Invented by Toyota and now embraced by companies like Dell Computers and Boeing, Lean Thinking is gaining devotees in service organizations, manufacturing businesses, logistics companies and supply chains. 

Professor Norman Faull of the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business discussed the topical subject of Lean Management, which is also know as the Toyota Production System (TPS), at the recent SAPICS Conference for supply chain and operations management professionals.
“Why care about Lean Thinking?” Prof Faull asked delegates, before citing Toyota’s 2006 results – a profit of $11,6-billion with a year-end market capitalisation of about $240-billion. “This is greater than that of General Motors, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, Honda and Nissan combined," he says.
Lean was originally an assembly-line manufacturing methodology developed by Toyota for the manufacture of automobiles. Its goal is described as "to get the right things to the right place at the right time, the first time, while minimizing waste and being open to change".
Engineer Ohno, who is credited with developing the principles of lean production, discovered that in addition to eliminating waste, his methodology led to improved product flow and better quality.
In his SAPICS Conference presentation, Professor Faull explained that the five principles of Lean are understanding value, understanding the value stream, making value “flow”, responding to real demand or pull and pursuing perfection.
“TPS is a system for creating thinking people,” he says. “It seeks continuous improvement through eliminating waste. Specific rules and tools include value stream mapping and the Toyota Rules-in-Use.
“The first of these rules is that all work shall be highly specified as to content, sequence, timing and outcome.
"The second rule is that every customer-supplier connection must be direct, and there must be an unambiguous yes-or-no way to send requests and receive responses.
"ule number three is that the pathway or value stream for every product and service must be simple and direct.
"And, finally, the fourth rule states that any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organisation.
“To understand Toyota’s success, you have to understand the paradox that the rigid specification is the very thing that makes the flexibility and creativity possible,” Prof Faull says.
In two South African studies, he illustrate how Lean Thinking can benefit diverse organizations – his first case example was a large manufacturer, the second a busy public hospital.
In response to the growing interest in Lean, Africa’s first Lean Management conference in more than six years will take place in Cape Town in September, and feature presentations by international speakers, including Lean gurus Jim Womack and Dan Jones.