What Does L.E.A.N. Mean?

As we approach the 19th year of our annual Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference (less than a month away!), I’d like to emphasize the acronym L.E.A.N. created many years ago as the banner for our conference by GBMP-team member emeritus, Pat Wardwell.

Funny that a term like, Lean, originally intended to connote removal of waste from a process, has suffered so much criticism over the last quarter century. The story I was told, way back when, was that Lean was a code word for TPS, selected to spare certain U.S. auto manufactures the ignominy of having their noses rubbed in a system they had been poopooing for a decade. Since that time, the word has been variously defined and maligned by practitioners, consultants and academics, justifiably dismayed by the lack of real improvement achieved by many would be “Lean” companies. But why such mediocre results?

In 2003, my teacher, Hajime Ohba, was asked that question at the EASTEC Conference in Springfield, Mass.   His response, without hesitation: “American manufacturers do not receive the full merit of TPS because management does not understand what TPS is, and they are driven by quarterly earnings.”    Mr. Ohba had a practice of differentiating ‘true TPS’ from Lean, I believe, exactly on these points. And now, 20 years later we’re still arguing about virtues or short-comings of specific technical aspects Lean; things like JIT and Pull Systems. Yes, these counter-conventional methods are a necessary part of Lean or TPS (your choice), but in an environment devoid of management understanding and commitment, they are a false promise. Regrettably, that lack of understanding has given credence to a wholly de-motivational acronym: L.E.A.N. = Less Employees Are Needed.

Our conference theme for 2023, “It’s About Time” promotes the methods to make improvement, but also showcases motivational stories from top managers who do understand what TPS is and are not snookered by short term schemes to inflate the P&L. And, by the way, the acronym L.E.A.N in Northeast L.E.A.N. Conference stands for “Lead, Enable And Nurture.”

I hope you can join us on October 3-4 in Worcester, Massachusetts for our 19th year. Here’s a link to learn more: Take your team down the CI Road 😄

O.L.D.Lean Mean 

This entry was posted in TPS, Toyota Production System. Lean manufacturing, Lean Daily Management, Lean Management, 7 wastes. Toyota Production System, Lean Culture on September 11 , 2023.