What Exactly is Lean?

1 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2019

See all articles by Elliott N. Weiss

Elliott N. Weiss

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business


This brief, one-page note provides multiple definitions of Lean. The purpose is to show that Lean programs can and should be addressed on multiple levels, including detailed operations, the entire value stream, and the entire organization.



Jul. 2, 2019

What Exactly Is Lean?

The essence of Lean is to create an organization with people who are trained and empowered to explore increasingly better ways to provide and create customer-defined value.

Lean thinking frames every request for value as an opportunity to improve by teaching participants to notice wasteful action (or inaction), then carefully remove that waste, leaving the value intact. This can be achieved by anyone following three basic premises.

First, once you set a standard for any means of value creation, that standard must be protected relentlessly, not as an isolated project, but a continuous mission; this involves engaging and empowering everyone in the enterprise. Second, the criteria for improvement and priorities for implementation should pull directly and strategically from the needs of the customer. Third, the best way for value delivery to approach its ideal form is for changes to comprise removing waste wherever found, regardless of scale; what remains will reveal what is essential and invite a new evaluation, in a virtuous cycle of refinement.

. . .

Keywords: lean, continuous improvement, operations management, Six Sigma

Suggested Citation

Weiss, Elliott N., What Exactly is Lean?. Darden Case No. UVA-OM-1631. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3416911

Elliott N. Weiss (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business ( email )

P.O. Box 6550
Charlottesville, VA 22906-6550
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/html/direc_detail.aspx?styleid=2&id=4375

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