While becoming lean has long been the goal of a production or operations manager, the evolution of Lean as a formal process that we can teach and learn really belongs to the automotive manufacturing industry. Lean is a process management philosophy that evolved from Toyota’s Production System (although Sakichi Toyoda, the one-time CEO of Toyota, learned of it when visiting the United States).
Lean’s goal is to make things work in a simple manner. It aims to be simple to understand, to carry out, and to manage. Lean is very focused on eliminating waste, and in doing so looks at the efficient production of items to meet the demands of consumers, while reducing the reliance on inventory holding and complex processes. Lean principles can be applied to any company, in any industry – not just manufacturing and mass production.
The concept of waste elimination is extremely important in Lean. Bricklaying is a great case study, and was in fact one of the first formal Lean efforts undertaken by efficiency experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.
Traditionally, a bricklayer would lower his entire body to lift a five-pound brick. The total amount of time and body movement to lift and cement one brick into a wall is small. Yet when we look at a building with tens of thousands of bricks, even a small savings in time really adds up on a project. The Gilbreths then introduced the scaffold as a way to make bricklaying more efficient.