Is Lean an Acronym? Is it “LEAN”?

What does “LEAN” Stand For?

People often ask if Lean, as in Lean manufacturing, Lean healthcare, etc. should be spelled in all-caps like LEAN. Or, they don’t ask and they just do it. I see LEAN far too often in emails from hospitals, case studies, and articles online, but usually not in news sources.

I tend to capitalize the L in Lean as it’s arguably a proper noun, much as people often capitalize Six Sigma or the Toyota Production System. But it shouldn’t be LEAN in this context, as it’s not an acronym (unless people are making a cynical joke like “Less Employees Are Needed”). It *is* an acronym when referring to the Lean Education Academic Network, or LEAN.

Lean grammar cop signing off…. :-)


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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7 Comments on "Is Lean an Acronym? Is it “LEAN”?"

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  1. David Thomas says:

    I have just seen some comments on LinkedIn regarding this and would like to add a comment about “the importance of understanding the history and context” of stuff, as opposed to how it is interpreted and used by a few, promoted by organisations for their own use etc.

    In 1995 (shortly after Lean Thinking was published Womack and Jones – the fathers of the Lean movement) LEAN was an acronym (L- leadership and learning, E etc.) and introductory workshops and .ppt presentations used the acronym to help people understand what Lean was about (the codification of the Toyota Way) and it generic application to all business and sectors.

    Lean should be used with a capital L because as the title to the book and the subject (holistic) itself it is a proper noun. I do not spell my name david!!.

    • Mark Graban

      Thanks, I didn’t know that history. I know LEI doesn’t spell it as “LEAN” today. I do agree with you that it’s a proper noun.

      It bothers me when I see people write “lean Six Sigma” – capitalizing the one without the other (ASQ does this and it annoys me). They are both proper noun terms when used that way.

  2. Mark Graban

    Thanks to NYU for saying it should be Lean in their style guide:

    Lean Management (not LEAN; capitalize when referring to the initiative at the Medical Center)

    Thanks to Brent Brewington for pointing it out.

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