Today we released a small, but important new section on our web site called Themes.
The Themes section helps new visitors navigate three key areas of research and client work for the Lean Systems Institute (LSI) since our founding more than ten years ago:
- Lean in the 21st Century – this section contains information about the Lean Systems Framework™, our reinvention of Lean for modern knowledge-intensive organizations.
- Leadership Development – this section discusses the challenges of leading, developing and motivating people in today’s turbulent world, where employee tenures are short and the desire to learn and to have an impact is higher than ever.
- Post-Lean – here we summarize our most recent research on how mature organizations must respond to the threat (and opportunity) of exponential technologies. Continuous improvement, as advocated by Traditional Lean will not be sufficient, and firms will need to change their structure and the expectations of the employee-employer relationship. We predict that many firms will seek to become innovation platforms wherein employees work to constantly develop new, disruptive ventures which function as tiny organizations of their own. We call such firms higher-order organizations.
So where is Lean headed?
When the ideas behind Lean were first integrated at Toyota, they broke with Frederick Taylor’s view that workers should be trained and supervised by managers, who in turn would design and plan the work. Lean showed how in a production world you could involve the entire workforce in improving organizational performance – and strategy as well. Managers were to act as mentors, not traditional “bosses”.
When LSI was founded, it was clear to us we had to generalize and extend it for use beyond production work. This resulted in the Lean Systems Framework™. However, now we find that it isn’t just that the nature of work that has changed as we have entered our modern knowledge economy. New technologies are also contributing to decoupling a lot of things that we used to assume belonged together:
- Asset ownership and services (counter-example: Uber vs Taxis)
- Jobs and work (34% of the U.S. workforce now work as freelancers)
- Assets ownership and usage (counter-example: Airbnb vs Hotels)
- Developing people and retaining them (average employee tenures are nowhere near the lifetime employment seen at Toyota)
Consider the three key components of Lean Management:
- Organizing work for just-in-time flow
- Developing people as problem-solvers (Lean Leadership)
- Continuous improvement performed by everyone
In the organizations now emerging that utilize exponential technology, workers who perform repetitive tasks have no long-range assurance of professional development. They are dispatched and evaluated by software until such time as their jobs can be automated. This represents a temporary resurgence of Taylorism.
Even the knowledge workers at the core, those who write the software, may not stay that long, they may very well go off and start their own ventures. Mature firms face a real challenge retaining their most entrepreneurial employees as the threshold for going off on your own is lower than ever.
As technologies and competitors evolve, firms will have to reorganize faster and more frequently than before. Ensuring that everyone retains the knowledge and skills needed to innovate will be a challenge. Also, much of the organizational learning taking place will rely on machine learning to spot patterns – opportunities or potential problems – before they become visible to people.
It is the breakdown of so many of the assumptions from the world in which Lean arose that made us decide to use the term Post-Lean. The various pieces of Lean are still relevant, but they have to be reassembled in new ways.