Pre-Lean Pioneers

Adam Smith (1723-90) – Father of modern economics and proponent of the idea of voice of the customer: “the interest of the producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer”.

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) – The pioneer of steam as a motive force and engine-turned lathes. Through the use of systematic scientific research he was able to revolutionise factory production methods and develop world-class new products. Wedgwood also transformed the transportation of finished goods with his support for road improvements and the canal network.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) – Sought to improve industrial efficiency and is regarded as the father of scientific management. Taylorism, as expressed in The Principles of Scientific Management, aimed to reduce waste and inefficiency in the workplace through the scientific analysis of labour processes.

Henry Ford (1863-1947) – The industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford was able to build cars on a scale never seen before (in “any colour as long as it is black”), in part due to the assembly lines being run with unskilled people in specialised job roles. In his book, Today and Tomorrow, he wrote: “It is better to avoid difficulties than overcome them”.

Frank George Woollard (1883-1957) – Established flow production in the British motor industry in the mid-1920s. His methods were remarkably similar to the current-day production principles and practices used by Toyota.


The Spread and Development of Lean


W. Edwards Deming inspired and guided the rise of Japanese industry after World War II, and the resurgence of the American automobile industry in the late 1980s. His belief in “continual improvement” led to a set of transformational theories and teachings that changed the way we think about quality, management, and leadership. He is the author of Out of the Crisiswhich describes a model of management based on his 14 Points for Management.


1940s – Eiji Toyoda visits Ford. He was impressed with the scale and flow of the production line, but saw lots of waste.

1950s – Toyota develops the “way” and the Toyota Production System.

1990s – Worldwide publicity through books and visits. Toyota makes no secret of the system.


The term Lean was first coined by John Krafcik in his 1988 article Triumph of the Lean Production System. Toyota did not use the term, considering Lean to be “just what we do”.

Womack & Jones (& Roos)

Academics and authors of the The Machine That Changed the World, the book which popularised Lean and first noted the five Principles. They continue to be leaders in Lean thinking.


Lean Today

There is mounting evidence that Lean thinking works beyond manufacturing, and since the 1990s Lean has come to be seen as a valuable methodology in customer-facing environments. Numerous organisations, public, private, and governmental, have adopted Lean – often with huge success! Lean has also spread to higher education, with universities all around the world establishing dedicated Lean teams or process improvement initiatives.