Lean is a philosophy, a state of mind and a holistic approach to business, not a low-calorie diet. Lean businesses and organisations are offended by waste - they seek it out and destroy it. They compress production and delivery times, respond quicker to customer demand, and replenish stocks 'just-in-time', without building up unnecessary inventory ('just-in-case') or missing delivery slots ('just-too-late'). Lean is not mean, but it can be green. Lean thinking will cause you to question just about everything you do at work, from morning till night.
Where did it come from? Lean is a US/Japanese co-production. After World War II, General MacArthur drew on quality guru W Edwards Deming to help rebuild Japanese industry. Deming's approach struck a chord with his hosts, and ironically the insights of the American were to help challenge US economic supremacy in the coming decades. Consultants James Womack and Dan Jones have spread the lean philosophy over the past 20 years. Their books on Toyota's lean production system helped define lean for a new business generation.
Where is it going? Womack and Jones have recently published Lean Solutions, a development of lean thinking that looks at the customer's preferred way of doing business, and tries to find lean ways of realising it. Tesco is a leading lean player, murdering flabbier competition through a decade-long commitment to lean practices. Toyota, of course, has been working at it even longer. Most car makers will simply never catch up. The impact on the industry of lean competition is still playing out. Ask the 30,000 GM workers whose Christmas was a lot leaner after their end-of-year sacking.
Fad quotient (out of 10) - Eight and rising.