Lean Thinking

Why Lean Thinking is much older than you think

I was a guest speaker at a Lean Conference recently and I made reference to the fact that Lean is hundreds of years old.

During question time, one of the delegates took exception to this statement and emphatically disagreed with me, saying Lean was only 60 years old. He said there is no way that F. W. Taylor is an example of Lean Thinking (he even tweeted his comment).

But how is Taylor NOT an example of Lean Thinking?

F.W. Taylor is recognized for one very main contribution to business thinking. He was the first business leader who thought that businesses, specifically manufacturing was a disciple that deserved to be studied and measured scientifically. In fact, Taylorism widely inspired Henry Ford’s production techniques.

Okay, so Taylor didn’t embody ‘Lean Thinking’ as we know it today. But he was undoubtedly a pioneer of thinking differently about the way we work, which is what Lean is all about.

Go back further and you’ll find Eli Whitney. Another businessman who championed the idea of mass industrial production with standardized, interchangeable parts.

I’m sure both these businessmen engaged in activities that are contrary to ‘Lean Thinking’. However, the fact remains, that they successfully implemented ideas that embody the idea of Lean Thinking as we know it today.