Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to examine how "lean" is viewed in academic literature and how it is operationalised. The paper also examines how evidence of lean is accounted for in practice. Design/methodology/approach - This paper discusses a review of 105 international peer-reviewed journals with the purpose of identifying what has been written about lean. All in all, 154 articles featuring lean in the article title are identified and reviewed. Findings - Lean has moved from application only in production to being used in other sectors, such as the public and service sectors. Most contributions are still found in production and supply chain journals, however, and few contributions discuss the basis of lean or provide a clear definition of the meaning of lean. The literature review indicates that there is a low level of operationalisation of the concept of lean, making the concept seem unclear and vague. About one-third of the reviewed articles apply a toolbox view on lean; and, in general, the positive effect of lean is documented in only a few of the articles reviewed. Research limitations/implications - Only those articles published in international, peer-reviewed journals are examined. Discussion of lean, however, might be found in other sources, such as textbooks, conference proceedings and PhD dissertations. Practical implications - Due to the indistinct definitions of lean that were discovered, one should use the concept of lean with care. It is especially important to specify the conditions and to describe the intentions of usage. Originality/value - This paper is the first comprehensive literature review with regard to lean and evidence in relationship to definitions of and assumptions about lean.
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