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The History of Lean Management

The Evolution of Lean Management: A Journey Through Time

While Lean management primarily processes efficiency and waste reduction, the history of the methodology is much more profound than the development of the Toyota system. This blog post will walk the reader through the evolution of Lean principles from the ancient roots to the current understanding and practice. Please, follow the article in order to discover the history of the methodology millennia in the making.

The Dawn of Lean Thinking

500 AD: Benedict of Nursia and the Benedictine Leadership:

Long before Lean was formalized, Benedict of Nursia put forward ideas whose elements are repeated in modern Lean management. This is a focus on continuous improvement, careful listening, stability, quality management, and effective time management. These recommendations form a solid foundation for further development in the field of Lean management.

1574: The Arsenal in Venice:

The Arsenal in Venice introduced the world to the concept of flow production, a cornerstone of Lean methodology. This innovative approach to shipbuilding allowed for the delivery of a new ship every day, showcasing the efficiency of production line techniques early on.

The Formative Years

8th and 19th Centuries: Franklin, Gribeauval, and Blanchard:

From Benjamin Franklin’s insights on waste and excess supplies to Jean-Baptiste de Gribeauval’s standardization of components and Thomas Blanchard’s assembly line innovations, these centuries laid the groundwork for Lean’s emphasis on efficiency and standardization.

The 20th Century: Lean’s Modern Precursors

Early 1900s: Gilbreth, Taylor, and Ford:

The early 20th century saw significant contributions from Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Frederick Taylor, and Henry Ford, each bringing forward elements like time-and-motion studies, labor efficiency, and the assembly line method, which would later be integral to Lean management.

Mid-20th Century: The Toyota Influence:

The Toyota Production System (TPS), developed by Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, introduced key Lean concepts like just-in-time production (JIT) and built-in quality (Jidoka). These innovations marked a pivotal moment in Lean’s history, emphasizing speed, accuracy, and waste reduction.

1950: Lean following William Edwards Deming:

Deming is mostly known for his work in Japan. There he taught in quality management and the principles of statistical process control. The quality circle (PDCA) from Deming has had a major influence on the production system of Toyota (TPS).

1950: Lean following Joseph Juran:

Joseph Juran was a teacher in the field of quality management, and he is also known for further developing the Pareto analysis from Vilfredo Pareto. This analysis is also known as the 80-20 rule.

1950: Lean following Kaoru Ishikawa:

Ishikawa came up with a simple visualization to illustrate the causes of a problem in an ordered way (the fish-bone model). In addition, he also identified seven resources that anyone in an organization can understand and achieve: The Seven Basic Quality Tools.

1960: Lean following Shigeo Shingo:

Shingo developed two of his greatest inventions: poka-yoke and single-minute exchange of dies (SMED) at Toyota. In 1988, Dr Shingo was acknowledged by the Utah State University for his lifelong work, and the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence was born. This prize is awarded world-class Lean organizations.

1984: Lean following NUMMI:

New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. was a collaboration between General Motors and Toyota. Through adopting and using Lean principles, Nummi became the best performing factory of General Motors in the United States, rising up the ranks as it has once been the worst performing factory.

1988: Lean following Dr James P. Womack:

Dr. James P. Womack received 5 million dollars from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for a five-year study (5-Million Dollar 5-Year Study on the Future of the Automobile) to analyze the future of the car industry. One of the scientists, John Krafcik, compared productivity and quality across manufacturing plants in comparison with traditional mass production. At Toyota, he saw a company that needed a lot less of everything they did and yet they also had more satisfied employees.

The Americans came to the conclusion that Toyota was a Lean organization and called it Toyota Production System: Lean Manufacturing.

1988: Lean following John Krafcik:

The term Lean was introduced by John Krafcik in his article titled ´Triumph of the Lean Production System´, which was published in 1988. It was based on findings during his research for his master thesis.

1990: Lean following The Machine that Changed the World:

This book was based on the MIT 5 million dollar study and is written by Womack and Jones. In this book the principles of Lean became well-known to the rest of the world: 5 phases were identified for becoming a Lean-organization: value, value stream, flow, pull, perfection.

Lean following Prof Dr Jeffrey K. Liker:

Now that Lean and the Toyota Production System have become well-known to a wider audience and because of the book by Womack and Jones, there is more work undertaken to study this Production System of Toyota. A famous scientist and writer is Prof Dr Jeffrey K. Liker who has written multiple books like ´The Toyota Way´.

Conclusion: Lean’s Enduring Legacy

Lean management is the history marked by the long-lived fight for improvement, further efficiency, and value. Lean has been applied for centuries, and its earliest interpretation derives from the old monasteries where the monks were living functionally and without any slack time or money waste .

The historical perspective allows us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Lean management as well as to note its universality in the adaptation to different spheres and circumstances.

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