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For any given process, “Lean management” or “Lean thinking” involves:

  • Distinguishing value-added steps from non-value-added steps
  • Eliminating waste

so that, ultimately, every process step adds value.

Lean thinking is most commonly associated with Japanese manufacturing, particularly the Toyota Production System (TPS). Much of the TPS way of thinking is based on the work of quality guru W. Edwards Deming, who taught, among other things, that managers should stop depending on mass inspection to achieve quality and, instead, focus on improving the production process and building quality into the product in the first place.

Lean means using less to do more. The principles of Lean management can, in fact, work in healthcare in much the same way they do in other industries.

Lean thinking is applicable to all organizations because it has to do with improving processes. All organizations—including those in healthcare—are composed of a series of processes or actions intended to create value for those who use or depend on them (customers/patients).

Agreement is growing among healthcare leaders that Lean principles can reduce the waste that is pervasive in the US healthcare system. The adoption of Lean management strategies— while not a simple task— can help healthcare organizations improve processes and outcomes, reduce cost, and increase satisfaction among patients, providers, and staff.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has numerous resources to learn more about Lean.

Examples of Everyday Situations

The Colorado Foundation for Medical Care  has prepared a “Domestic Lean Goddess” video series to illustrate how Lean methods can be applied, using everyday household situations as examples.

The 5S (Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) of Quality Improvement


Getting the Kids to School on Time (an illustration of the PDSA cycle)


Clothes Processing Center—Eliminating the 7 Wastes
(WORMPIT: Waiting, Overproduction, Rework, Motion, Processing, Inventory, Transportation)



Adapted from Institute for Healthcare Improvement: Innovation Series: Going Lean in Health Care, © 2005