What is Lean Thinking?Lean thinking is the philosophy behind the business process improvement strategy lean manufacturing.

It has become popular as a result of the huge improvements made by Japanese companies such as Toyota.

Lean Thinking is also the title of a popular book on the subject by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones.

The history of Lean Thinking

After the second world war, the japanese economy was in ruins.  The American economy on the other hand was booming.  As a result, of this a number of leading quality management gurus like Deming and Juran travelled to Japan to share their teachings.  The Japanese took these principles to heart and applied them rigourously.  By the 1970s and 1980s, the quality of automobiles coming out of Japan was far superior to American vehicles.  Toyota in particular lead the way, gaining an outstanding reputation for reliability.

In an attempt to close the gap to the Japanese automakers, there has been a global resurgence of interest in Lean methods and techniques.  This growth has spread outside the automotive industry into other manufacturing sectors as well as into transactional environments and even healthcare.

What is Lean Thinking: The Manufacturing Improvement Principle

When asked the question, “what is lean thinking?” many people tend to think of the many lean tools and techniques they have heard of.  These include 5S, poka yoke, Takt time and pull.  However, these are just methods that have been developed to help achieve a number of fundamental lean principles.  These are the principles of lean manufacturing.

The first of these principles is to eliminate waste.  Waste is defined as anything for which the customer is not willing to pay.  This could be additional features that the customer does not value, or it could be maintaining manufacturing tolerance more tightly than is required.  If it consumes resource within the company (materials, labour, time) and the customer will not pay more for it, then this is a waste.  By removing this waste from the product or process, the business can save money and improve.  This is known as becoming leaner.

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