The Definition of Lean Operations

by Neil Kokemuller; Updated September 26, 2017

Lean operations are businesses that embrace a strategy of producing the best quality output while utilizing the least amount of resources. A number of specific techniques are employed, but forms of lean operations have been around since the early 1900s when Henry Ford first discussed the concept.

Goals of Lean Operations

"Efficiency" is a focus word in lean operations. In contrast to optimized production, which doesn't take into account efficient resource utilization, lean production is much more concentrated. Companies identify the most necessary buildings, equipment, tools, supplies and people to facilitate the business activities that produce optimized output. Continuous lean process improvement, -- an ongoing effort to strengthen efficiency -- is a common objective in a systematic approach to being lean.

Work Settings

A lean culture or work environment means slightly different things depending on the setting:

Business office

In a traditional office setting, such as insurance or sales, lean operation often means the amount of space and number of people used to generate results. When companies talk about developing a "lean organization," it may mean that a reduction in workforce is coming.

Manufacturing

Leaning labor down happens in manufacturing as well. However, lean methodologies or strategies for operating efficiently in manufacturing often center on eliminating waste through optimized equipment and labor use. Eliminating downtime and avoiding excess inventory are other common goals of lean manufacturing.

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.