In fact, to see the earliest examples of mankind trying to improve processes and reduce waste, you have to look all the way back to cavemen chipping stones into scrapers. In a sense, they were the first to do Lean manufacturing, creating better tools to improve the flow of their work.
Lean manufacturing encompasses a group of tools and philosophies (kanban, kaizen, reduction of the seven wastes) that combine to build a system that provides value to the customer, improves quality, reduces lead time, and enhances productivity.
Lean manufacturing an often neglected counterpart:job satisfaction. The two thrive or flounder together, primarily because Lean has some side effects that can erode job satisfaction if not managed properly.
For more information, check out this quick Lean overview video to find out how Lean differs from traditional batch manufacturing.