Lean management

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The term lean management (in German translations also lean management ) describes the entirety of the thinking principles, methods and procedures for the efficient design of the entire value chain of industrial goods.


In the early 1990s a book was published with the title “The Second Revolution in the Auto Industry”. As scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the authors James P. Womack , Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos spent five years studying the differences in development and production conditions in the automotive industry as part of the International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP). The principles of a development and production system that are superior in terms of efficiency and quality were worked out and referred to as lean production . The worldwide benchmark for lean production was and is the “ Toyota Production System ”.

At its core, Lean Production is an approach that focuses less on technical process automation than on the principles of a lean organization. The book and the production principles conveyed in it generated a strong response worldwide - especially in the automotive industry and its suppliers.

In the course of the further adaptation and generalization of the principles of lean production beyond the boundaries of the automotive industry, the term lean management was coined by Pfeiffer and Weiß without anything substantially different from lean production being described.

This transformation of terms resulted in a shift in meaning. While production was originally the focus of interest, the subsequent adaptation by managers and business consultants resulted in a management philosophy called " Lean Management ". As a result, the "Lean" attribute was sometimes used very arbitrarily, so that the original principles were often barely recognizable. In general, it can be said today that lean management is a management and organizational concept that is complementary to lean production, but which, when expanded, aims to eliminate all forms of waste, errors and unnecessary costs not only in production but in all areas avoid while striving for the best possible quality.


The methods of lean management have been developed since the middle of the 20th century at the Japanese automobile manufacturer Toyota , which has thus succeeded in creating stable process organizations that are the basis of the quality level achieved by its products. The methods were first described in the books by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones ("The Machine That Changed The World", "Lean Thinking"), using the example of Toyota, but also other companies. Womack and Jones also coined the term " Lean Thinking ", which is often misunderstood in the German translation ("lean" = "slim").

Lean management is now used successfully in almost all industries worldwide and is no longer limited to manufacturing processes ( lean production ), but also includes other business areas, such as maintenance ( lean maintenance ) or business processes ( lean administration ), for example the creation of services or as supporting processes, for example in order processing. Many well-known companies have set up lean projects and production systems based on the Toyota Production System. In Germany, too, there has been a renewed interest in lean management for several years, which has also become a topic in research.

Core idea

Lean management means "creating values ​​without waste". The aim is to optimally coordinate all activities that are necessary for value creation and to avoid unnecessary activities (waste, Japanese “ muda ”). To do this, the existing system must be checked and improved from two perspectives: from the customer's point of view, whose wishes for availability, individuality, quality and pricing ( business on demand ) must be met as optimally as possible, and from the company's point of view itself that has to function profitably and improve its competitiveness.

The results are processes with a high degree of customer orientation, since the targeted and flexible fulfillment of customer requirements is the basis for economical work and high efficiency. Precise process definitions and interface descriptions, clear responsibilities, early reaction to errors and simple organizational methods lead to stable processes that result in high quality products.

At its core, the Lean concept is about avoiding waste of any kind ( muda ). Originally, seven types of waste are distinguished.

Ten design approaches for lean management

In the specialist literature there are more or less long lists that list recurring points with different weighting that should lead to lean . A list by Graf-Götz and Glatz is shown as an example:

  1. Orientation of all activities towards the customer ( customer orientation )
  2. Concentration on your own strengths
  3. Optimization of business processes
  4. Constant improvement of quality ( continuous improvement process , CIP)
  5. Internal customer orientation as a corporate model
  6. Personal responsibility, empowerment and teamwork
  7. Decentralized, customer-oriented structures
  8. Leadership is service to the employee
  9. Open information and feedback processes
  10. Attitude and culture change in the company ( Kaikaku ).

Specific forms of application of lean management

Lean management is a very comprehensive approach and is now being discussed and practiced in a wide variety of areas under specific aspects:


According to Womack and Jones, Lean Management activities are based on the five core principles that form the guidelines for reviewing the existing system:

Define the value from the customer's point of view

Defining the value from the customer's point of view means checking exactly what is to be produced and tailoring the products precisely to the customer's needs. This is an important first step in any Lean consideration. The customer should receive the product tailored to his needs in the right place at the right time and in the best possible quality at reasonable prices.

Identify the value stream

Identifying the value stream means taking a detailed look at the processes that are necessary to create the services from the raw material to the customer. The so-called value stream describes all activities that are required to manufacture the product or service. Concentrating on these value-adding processes avoids waste and supports the focus on customer needs. If you know how the value stream runs through the company and who is involved in it, you can align the entire production system to this value stream in order to optimally support it and to use all resources efficiently.

