The Beginning of Lean Thinking

During the mid-1700’s, the production of goods gradually shifted from a single person making a single product to mass production. This period is referred to as the Industrial Revolution. However, right from the beginning of the revolution, some scientists started to realize that mass production could cause waste.

Benjamin Franklin is widely regarded as the first efficiency expert. In his 1758 treatise he Way to Wealth, he said, “You call them goods; but, if you do not take care, they will prove evils… if you have no occasion for them, they must be dear to you.” This is the core of a key Lean principle: Just-In-Time production.

Scientists Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were famous for their motion studies in the early 1900’s. Frank Gilbreth observed brick workers, for example, and noted that although they all had the same tasks, each did their work slightly differently using different motions. He felt that developing one best way to lay bricks would reduce the number of motions needed and thereby save effort and time. He eventually reduced each bricklayer’s motions to 4.5 from 18.

In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor took things a step further with his book Principles of Scientific Management. He said: “And whenever a workman proposes an improvement, it should be the policy of the management to make a careful analysis of the new method, and if necessary conduct a series of experiments to determine accurately the relative merit of the new suggestion and of the old standard. And whenever the new method is found to be markedly superior to the old, it should be adopted as the standard for the whole establishment.”