Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma Definitions

Glossary terms, history, people and definitions about Lean and Six Sigma


Also known as Lean Production, Lean Manufacturing, or the Toyota Production System.

Lean is the word coined by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP) researcher John Krafcik in this article from 1988.

It was also mentioned in the first book written about Lean from the MIT research, “The Machine That Changed the World : Based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5-Million-Dollar 5-Year Study on the Future of the Automobile” (1990)

…it uses less of everything, compared with mass production. Half the human effort in the factory, half the manufacturing space, half the investment in tools, half the engineering hours to develop a new product in half the time. Also, it requires keeping far less than half the needed inventory on site, results in many fewer defects, and produces a greater and ever-growing variety of products.

Krafcik came up with the term to describe the contrast to the traditional automotive manufacturing approach a “buffered” or mass production system.

The most popular book about Lean is called “Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation” written by Jim Womack and Daniel T. Jones.

The success of Lean in the United States occurred at NUMMI, where the worst GM facility was transformed into the best in just a few years with the same workforce. This provided evidence that Lean can be successful outside of Japan.

In 2008, a new initiative based on these fundamentals has emerged, called Lean Startup, which is geared towards starting a new company, or launching a new product or service.

A recap of the last 25 years of Lean is explained in a video series from Gemba Academy (Jan 2022) with John Shook, Daniel T. Jones and Jim Womack.