Implement the flow principle

One of the most important design principles of lean management is the continuous and smooth process of production, the flow principle . In many organizations, department boundaries are optimized, lines and cells are operated with the highest productivity, but this function-oriented way of thinking does not necessarily lead to the optimum. If you look at the production process from the product perspective, you will notice the many stops in the form of interim storage and buffer stocks. From the perspective of lean management, there is often considerable potential for improvement hidden here, which also has a major impact on the efficiency of the entire value stream. If it is possible to eliminate bottlenecks, harmonize production and align it with the value stream, and allow the smallest possible batches to flow continuously, then an essential prerequisite is created for flexible, order-related and efficient control of production.

Introduce the pull principle

In many companies, production is based on the maximum machine utilization. But if the company is geared towards the customer and the value stream is organized according to the flow principle, production does not have to start until the customer orders or the stocks have reached a minimum. These order points then form the impetus for production. When pull principle (→  Kanban ) pulling ( Engl. To pull ) seen by the customer from the products through the production, instead of pushing them through planning specifications into production ( "push"). In this way, 100 percent delivery reliability can be achieved without chasing deadlines and working overtime . In addition, not only does the storage of partial products and finished goods and the associated search and transport effort no longer apply, but production can often also be relieved of personnel.

Strive for perfection

You cannot achieve perfection , you can only strive for it. Standing still means going backwards. Since the framework conditions are constantly changing and bad habits are quickly reintroduced, it is important to ensure continuous improvement in a lean production system . The so-called continuous improvement process (CIP) or point kaizen are methods with which the employees are continuously asked to question the processes and to contribute ideas. Because they have the best view of their workplaces and the everyday processes in the factory hall.


Lean goes beyond selective approaches and considers the overall system, which is ideally designed holistically so that the wishes of the external or internal customer can be served efficiently and “without waste”. By focusing on the value stream and its optimization, the result is a holistic production system. To achieve this goal, Lean Management starts at the process level. With the help of special analysis methods, the complex interrelationships are shown transparently in order to clear the view of potentials and inefficiencies.

Value stream mapping

The core method is the value stream analysis , with which the processes involved are shown schematically with fixed symbols. The picture of the current situation that arises makes the individual processes transparent and clearly shows the overall context of the production process, which often becomes visible for the first time to many participants. In this way, the often hidden inefficiencies can be identified, for example stocks, rework due to poor quality, unnecessary routes due to incorrect layout planning or waste due to activities that do not contribute to added value.

Other methods

In order to use the identified potential for improvement, targeted measures are developed. There are a number of simple methods available to do this, including: B. the Kanban system, the one-piece flow, the set-up time reduction. In addition, the lean management concept relies heavily on visualization to make it easier for employees to apply the methods.

KPI systems

The progress achieved can be measured using a key figure system that includes, for example, the overall equipment effectiveness (GEFF, Overall Equipment Effectiveness or OEE), stocks, lead time, performance time, working time, number of employees.

Inclusion of employees

The early involvement of employees in the conception and implementation of the measures as well as their awareness of errors and waste is an important element of lean projects. This not only ensures that employees are motivated, but also uses their know-how.

Implementation barriers of lean management

Von Eckardstein and his co-authors name the following points as obstacles to the introduction of lean management strategies.

  • Traditional ways of thinking and working
  • Insufficient knowledge and limited understanding of LM
  • Lack of support from top management
  • Conceptual template design
  • Too high a speed of introduction
  • Strong opposition in middle management
  • Lack of teamwork
  • Role problems of managers
  • Limited understanding of process thinking, customer proximity and a wrong understanding of quality


The trend over the past few years has shown that the lean concept is neither specific to the automotive industry nor to production. Many companies from other industries have started to develop the optimization approach further, for example towards lean service management . Also of lean engineering , lean construction , Lean Selling , Lean Mining , lean administration , Lean Office , Lean Government, Lean Healthcare , Lean Medicine, Laboratory Lean or Lean Hospital is spoken today.

In the area of sustainability and resource efficiency , too , many companies are discovering that lean principles, as part of the Lean & Green Management approach, help to implement sustainability strategies effectively.


Critical objections to the concept include:

  • Contrary to its claim, the concept is difficult to implement outside of mass production. But the opposite is also occasionally postulated: Lean production is only suitable for contract manufacturing.
  • Lean management, as it is mainly implemented in the USA, is a neo-Taylorist concept.
  • The coordination performance is not improved due to the elimination of middle management levels, but rather deteriorated. The removal of slack , ie of buffers and redundancies from a. In production, the system is extremely tightly coupled and therefore susceptible to failure.
  • There is no longer any room for stress-free advance development of product innovations, as was previously the case, for example. B. was typical of German mechanical engineering. Lean engineering or simultaneous engineering as a form of implementation of lean management in construction does not always work reliably due to the rapidly increasing planning complexity, which is expressed in quality problems especially in the capital goods industry.
  • In general, knowledge-intensive processes cannot be organized as a kind of lean assembly line.
  • Certain lean management practices are culture-specific and make it difficult to transfer the concept. The successes of the Japanese auto industry z. B. are a consequence of the adaptability of their employees and not of the management concepts used. The employee apparatus of Japanese companies is anything but lean.
  • Employees would be overwhelmed by high process pressure and work flexibility.


