What is Lean Manufacturing?

What is Lean Manufacturing
What is Lean Manufacturing
What is Lean Manufacturing

What is Lean Manufacturing?

History of Lean Manufacturing 

The manufacturing industry has steadily evolved from craft to mass production. Before the middle of the 20th century, hallmarks of mass production were large amounts of inventory, thousands of low-skilled assembly line workers, and a great deal of diversified waste. Although many companies have applied numerous production strategies designed to increase their return on investment, none were as successful as Toyota. In the middle of the 20th century, Toyota pioneered a new way of thinking about manufacturing and a specific production strategy that would forever change how businesses think about their products, services, employees, and customers. 

What is Lean Manufacturing? 

Lean manufacturing is a set of management practices, tools, and techniques that work together to create both a mindset and a practical way to manufacture goods and/or provide services efficiently and effectively by eliminating waste and increasing value for the customer. 

Lean Manufacturing Principles 

At its core, the principles of Lean manufacturing are to: 

Define Value 

To define value, companies must look at their customer’s needs, preferences, and desires. These should be reflected in both the selling price and the market demand. Simply put, “value” is what a customer is willing to pay for a good or service. 

  • Problem: Company X manufactures expensive, state-of-the-art headphones and offers customer support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Company Y, its main competitor, sells its product for 10% less than Company X and offers only email support with a promise to respond to customers within 48 hours. 
  • Solution: Company X can innovate their customer support program and pass the savings to its customers, giving them a competitive advantage. 

Map the Value Stream 

Once a company knows what its customers value, it can use that as a roadmap to analyze all processes and procedures designed to deliver that value, and the value stream map reveals the improvement opportunities. The concept of waste lies within this principle. Lean identifies seven types of waste: transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects in the process of manufacturing goods and/or providing services. 

  • Problem: A worker waits to use the machines necessary for the next step in his production process. Although he waits for only three minutes, this happens many times throughout the shift and overall production time is in steady decline. 
  • Solution: Identify bottlenecks, increase their capacity, and balance the workload. 

Create Flow 

Once each type of waste is removed from a process, the focus shifts to creating flow. This means that processes and procedures are designed to run smoothly with no or minimal delay or waste.  

  • Problem: An employee must provide senior leadership with several weekly reports. The number of reports is excessive, as is the number of signatures needed for each report.  
  • Solution: Create and increase flow by consolidating the reports and by limiting the number of signatures needed through an effective governance structure.  

Establish Pull 

Establish Pull simply means providing only the products and/or services at the rate of actual customer demands. 

  • Problem: A t-shirt designer opens a store. He has produced a physical shirt for most designs in his collection, including shirts for designs that were not requested. There is now so much inventory that he cannot move freely around his storage area.  
  • Solution: Create a catalog of all designs and print each order according to customer demand. This will reduce the designer’s inventory in the small store.  

Pursue Perfection 

This principle is about committing to continuous process improvement. If Lean thinking and initiatives become a part of the organizational culture, they are more likely to succeed.  

  • Problem: The leadership of a manufacturing company makes all decisions but never visits the factory floor. Lean concepts are initiated but are not clearly explained to employees. As a result, several new processes and procedures lack consistency and commitment to continuous improvement. 
  • Solution: Include employees and rely on their expertise when creating new processes and procedures. Engaging employees raises the chances your Lean initiatives will be successful and may contribute to a renewed sense of morale and participation. 

"To be competitive, we have to look for every opportunity to improve efficiencies and productivity while increasing quality. Lean manufacturing principles have improved every aspect of our processes." - Cynthia Fanning, Product General Manager for dishwashers at GE Appliances (Wheeler, para. 18). 

Lean Across Industries 

Lean Manufacturing concepts are about maximizing customer value through minimizing waste and continuously improving processes and procedures. All kinds of businesses can benefit from adopting a lean manufacturing philosophy, regardless of whether they sell goods or provide services. For example: 

  • Healthcare: Redesigning the patient flow in emergency room departments to decrease patient wait times. 
  • Business: Automating quality control mechanisms so more products can be examined for defects in less time. 
  • Governments: Minimizing raw material waste during highway maintenance and construction projects. 
  • Hospitality: Using integrated software for hotels to pull front office, back office, and reservations into a single platform, resulting in more precise communication and a faster room turn-around time for guests. 
  • Your Daily Life: Applying Lean thinking to your daily activities to reduce various types of waste in and around your home can lead to a more organized garage or efficient kitchen! 

Lean Manufacturing in Today’s Business Landscape 

Today’s business landscape favors the small, lean, and agile. Companies looking for competitive advantage are invested in hiring professionals who: 

  • Understand how to translate theory into application 
  • Know how to apply the skills and strategies necessary for maximizing production and service efficiency to sustain a competitive advantage  
  • Are committed to continuous improvement both personally and professionally 

Kettering University Online - MS Lean Manufacturing  

Kettering University Online’s award-winning MS Lean Manufacturing program, developed in partnership with G.M., is designed to help professionals across industries develop powerful skills to advance their careers.  

Through reviewing curated learning resources, actively participating in discussions, and completing assignments, learners develop keen technical expertise and a deep understanding of the following areas in seven core courses:  

  • The Globally Integrated Manufacturing Company 
  • Six Sigma: Introduction to DMAIC 
  • Lean Production Systems 
  • Work Analysis for Lean Production Applications 
  • Quality Assurance and Reliability 
  • Metrics for Lean Production Applications 
  • Integrative Capstone Project 

Learners can also customize the MS Lean Manufacturing degree with their choice of a 3-course graduate certificate in Global Leadership, Lean Principles for Healthcare, Operations Management, Management & Leadership, Supply Chain Level I or Supply Chain Level II. 

More Reasons to Enroll 

  • No GRE/GMAT required 
  • 100% online for busy, working professionals 
  • 40 credits, 10 courses – complete your degree in as little as 16 months 
  • After completing your MS Lean Manufacturing degree, you can take just 5 more courses and earn an MBA 

The value of a Kettering University Online education continues after even you graduate, as you become part of an elite club representing industries from around the world. There are thousands of Kettering University Alumni comprising a vast network of mentors, contacts, and potential colleagues across the globe with connections to notable organizations such as General Motors, Bosch, Boeing, Fisher-Price, Whirlpool, GE, and NASA. 

Completing the MS Lean Manufacturing degree will position you well for increased marketability, add additional value to your current position, or create the foundation for an entirely new career. If you are ready to advance your career, the Master of Science in Lean Manufacturing program at Kettering University Online may be your next step. You graduate with the skills to improve quality output, streamline processes and reduce waste in your organization. 


Wheeler, C. (2016, January 1). 18 Lean manufacturing quotes. https://www.newcastlesys.com/blog/bid/337009/lean-manufacturing-quotes-for-education-and-inspiration