What is Lean?

A Lean Transformation is part of my strategic planning. Above all, you must change the entire culture.
Ken Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, The Christie Cookie Company, Nashville, TN

Lean is a set of management principles based on the premise that every business can be changed to produce better customer value with fewer resources. In other words, expending resources on anything other than creating a product or service a customer is willing to pay for is wasteful and a target for elimination.

As a way of thinking and acting, Lean can apply to both manufacturing, healthcare and services by eliminating wastes of time, effort and materials and optimizing the flow of products and services throughout all segments of an organization. Lean is not a tactic or a set of rules. It is an ever-evolving process – a way of thinking that changes everything.

A brief history of Lean.


In 1913, Henry Ford created a revolutionary manufacturing system that used a moving conveyance, interchangeable parts and standard repetitive work to make a single model car over and over again. Finally, there was a car that average people could afford to buy. In time, his process failed to keep up with customer expectations because of its inability to produce variety.

In the 1930s, engineers at Toyota revised Ford’s original processes to provide a wide variety in product offerings. The Toyota Production System, or TPS, was innovative in that it focused not on individual machines but on the flow of the product throughout the entire manufacturing process, examining and modifying every aspect of the process. TPS enabled Toyota to respond to customers’ desire for low cost, high variety and high quality.

The principles of looking at the process throughout the entire organization are the foundations of what today is called Lean or a Lean Transformation. Despite its origins in manufacturing, Lean can be applied equally to all other human endeavors including services, healthcare, the arts, non-profits and even government.

Good for saving time and money.


No two companies are alike, so no two companies have the same results. Take as an example as client of The Lean Way Consulting, a manufacturing plant of computer giant Dell Inc. In an ongoing Lean Transformation, led by Senior Consultant Ankit Patel over a period of four months, the facility achieved the following improvements:

  • Quality: 75%
  • Productivity: 25%
  • Cycle time: 50%

These sorts of results came from answering basic questions about how Dell Inc. conducts itself:
How much of what you do is actually valuable?

Service companies look at achieving savings elsewhere, such as in the back office or customer facing interactions. The same is true for healthcare. Patel’s Lean Transformations have reduced wait times by 40% and increased patient satisfaction by 20%

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