What is Lean Manufacturing? – What is Lean Thinking?

What is Lean Manufacturing and what does it mean to think Lean? Lean Manufacturing, also known as Lean Production or simply Lean, is a systematic approach and management philosophy focused on eliminating waste and maximizing value in manufacturing processes. The goal is to make operations better by improving processes, cutting costs, and providing good products to customers. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Lean Manufacturing, including its history, principles, tools, and significance in modern manufacturing.

History of Lean (including TPS)

Lean Manufacturing originated in post-WWII Japan, with Toyota developing the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS was created to tackle challenges in the Japanese car industry. These challenges include limited resources, economic constraints, and the need to compete with Western manufacturers.

Taiichi Ohno, Eiji Toyoda, and others created the core principles and practices for Lean Manufacturing. TPS emphasized the elimination of waste, the continuous flow of materials and information, and a relentless focus on customer value. American industrialists like Henry Ford and the scientific management principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor influenced these principles.

The core philosophy of TPS, and subsequently Lean Manufacturing, is to create more value with fewer resources. This philosophy revolutionized organizational practices by shifting the focus towards customers and waste reduction.

It emphasized the importance of prioritizing customer needs and minimizing excess inventory. As a result, organizations began to prioritize quality over quantity and adopt more efficient production methods. This shift in mindset led to improved customer satisfaction and reduced costs for businesses.

Tools of Lean

Lean Manufacturing employs a variety of tools and techniques to identify and eliminate waste. Some of the key tools include:

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

Value Steam Mapping is a visual tool that analyzes and improves the flow of materials and information in a process. It helps identify areas for improvement and enables teams to make informed decisions.

By visually mapping out the entire process, VSM provides a clear understanding of how materials and information move through each step. This allows organizations to identify bottlenecks, eliminate waste, and streamline the process.

VSM is a valuable tool for continuous improvement and can lead to increased efficiency and productivity. It helps identify bottlenecks, waste, and opportunities for improvement. By mapping the current state and designing the future state, organizations can streamline processes and create more value for the customer.


The 5S methodology involves organizing the workplace to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. It consists of Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, creating a clean and organized work environment. 5S improves safety, reduces wasted time searching for tools or information, and enhances overall productivity.


Kanban is a visual signaling system that controls the flow of materials and information. It ensures that production is aligned with actual demand, minimizing inventory and reducing lead times. By using Kanban cards or electronic systems, organizations can maintain a smooth and efficient production flow.

Just-in-Time (JIT):

JIT is a strategy that aims to deliver the right amount of products at the right time. This strategy helps in reducing inventory costs and waste caused by overproduction. By synchronizing production with customer demand, JIT allows for greater flexibility and responsiveness while minimizing inventory carrying costs.


Poka-Yoke focuses on mistake-proofing processes to prevent errors and defects. It involves implementing mechanisms or devices that detect and prevent errors before they occur. By incorporating error-proofing techniques into the production process, organizations can reduce defects and improve product quality.

Lean Philosophy

At its core, Lean Manufacturing is guided by a set of philosophical principles that shape its implementation. These principles include:

Respect for People:

Lean focuses on valuing and respecting employees. It creates an environment that promotes collaboration, empowerment, and continuous learning. By offering growth opportunities, involving employees in decision-making, and fostering trust and respect, organizations can maximize their workforce’s potential.

Continuous Improvement:

Lean promotes a culture of continuous improvement, encouraging employees at all levels to identify and solve problems. It emphasizes small incremental changes that add up to significant improvements over time. By adopting a mindset of continuous learning and improvement, organizations can stay ahead of the competition and drive innovation.

Elimination of Waste:

In Japanese, people see waste, or “Muda,” as the enemy of productivity and customer value. Lean aims to identify and eliminate various types of waste. These include producing excessive amounts, making mistakes, waiting, moving things unnecessarily, having excessive inventory, and performing unnecessary work. By reducing waste, organizations can optimize resource utilization, improve efficiency, and enhance value creation.

Value Creation:

Lean Manufacturing places a strong emphasis on creating value for the customer. It involves understanding customer needs and aligning processes and activities to deliver products and services that meet or exceed those needs. By focusing on value-added activities and eliminating non-value-added activities, organizations can optimize their resources and enhance customer satisfaction.

Lean Management System

Lean Manufacturing requires a strong management system to support its philosophy and ensure ongoing success. Some key elements of the Lean management system include:

Leadership Commitment:

Lean requires strong leadership commitment from top management. Leaders must embrace Lean principles, set clear expectations, and provide the necessary resources and support for Lean implementation. They play a crucial role in fostering a culture of continuous improvement and creating an environment where Lean can thrive.

Employee Engagement:

Lean encourages active participation and engagement from all employees. It involves providing training, empowering employees to make decisions, and fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement. Organizations can benefit from the expertise and originality of their employees by including them in Lean initiatives and valuing their ideas. This can lead to better problem-solving and innovation.

Performance Measurement:

Lean relies on data and performance measurement to drive improvement. We establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress, identify areas for improvement, and track the impact of Lean initiatives. By measuring and analyzing data, organizations can make informed decisions, identify trends, and take appropriate actions to drive continuous improvement.

Standard Work:

Standard Work involves documenting the most effective and efficient way of performing a task. It provides a baseline for continuous improvement, ensures consistency, and helps identify deviations from the standard. By establishing standardized processes and work instructions, organizations can reduce variability, minimize errors, and improve overall efficiency.

Lean Manufacturing has revolutionized the way organizations approach manufacturing by focusing on efficiency, waste reduction, and customer value. Industries worldwide have successfully applied Lean principles and tools, which were developed through the Toyota Production System (TPS). By embracing Lean, organizations can achieve improved productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction.

However, Lean is not a one-time project but a continuous journey of improvement. It requires strong leadership, employee engagement, and a commitment to the Lean philosophy.

Lean Manufacturing is a powerful approach for success in modern manufacturing. It focuses on reducing waste, improving continuously, and promoting a respectful culture. By using Lean principles and tools, organizations can gain a competitive edge and succeed in today’s fast-paced business world