Advantages & Disadvantages of Lean Production

by Neil Kokemuller; Updated September 26, 2017

Lean manufacturing or lean production emphasizes optimized efficiency rather than mass production. Primary benefits include less infrastructure, limited waste and strong customer relationships. Drawbacks or challenges center on the risks of equipment or labor failure and the potential for shortages.

Lean Production Advantages

Less infrastructure: A manufacturer implementing lean production only uses the building space, equipment, tools, supplies and manpower necessary to meet near-term inventory demand from buyers, according to WinMan Advanced ERP Systems. In contrast to mass production facilities, a building used with a lean production strategy doesn't have any wasted space. Only the room necessary to meet demand is required. Similarly, the business doesn't need unused equipment and tools sitting around. Labor shifts are also scheduled to ensure workers don't stand around with nothing to do.

Limited waste: The goal of limited waste is a key focus of lean manufacturing relative to mass production. Companies don't want excess inventory sitting around waiting for customers to want it. This approach eliminates dated or obsolete inventory and the risk that certain items perish or expire. Eliminating waste is cost-effective. It is not necessary to have space or people to manage the extra inventory until it is purchased.

Strong customer relationships: Lean production is an efficient approach to customer relationships. Unlike mass production, which attempts to meet the needs of all customers when demand occurs, lean production involves meeting the needs of loyal customers on a scheduled or predictable basis. Keeping your best customers happy and in good supply contributes to limited waste, while ensuring that your cash cow customers feel important to your business. It is also easier to customize products or flex production processes when you cater to select buyers.


  • Enterprise resource planning software programs are commonly used to manage scheduling and resource allocation with a lean production strategy.

Lean Production Disadvantages

Equipment or labor failure: The central risk of operating with a lean strategy is that you have little margin for error. If equipment breaks down or you need more-than-projected labor for certain processes, you may fall behind and lose your optimized efficiency advantages, according to consulting firm TPS Lean. In a mass production plant, workers simply slide over to another piece of equipment if something quits working. In a lean production facility, there aren't a lot of extra equipment and tools around.

Missed deliveries: Directly tied to the lack of flexibility or margin for error is the potential for missed delivery deadlines. Breakdowns can cause you to harm your primary customer relationships if you don't deliver as promised. Your wholesale or retail buyers need goods by deadlines to meet the demand from their customers. If you consistently fail to provide timely shipments, buyers look for suppliers that can. Sometimes, you don't even get a second chance on a major miss.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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