#Lean *IS* about Doing More with Less, But Be Careful Saying That


It's often said that Lean is about “doing more with less.”

Historically, and practically speaking, it's true. But, it's a phrase that we should be careful about for a number of reasons.

Looking back at the origins of the term “Lean” as “Lean Production” 25 years ago (read more here). Generally speaking, the term “lean” was used because Toyota (and to some extent other Japanese automakers) did more with less. That was a fact and it was backed by data.

The idea of “do more with less” is helpful as a comparison between organizations in the sense of, ew, benchmarking. It's less helpful (or even dangerous) as a prescription for an organization.

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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. Somebody commented on Facebook:

    How about Lean is doing the right things right? Less Employees Are Needed is not LEAN.

    Less Employees Are Needed might be very true when comparing two organizations. But, an organization on a Lean journey cannot use Lean to drive layoffs. That’s the point of my post.

    Toyota needed fewer employees than GM. That was the finding of the Lean articles 25 years ago. Less Employees Are Needed. That’s a fact. But don’t use that phrase and don’t lay people off.

    A good Lean hospital needs fewer employees in some areas than a normal hospital. But, that Lean hospital didn’t get there by laying people off.

  2. It strikes me that how we get to “less” (whatever that may be) is just as important as the “less” itself: Did we “cut heads”? or did we make work easier so the job takes less effort?

    I’ve heard Taichi Ohno quoted as asking “how could we do this job with fewer people?” Note that this is phrased as a question and that the question is “how?”. Very different from a directive that says “we are cutting your workforce/inventory/work area!”(whatever the “less” is that management is pursuing).

  3. Lean is doing more and more and more with the same resources. It is about continuous growth in productivity over time without necessarily adding resource each time to get it.
    But you’re right. It’s not a bumper sticker.

    • It’s not necessarily the “same” resources. If you need to and can reduce through attrition, that’s fine. Better though to use Lean and productivity improvement as a growth strategy when you can.

  4. For hospitals Lean should translate to more time for clinicians to spend actually taking care of patients! With all the regulatory requirements it becomes increasingly apparent that we do less patient care and more NVA work – so Lean should take us back to what we need to do – heal the sick.

    • Amen. There is so much waste in healthcare, we can free up time for MORE patient care. That’s job one. But healthcare also ultimately has to have higher productivity without harming quality due to demographics. That is our challenge for the next decade or so.


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