The Evolution of Lean: A Timeline

It is exceedingly frustrating to realize what a putz you are . . . at least it is for me. I struggle with how and what to blog, and yet miss some of the more obvious things I can post about. For instance, Dan Keldsen posts a link in Facebook to an article conveying a timeline of the history of Lean Manufacturing. This line, however, is entirely textual and Dan writes – parenthetically – “(need a graphic of this… hmm)”. Reading this I was reminded of a graphic I put together several years ago at the request of one of the Manufacturing Engineers at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, William “Bill” Garrison. I was able to find it in short order (kudos to my PKM, IMO) and sent it to Dan. I then posted it in FB and, within a very short time received a comment from another friend, Robert Lavigne. I had also had an email conversation with Dan and he mentioned a product that produced graphical timelines, BEEDOCS.

The Evolution of Lean

The Evolution of Lean: A Timeline

Click on Graphic for Larger Version

At any rate I’ve now spent a fair amount of time thinking about the history of lean and the purpose and efficacy of graphical timelines; something I actually have contemplated quite a bit over time. I’ve also checked out the software’s website and, after another comment or two between Rob and I, he suggests the subjects are “still worthy of a blog entry and a link to your insights about the new product”. I find myself thinking he’s right so here we go. I hope this is what he had in mind. I’ll consider it an “aha” moment if I’m right.

So, here’s the real post. The article Dan linked to (see my link to it, above) is a bit more detailed and the earliest event evidencing lean in the timeline is fully 440 years ago, which causes Dan to lament over the seeming inability of many to just continue using the stuff that’s worked for centuries, eh wot? I can only nod in stupefied agreement. What appears above, in the form of a graphic representation, is an overview of the history of lean manufacturing. It’s heavy on the Toyota Production System (TPS), but there’s actually a lot of non-Toyota information in it as well. We didn’t want it to be too busy.

Now, as far as the software goes, I am surely in no hurry to purchase it at this point, but it does look like it provides some useful and interesting functionality. They point out the concept grew from Attorneys asking for timelines for use in trials and now is used by “Film makers, museum curators, professors, novelists, grad students and business leaders”. The timelines look beautiful and varied and the concept of using 3D (I don’t think real 3D, but film & television-like) makes the timelines visually appealing. It’s only $65 for Mac OS X Leopard and, for many, seems a small price to pay if you’re in the market for really good timelines.

That’s my story and, well, you know the rest. Thanks to Rob for prodding me. Thanks to you, whoever you are, for reading this far 🙂

UPDATE: I neglected to point out there’s a bit more to this timeline than mere events. It also points to the correlation between time, reduction in cost, and reduction of Cycle Time. Probably pretty obvious, but felt compelled to point it out just so you don’t think I’m stupid. It’s bad enough I think it.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

7 responses to “The Evolution of Lean: A Timeline

  • John Tropea

    Hey guys,

    Have you seen Jurgen Appelo’s presentation on complexity vs systems thinking, and lean

    I have snipped them here:

    Complexity is different than systems thinking

    “Lean” towards complexity


    • Rick Ladd

      John – Thanks for the links. Great presentation by Jurgen. The message I get from all of it (aside from the fact it’s a great repository of knowledge and understanding) is the same message I get from Zen and the Dialectic. There is no end; there are no “final” or “complete” answers. There is only continuous (though, like Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge’s Punctuated Equilibrium, not entirely linear or smooth) improvement and adjustment to circumstances. The graphic in my post is now 10 years old. I doubt circumstances will bring me to redo it and include the last 10 years. However, Jurgen’s presentation is definitely going to help me better understand how to view the world. Thanks again.


  • Jack Vinson

    Nice graphic, Rick. Interesting that you decided to add The Goal in there. I don’t see it in the Superfactory article. Comments, thoughts?


    • Rick Ladd

      Hi Jack. Thanks. Eli Goldratt and The Goal are not mentioned in the article, but appear in the graphic at 1984. I just discovered I originally created this graphic in late June of 2002. I don’t recall when I read The Goal, but I was a big supporter of TOC and still believe in its efficacy today; at least as compared to the standard I learned to use when I first joined Rocketdyne, i.e. Critical Path. I haven’t been involved with it for some time, so I can’t really speak to what it means today.

      I think, perhaps, I will spend a little more time over at Knowledge Jolt and get a clearer idea of what you know about TOC and it’s current applications. I have to say I always thought of TOC as being the application of Systems Thinking to the science (and art) of project management. I think it’s somewhat timeless in it’s approach to understanding how things really work in a complex manufacturing environment. I always thought the concept of Critical Chain, along with understanding the Student Syndrome and the use of Buffers, etc. were right on the money.

      As I say in the post, this all came about because of a rumination by Dan regarding the article he linked to. It reminded me of the graphic. I uploaded it to Facebook, where Robert suggested it might make a good blog post and . . . voila!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Appreciate it.


      • Jack Vinson

        I’m doing pretty much all TOC stuff now with my colleagues at P3 Consulting Group ( We’ve got basic information there, and we are getting ready to roll out a new layout of the website soon.

        TOC covers quite a variety of topics, all with the intent of helping the organization focus on what is really going to help them grow. There are applications in manufacturing, distribution / supply chain, project management and sales. And there are a suite of techniques to help people think through just about any situation – people have applied the ideas in healthcare and education as well as the more common commercial applications.


  • Dan Keldsen

    Rick – ah the tiny wheels we spin in this universe. All sorts of connections from the past we could weave into this discussion, and yes, the Lean timeline is far more than events, or people, or technology, or companies… same with Enterprise 2.0, which makes it difficult to sink home without some work. But if people only get the surface level, they won’t ever BE Enterprise 2.0, they’ll just be doing it… sort of. For a while. Until they tire of it.

    Ah, waste not, want not, eh? 😉


    • Rick Ladd

      Yes, indeed, Dan. Some of my experience goes back at least 15 years when I began working with our continuous improvement process as a facilitator. Actually, I decided to do it so I would be forced to speak in front of groups of marginally hostile people. Great way to work on your public speaking chops, eh?

      In my experience, what you have hinted at here is the systemic nature of our involvement. We aren’t in this because it’s fashionable, but because we can see how things fit together and we want to carve out a trajectory that’s a little bit ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting and making use of all those interactions.

      We must grok the gestalt (is that like rock the casbah?) of knowledge management, social media/computing, enterprise 2.0, collaboration, innovation, communication, findability, human interaction, etc. and find ways to help organizations get the most out of their understanding and use. All that, and continue learning – cause we don’t really know squat!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: