An Introduction To Lean Management

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Lean management is a simple approach to running a business/organization in an efficient manner by incrementally improving and tweaking certain processes. The aim of this practice is to maximize customer value and reduce waste at the same time. In some parts of the world and within certain business circles, this practice is simply called “Lean.” Here is some more information about this topic:

A Brief History

According to’s “A History of Lean Management,” one of the first people credited with introducing Lean Management Practices at the workplace on a large scale is Henry Ford. Some of the other people who had tried various forms of Lean Management before Ford include Eli Whitney and Frederick W. Taylor.

In simple words, Ford streamlined the process of manufacturing the Model T car by arranging workers, machines, parts, and tools in a continuous system. The problem with Ford’s Lean practices is they could only work in a “straitjacket” work environment. They were not well suited for dynamic work environments.

In the 1930s, Kiichiro Toyoda and others at Toyota came up with the modern concept of Lean Management. They achieved this by inventing the Toyota Production System (TPS). After the Second World War, this group of innovators and tinkerers at Toyota perfected the art of “manufacturing to order” rather than “manufacturing to fill warehouses”.

Toyota initiated its “manufacturing to order” philosophy because they realized products piled in warehouses without buyers were no more than wastage. It made financial sense to base production targets on actual sales. This style of production eventually became known as Just-In-Time (JIT). JIT is the precursor of modern lean management practices.

Current Practices

Today, lean management takes place a little more precisely because of guidelines developed since the early Ford and Toyota days. According to Senior Marketing Manager Rachaelle Lynn’s article, “Lean Business Development: How 7 Lean Principles Guide Sustainable Growth,” managers can achieve a lean business if they focus on:

  • Optimizing the whole by ensuring their business makes the best possible use of limited resources.
  • Eliminating waste such as any process, function, or activity that offers no value to the customer.
  • Building quality into the system by documenting, sharing, and aligning around good business practices, credible sources of information, and strong processes.
  • Delivering fast by managing the flow of processes, getting value into the hands of customers in the quickest and most streamlined way possible.
  • Creating knowledge by documenting and continuously improving repeatable processes.
  • Deferring commitment by postponing decisions until the last responsible moment, thereby allowing decisions to be based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive information.
  • Respecting people, namely employees, by creating a work environment that allows them to do their best work.

Wastes Associated with Lean Management

The core concept of Lean Management is reducing wastage as much as possible. For this reason, it is worth looking at various wastages associated with Lean Management. Such wastages may include:

  • Overproduction: The problem with overproduction is it creates excess inventories as well as extra storage space and extra employee requirements.
  • Overprocessing: This means employees exceed actual/normal requirements when working on products.
  • Unnecessary motion: This involves employees leaving their workstations and moving around aimlessly.
  • Unnecessary downtime: A good example of this is when employees sit idly waiting for raw materials or orders from their bosses.
  • Unused employee creativity: This happens when an employer fails to encourage or foster an environment where employees can pitch new ideas.

Lean Management and Occupational Safety

Lean Management can be applied to various business processes including safety. It is important to note that “Lean” is not a program. Instead, it is a way, philosophy, culture of thinking, and executing tasks at the workplace. In “Four Steps to Proactive Compliance,”’s Raimund Laqua writes that management can take two different approaches to occupational safety: reactive and proactive.

The reactive approach involves instituting safety measures after an incident has occurred in the workplace. A proactive approach involves instituting safety measures to prevent injuries or fatalities. This is where “Lean” comes in handy because its aim is to improve working conditions while reducing wastage. You can think of it as a proactive safety approach.

Lean Management can be used in a variety of ways to improve safety in the workplace. To begin, Jennifer McKelvey, a vice president at Behavioral Science Technology (BST), reckons that elimination of waste improves safety because employees do not have to engage in unnecessary actions that would leave them exhausted/prone to make mistakes that could cause injuries or fatalities.

Carrying out regular safety climate surveys can help. “Defining and Measuring Safety Climate: a Review of the Construction Industry Literature,” a research study carried out by Natalie V. Schwatka, et al, of the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, found that safety climate surveys can improve the overall safety of workers and visitors at a workplace.

The term “safety climate” refers to attitudes or perceptions workers have about the importance of safety. Factors that could negatively affect a workplace’s safety climate include work pressure, risk perception, the competence of supervisors, the commitment of top management to safety, and regard/disregard of known safety guidelines (such as OSHA guidelines).

Managers must also implement training or equip workers with the skills required to improve workplace safety. This is an important Lean initiative because safety in the workplace revolves around employees. If they do not know how to prevent incidents, they are likely to engage in actions that could endanger others.

The importance of standardizing best practices in a work area cannot be overstated. Some of the common and popular tools used for this purpose include signs, placards, job cycle charts, and checklists. In fact, focusing on standardized work is another aspect that McKelvey believes can have a positive impact on workplace safety because it enhances process stability. If employees cannot complete work as defined, it signals instability or productivity problems that management should scrutinize carefully.

Finally, reverse communication. In most organizations, communication is like one-way traffic, from management to employees. However, the main problem with this approach is employees who may know about safety hazards are unlikely to volunteer this information.

About Eastern Kentucky University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Safety Degree

Lean Management has undergone several evolutions since the beginning of the 20th century when Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda used this practice to streamline manufacturing processes. The current Lean practices borrow heavily from the work done by these pioneers. The good news is that you, too, can use Lean principles to improve workplace safety.

Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions, and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.

Recommended Reading

What Can I Do with an Occupational Safety Degree?
Understanding Human Factors in Occupational Safety
Occupational Safety in the Age of Robotics


Strategos inc, “A History of Lean Manufacturing”
Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft des Saarlandes – University of Applied Sciences, Lean Management (PDF), “Lean Business Development: How 7 Lean Principles Guide Sustainable Growth”, “Four Steps to Proactive Compliance” Safety + Health Magazine, “Safety leadership: Lean principles: The connection to safety”
Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Occupational Hygiene Society, “Defining and Measuring Safety Climate: A Review of the Construction Industry Literature”