What is the Post-Lean Future?

Exponential technologies are rapidly disrupting mature industries and firms. The Internet provides instant reach at near-zero cost, 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing. Computing power and software is fueling a tremendous development in robotics. Driverless cars and drone delivery have moved from science fiction to reality. Advances in machine learning not only makes feasible the automation of subtle tasks, it also makes possible new services centered around discovering valuable patterns of information.

Repetitive jobs that cannot be automated (yet) by software and robots are migrating to marketplace organizations like Uber. Just like jobs are being decoupled from work, asset usage is being decoupled from ownership, yielding the sharing economy.

Leaders of organizations with legacy assets, business models and technologies worry that they are too slow, too costly and too inflexible to keep pace. Continuous improvement, as advocated by traditional Lean Management, is not enough.

Traditional Lean also emphasizes Lean Leadership, a leadership style where employees are developed as independent problem-solvers. Managers function more like teachers than “bosses”. But now long-term employment has become a thing of the past.

For startups we are about to see Golden Age that will make the birth of the commercial Internet seem like small potatoes. The threshold for leaving an established firm and founding your own disruptive startup is lower than ever.

For mature firms, exponential technologies can be their undoing. We still need to involve people in organizational learning. We still need to develop people. But we have to do this in a new way that fits with and takes advantage of exponential technologies. We refer to this new era as the Post-Lean Future because traditional Lean Thinking is no longer adequate.

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Value Creation in the Post-Lean Future: How exponential technologies are changing the game for mature firms

This e-book provides a big-picture history of how today’s organizations came to be, shows why they will no longer work well, and provides concrete suggestions for boards and CEOs who wish to retain innovative employees and create new shareholder value.

White Papers

Higher-Order Organizations and the Post-Lean Future

In this article we describe the Post-Lean Future and discuss the tension between just-in-time organizations and developing people. We suggest higher-order organizations, organizations that generate other organizations, as a possible way out, preserving the relevance of Lean for tomorrow’s organizations.

Lean Leadership in a Disruptive World

Lean Leadership is a leadership style that focuses on developing subordinates as problem-solvers and innovators so they can evolve the organization faster. In this article we discuss existing obstacles to Lean Leadership, how these are about to grow much larger due to disruptive technology, and what the road ahead might look like.

Extending Lean for Knowledge Work: A Retrospective

Over the last decade, the Lean Systems Institute has helped non-manufacturing and knowledge-intensive organizations that wanted to improve execution and become Learning Organizations. This white paper discusses how we extended Toyota’s Lean for this purpose and reviews some lessons learned.