Is Lean an Acronym? Is it “LEAN”? “L.E.A.N.?” — Understanding the Origins of the Term



To drive home the point, check out this video:

OK, So What Does “LEAN” Stand For?

People often ask if Lean, as in phrases like Lean manufacturing, Lean healthcare, or Lean Startup should be spelled in all-caps like LEAN.

Or they don't ask and 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 I just capitalize the first letter — Lean not LEAN.

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. I mean L.E.A.N.

Lean grammar cop, signing off…. :-)

Read more about the origins of the phrase “Lean Production” here:

Oh, I did see the Leaning Tower of Pisa back in 2010…

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. 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!!.

    • 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.

      • BTW, I’ve asked the Institute of Industrial Engineers magazine editor about why they say lean Six Sigma and he says that’s what the AP Style Guide says. Annoyingly inconsistent.

  2. This has always been a question of mine because I have noticed this issue, and I’m glad I am not the only one that has seen all of these variations. Very interesting to learn about the history as well in the comments.

  3. I thought it was Leadership. Eliminate waste. Act now. Never ending. ?? That would be an acronym? Or was that added after the fact?


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