Lean, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Startup: Clarified

The Lean & Agile Practitioner

Takeshi Yoshida
9 min readSep 16, 2018



Lean: not just a hype word for efficiency

Yah sure, we do “lean” here and we operate a tight ship with just a few of us doing everything — you know, everyone is multi-taskin’.

“Lean” is such a convenient term, everyone uses it in their own definition. People frequently use “lean” in place of “efficiency”, probably because it sounds more cool. Another round of cost cutting? Sure, let’s tell everyone we’re “going lean”, again!

Lean is a proven, powerful productivity approach (we probably owe post-WWII modernity and the internet age to Lean!), yet most people don’t know what Lean is really about beyond the hype. And in this age of hyper-competition, not knowing nor using tools that are proven to work, is a big disadvantage.

So, people should learn and practice Lean. But there’s one complexity: today’s Lean is a mix up between two different but same sounding management concepts — Lean Manufacturing and Lean Startup. Lean Startup is a recent decade thing — it was inspired by and hence not disassociated with Lean Manufacturing, but it serves a somewhat different purpose and audience. Lean Manufacturing traces its routes to Japan’s post WWII industrial recovery with the aid of some key American industrial engineers.

Let’s clarify.

Lean Manufacturing


Post WWII, Toyota shop floor engineer Taiichi Ohno rose through the ranks with the backing of Eiji Toyoda from the founding family, to install what became TPS (Toyota Production System). Which in turn later became generally known as Lean Manufacturing.

Meanwhile, two industrial engineering mavericks were flown into Japan at the request of the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers: W. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran. In the US, both of their work on quality management only came to mainstream attention in the late ’80s when the concept of Lean Manufacturing started to emerge. But in Japan, Deming’s and Juran’s teachings, overlapping but somewhat different in approach (Deming more a statistical approach, while Juran more focused on management), were immediately embraced…



Takeshi Yoshida

Chief Coach, Agile Organization Development (agile-od.com) — we are a tribe of change, transformation, innovation experts