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The Meaning of Lean (+Video)

I’m sure you’ve heard many different definitions about what the meaning of Lean is. The strictest meaning will likely center around creating flow, or will possibly mention inventory reduction. I, however, subscribe to a far broader meaning of Lean.

I view it as any effort to reduce waste and improve the delivery of value to the customer. With that more liberal definition, the origin of Lean becomes much earlier. It isn’t the publishing of the first books to mention the term ‘Lean’  in the 1990’s. It isn’t the efforts of post World War II Toyota in Japan. It isn’t even Henry Ford’s production processes at the turn of the last century.

It goes back much further.

Lean Manufacturing Started Earlier Than You Think

Lean Manufacturing Started Earlier Than You Think

This stone scraper is one of the earliest examples of Lean under its broad meaning. It reduced the waste associated with making clothing and provided more value to the customer.

Of course, when something works in production, it doesn’t take long for it to make its way into the office…


The Early Lean Office

Humans have always exhibited their drive for continuous improvement, and always will. The specific tools of Lean will change, but the Lean spirit is here to stay.

Attribution: Both images come from Wikimedia Commons and are subject to the terms of their licenses. The scraper is by ‘User 120’. The cave painting was provided by ‘DaBler’.


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