#TBT: The Term “Lean Production” is Now 30 Years Old


Today is a throwback to a throwback, in a way. Five years ago, I blogged about how the term “Lean Production” was, at the time, 25 years old:

The link above also has a link to a free PDF of the article that's available.

So now… happy 30th birthday, “Lean.”

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I had a chance yesterday to tour the Toyota plant in San Antonio. Lean production, a generic name given to the Toyota Production System, is still an inspiration to me.

Well, the concept is an inspiration. I still wish they had come up with a word that was less loaded than “Lean.”

We've all heard the unfortunate acronymn-ization of LEAN meaning Less Employees Are Needed…

Well, that's the perception in a workplace that tries to “implement Lean” without a foundation of “mutual trust and respect,” as the Toyota people say.

It's hard, if not impossible, to “copy and paste” Lean or Toyota methods without at least working to build the same sort of underlying culture, right?

Here is some discussion from LinkedIn the other day about my original “25 years” post:

As I blogged about some years back, an American Toyota executive, who said about other companies that are adopting Lean,” that “If the employees are upset, it's not really Lean.”

Lean isn't about cost cutting and layoffs… although it's understandable:

  1. How the word “lean” suggests or implies that it's all about cutting and slashing (or not having enough money or resources)
  2. Too many organizations misunderstand Lean and use it without the right mindsets, philosophy, or spirit

Some other posts on those topics:

Thanks for checking out those posts.


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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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