  • Dave Brunt, John Kiff: Creating Lean Dealers. A lean action workbook. Lean Enterprise Academy, 2007.
  • Rainer Erne: Lean Project Management: How to use the Lean concept in project management. Springer Gabler, 2019, ISBN 978-3-658-26987-6 .
  • Ian Glenday: Breaking Through to Flow. Banish fire fighting and increase customer service. Lean Enterprise Academy, 2005.
  • Jeffrey K. Liker: The Toyota Way - 14 management principles of the world's most successful automotive company. 2006.
  • Taiichi Ohno: The Toyota Production System. Campus Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-593-37801-9 .
  • Andrea Poy: Operational reorganization under the sign of Lean Management and Business Reengineering: Consequences for technical employees and engineers. IUK Institute Dortmund, 1999, ISBN 3-924100-21-7 .
  • Mike Rother: The kata of the world market leader. Toyota's best practices. Campus Verlag, 2009, ISBN 978-3-593-38996-7 .
  • Arnd Kaiser: How do you manage your business to get in only 24 months for the right LEAN course . Instructions to avoid the 7 most serious LEAN implementation mistakes. LEAN-Online Regensburg 2011.
  • J. Womack, D. Jones, D. Roos: The Machine that Changed the World - The Story of Lean Production. Harper Collins, New York 1990, ISBN 0-06-097417-6 ; German translation: J. Womack, D. Jones, D. Roos: The second revolution in the auto industry. 4th edition. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 3-453-11750-6 .
  • James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones: Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation. 2nd Edition. B&T, 2003, ISBN 0-7432-4927-5 ; German translation: James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones: Lean Thinking: Shedding ballast, increasing corporate profits. 2004 campus.
  • James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones: Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customer Can Create Wealth Together . B&T, 2005, ISBN 0-7432-7778-3 ; German translation: James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones: Lean Solutions: How companies and customers solve problems together . Campus, 2006, ISBN 3-593-38112-5 .
  • Martina Holländer, Frank Tempel: Growtth® - Eliminate waste together as a team. MI-Verlag, 2001, ISBN 3-478-91350-0 .
  • John Bicheno: The New Lean Toolbox. PICSIE Books, 2004, ISBN 0-9541244-1-3 .
  • Philipp Stüer : [Design of industrial services according to lean principles]. Apprimus, 2015, ISBN 978-3-86359-298-1 .

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Pfeiffer, Enno Weiß: Lean Management: On the transferability of a new Japanese recipe for success to local conditions. (= Research and Work Report No. 18 of the Research Group for Innovation and Technological Prediction (FIV), Nuremberg: Chair for Industrial Management in the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg). 1991, p. 2. With this definition, the authors develop the term lean management as an extension of lean production.
  2. ^ James Womack, Daniel Jones, Daniel Roos: The Machine that Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production. Harper Collins, New York 1990, ISBN 0-06-097417-6 .
    German translation: James Womack, Daniel Jones, Daniel Roos: The second revolution in the auto industry. 4th edition. Campus, Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 3-453-11750-6 .
    Updated new edition: James Womack, Daniel Jones, Daniel Roos: The machine that changed the world: the story of lean production - Toyota's secret weapon in the global car wars that is revolutionizing world industry. Simon & Schuster, London 2007, ISBN 978-1-84737-055-6 .
  3. Werner Pfeiffer, Enno Weiß: Lean Management: Basics of the management and organization of learning companies. E. Schmidt, Berlin 1992, ISBN 3-503-03678-4 .
  4. G. Ullmann: Expert systems for the provision of production system knowledge for tool and mold making. In: B.-A. Behrens, P. Nyhuis, L. Overmeyer (Eds.): Reports from the IPH. Volume 05/2010, PZH Produktionstechnisches Zentrum GmbH, Garbsen 2010.
  5. ^ Friedrich Graf-Götz, Hans Glatz: Organization design. Beltz-Verlag, 2001, ISBN 3-407-36382-6 .
  6. v. Eckardstein et al. (Ed.): Management. Schäffer Poeschel, 1999.
  7. Peter Hines, Matthias Holweg, Nick Rich: Learning to evolve: A review of contemporary lean thinking. In: International Journal of Operations & Production Management. Vol. 24, No. 10, 2004, pp. 994-1011.
  8. Christian Berggren and others: Are they unbeatable? Department of Work Science, The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm 1991.
  9. See Poy (1999) based on Charles Perrow's concept of tight coupling .
  10. See Poy (1999).
  11. ^ F. Klug: Logistics management in the automotive industry. Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-3-642-05292-7 .
  12. ^ Bradley R. Staats, David M. Upton: Lean Knowledge Work. In: Harvard Business Review. 10/2011, http://hbr.org/2011/10/lean-knowledge-work/ar/1
  13. Karel Williams et al: Against lean production. In: Economy and Society. Vol 21, No. 3, 1992.