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What is Lean?

Dr. James Womack and Daniel Jones led a major research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late ‘80s and defined lean thinking as creating the most value for the customer at the lowest cost.  This is achieved by minimizing the use of resources, time, energy, and effort.  “Lean” consist of ideas and practices innovated by Toyota beginning in the 1950s that are still evolving today.  Lean thinking and practice have radically transformed countless individuals and organizations around the globe over the past 30 years.

A lean approach to work and management involves:


  • Understanding what’s really going on at the place where value is created – commonly known as the Gemba (the place where value is created),

  • Improving the processes by which products and services are created and delivered,

  • Developing and empowering people through problem-solving and coaching, and

  • Developing leaders and an effective management system.


As a result, lean thinking and practice help organizations become both innovative and competitive, which in turn allows them to become sustainable.

To watch a short video narrated by Dr. Womack see What is Lean? 


To learn more about lean thinking see Planet Lean .


What is the Lean Enterprise Institute?


The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), was established with a mission to advance lean thinking and practice throughout the world to make things better for individuals, organizations, and society. Its founder, Dr. James Womack, established LEI as a not-for-profit organization to ensure that as the LEI community learned and created new knowledge it would be made available to the public to improve people’s lives.   

What is the James P. Womack Scholarship & Philanthropy Fund?

Lean thinking and practice was born in the automotive sector and it has steadily made its way to industry after industry, from auto to every type of manufacturing to sectors as varied as healthcare and retail, revolutionizing work and management practices and results along the way.

To this day, lean thinking and practice is infrequently taught in our education system. With a few notable exceptions, universities remain committed to curricula that are out of touch with the problems of the real world. Companies need critical thinkers and creative problem solvers, not memorizers of formulaic solutions – still the content of many university courses.

As a result, companies find they must re-educate (rework – one of the worst forms of waste!) new recruits hired from even the best universities.  ​

To close these gaps in learning, LEI established the James P. Womack Scholarship & Philanthropy Fund (JPW Fund).  The JPW Fund will support LEI’s mission by funding creative learning experiences in partnership with schools teaching lean thinking and community-based service organizations willing to provide Gemba-based learning and improvement opportunities.​


To create innovative learning experiences the JPW Fund will:

  • Partner with educational institutions (universities, community colleges, vocational tech schools, etc.), NGOs, and other training organizations who will provide students and faculty willing to learn,

  • Partner with community organizations that will use lean thinking to improve the delivery of services and serve as a learning Gemba, and 

  • Provide financial assistance and grants to teaching faculty and students to learn, practice, and research lean thinking (planned launch 2020-21 academic year).


To provide the resources needed to establish and sustain the JPW Fund, LEI is seeking support from its community of lean learners, corporate sponsors, and foundations who share Jim Womack’s vision and LEI’s mission to make things better.


What do employers want most?

“What career readiness competencies do employers value most in their new college hires? Employers responding to NACE’s Job Outlook surveys have consistently indicated that critical thinking/ problem solving, teamwork/collaboration, professionalism/work ethic, and oral/ written communications are all essential competencies.”


Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers, March 29, 2019


Along with a strong emphasis on delivering value to the customer and leadership engagement, lean thinking
and practice develops these skills and behaviors in workers.  

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