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What is Lean and why I am so obsessed with it?

If you’ve clicked on this post, it’s likely that you’ve not heard a lot about this thing called ‘Lean’.

Lean is the nickname for the operational improvement system used by Toyota, called ‘The Toyota Production System’.

You can search the internet for ‘Definition of Lean’ and you’ll get a million different explanations so I feel the need to offer a disclaimer. I can only offer my understanding of what Lean is and why it’s so awesome.

Toyota, as a company, is on a journey of constant improvement and has been since around 1945. They believe in the constant and relentless elimination of anything that doesn’t add value to the customer. Sounds a lot like minimalism right? Well that’s because it is a lot like minimalism. It’s minimalism of the workplace, but with some cool philosophies, tools and techniques for making processes flow better at the same time. What makes Lean even more awesome is that you can apply it to any system or process like your sock drawer, or making the kids lunches.

flat lay photography of three tray of foods

Photo by Ella Olsson on

To me, Lean is about two very fundamental beliefs.

Never stop improving

What underpins the success of Toyota’s improvement program is a fundamental belief that continuous improvement is necessary for survival. Lean practitioners are on a never ending journey towards perfection. Never relaxing into the status quo gives Lean companies an edge over their non Lean competitors. Using this philosophy they constantly find and drive out waste from their processes, always focusing on what is best for the customer.

Respect people

In a Lean company everyone is empowered, trained and obligated to constantly improve their own processes. This gives people control over their daily environment which is both rewarding and motivating at the same time. People that work in companies that practice Lean know that they are invested in the success of the company and are valued in a way that goes beyond pay or status.


diagram from

Backing up these two fundamental beliefs is a strong challenge or vision of what you are trying to achieve, as I discussed in my post ‘Lean Leadership – The importance of having a target vision for your lean transformation.’

Over the years, Toyota developed some amazing tools and techniques as a result of their improvement philosophy and constant drive towards driving out waste and improving flow. These include some things you might have heard of like; 5S, Kanban, Just in Time(JIT), Standard Work and Single Minute Exchange of Die(SMED).  To me, the philosophy behind these tools is more important than the tools themselves. Each tool is again based around continuous improvement, making problems obvious, eliminating waste and enabling flow of materials, information, people and equipment.

So, why am I obsessed with Lean?

It comes down to the fact that as a person I have always been unwilling to accept the status quo around anything. I’ve always been driven to pursue the next level. My personal journey of self improvement is well documented in my blog The Lean Minimalist. When I discovered back in the late 90s that there was a business model that allowed me to practice this journey of self and process improvement in my working life, which just happens to be centred around manufacturing and services, I was hooked. The more I practice Lean, the deeper my understanding grows and the more I realise how much more I have to learn. I delight in the fact that by practicing Lean I have the opportunity to improve not only my own processes but those of everyone who works with or for me. It gives me a chance to make a positive impact on people’s lives. I can’t imagine not practicing and teaching Lean principles to others.

In the last few years, through the blog, I have started offering my advice and support to anyone who wants to learn more about Lean and is interested in implementing it in their own workplace or life. I’m passionate about continuous improvement in all its forms and I hope that by sharing my learning freely, that others can benefit from that passion too.



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