The 5 Greatest Moments in the History of Lean Fundamentals

Before you begin to learn about lean fundamentals, it's important to understand the history of lean thinking.


First, we should establish that lean thinking is not new thinking. Lean has been developed for hundreds of years - it's a book of knowledge from centuries of work - but there is a different level of commitment to identifying and solving problems now.

Here are a few of the greatest moments in the history of lean fundamentals, or lean thinking: 

1. One of the first contributions to lean thinking is Frederick Taylor‘s work published in his book Principles of Scientific Management. In his study he taught us the importance of standard work as “the best way to do work.” Identifying the standard way a job function should be performed creates a baseline upon which we can improve.

2. Ford Motor Company played a role in the development of lean thinking in the early 20th century. The famous automaker used interchangeable parts to drive speed, create flow, reduce waste and increase value to the customer. While Ford was focusing on flow, the automobile industry progressed and created challenges for manufacturing. Customers now wanted variety. They wanted different models and colors which created complexity in the manufacturing process. For example, changeovers were costly and disturbed the process flow of the assembly line. The solution was to create batches of products - which was not the lean way. This moved away from serving customer needs and led to overproduction. Overproduction is also known as 'Grandfather of all Wastes,' because the waste of overproduction creates all other wastes as a result (excess inventory, waste of transportation, waste of over processing, etc).


The next phase in the history of lean fundamentals was the Toyota Production System (TPS) which brought a refreshing approach to manufacturing. Toyota's ability to manufacture variety and deal with complexity in the most flexible way and without overproducing launched Toyota ahead in the industry by the mid 20th century. Many of the basic elements of the TPS are based on Ford’s work of flow and speed in the supply chain. Taiichi Ohno is the famous engineer of Toyota who drove the development of this thoughtful management system focused on people and process. TPS introduced standard work, quality at the source, error proofing, flow, pull replenishment and customer focus.

Jumping to the end of the century in the late 1980s and early 90s – the history of lean fundamentals met its next milestone from two books written by Jim Womack and Dan Jones: The Machine that Changed the World and Lean Thinking. This was the first time when all the thoughts of Ford Motor Company, Toyota and Dr. Deming were systematically compiled and examined relative to operational excellence. This was also the time when the term “lean” as we know it was born!

Posted by Susie Sterling

Susie Sterling-Bodnar is Director of Online Training Solutions for LeanCor Training and Education. She is an instructor for Supply Chain and Logistics at the University of Kentucky MBA Program, California State University Fresno Executive MBA Program, St. Louis University, Center for Supply Chain Management Studies and for the Lean Enterprise Institute. Susie speaks four different languages and has worked in both the US and Europe. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in International Business from Avans University, Breda – the Netherlands, a Bachelor’s of Science in Business from Budapest Business School, Hungary and a Master’s degree in International Business and Economics from the Andrassy German University of Budapest, Hungary. In addition to her degrees, Susie is a certified SCPro One (CSCMP), Supply Chain Professional, and Lean Six Sigma Green Belt (LeanCor). Susie was born and raised in Miskolc, Hungary and moved to the USA in 2005. She now lives in Fresno, CA with her husband Chris.

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