The term lean was first used by Womack, Jones and Roos to describe the Toyota Production system. It means far more than simply cutting costs, as the history of lean production shows.
In the early 20th century, American car manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors developed mass production systems. These allowed car manufacturers to produce thousands of identical cars, using standardised parts and components. The moving production line was introduced, where the car body moved along a conveyor belt, and at each stage, factory workers added components to it until the finished product came off the production line. The resulting economies of scale meant that the motor car became much more affordable to the average family.
In 1950, Eiji Toyoda, an engineer, and member of the family that started the Toyota Company, visited the Ford Rouge plant in Detroit. He studied the production techniques being used at Ford closely and on return to Japan discussed them with his production manager Taiichi Ohno. The two of them came to the conclusion that the methods used at Ford could not be copied directly at Toyota