient use of resources, and for the highest levels of quality and service, you just must know lean management.


Lean management is generally derived from the Toyota Production System as developed by Taiichi Ohno, Shigeo Shingo and others over a forty year period. It began with efforts to reduce die change time on the stamping press which then allowed for a reduction of in-process inventory and this became just-in-time inventory management. This resulted in the need for less warehouse space, fewer forklifts, unnecessary space, etc. Once the flow of work can be interruption free, free of materials sitting, standing, and redo-loops, waste is eliminated. Lean is the elimination of waste. But, more importantly, lean is continuous improvement in all work processes.ll progress is in the dance to the rhythm of challenge-and-response.

In order to improve the work of the die press and reduce waste Shingo did not instruct the workers. He asked the workers to think. He challenged them to innovate and find ways to speed the process by eliminating unnecessary activities. The workers who operated the press and changed dies worked as a team and together they solved problems and sought improvement. It was the front line workers, who were on-the-spot, and who were truly the world’s greatest experts in their work, who experimented, watched the data, and learned from the facts.

The Essence of Lean is Continuous Improvement

This model of improving the work process by those who do the work, by those who are on-the-spot, is the essence of lean management. The model of Shingo asking the work team to think, to experiment, and to learn from the data, is the model of lean management. It is management that is humble and not arrogant. It is management that observes, encourages, challenges, and learns. It is management that gathers the facts, encourages experimentation, and spreads best practices. It is management that practices what they preach to others. This model was quickly copied by Honda and other Japanese companies and has now become the standard of world class manufacturing. And, it has become the standard for management in all types of work settings. Lean is a moving target because, at its heart, lean is a process of learning and improvement. It cannot be defined as something that is standing still or fixed. It is not simply mimicking what happened at Toyota or anywhere else. And, most importantly, it is not a kaizen event, a project, or something done by a consultant. It is best captured as a philosophy rather than a particular method or technique. If you don’t have the philosophy, you don’t get it.

Here are some ways of describing lean philosophy or culture:

Lean is a culture of continuous improvement practiced at every level of the organization and by every team.

Lean is the application of the scientific method of experimentation and study of work processes and systems to find improvements.

Lean is respect for people. It is respect for the voice of the customer and it is respect for those who do the work, who are “on-the-spot” and are, therefore, the “world’s greatest experts” in their work.

Lean is the elimination of waste in all its forms. Lean is the ability to distinguish between work that actually adds value to your customers and work that does not. By eliminating waste, you free resources to devote to value-adding activity that serves your customers.

Lean is a work environment that assures the quality and safety of all work for both customers and staff.

Lean is a focus on improving the work process and not on blaming people or creating fear.

Lean is a culture of teamwork, shared responsibility and ownership that cuts through organization walls or silos.

Lean is a culture that returns the joy to work. Honda speaks of the three joys of buying, selling and making the product. We do our best work when we have joy in our work. Lean is flow.

Lean is an interruption free process that flows from beginning to end without interruption.