Since the Neolithic revolution, humans have built hierarchical organizations with command-and-control leadership. This was the paradigm inherited by Frederick Taylor, who believed that managers should define the work and workers should perform it.  Lean represented a departure from this, with just-in-time horizontal workflow across silos and managers developing employees as problem-solvers who could in turn develop the organization.However, in most organizations that have embraced Lean, including Toyota, the pyramid shape still persists. This does not fit well with the type of organizations we see emerging in the near future. Our world will be disrupted by exponentially developing technology, in automation of all routine work, shorter employee tenures and organizational lifespans, dynamic freelance markets and an increasing desire for self-actualization. Spontaneous generation and dissolution of organizations and loosely coupled networks of organizations will be the norm rather than the exception. We call this the Post-Lean Future because many of the assumptions behind traditional Lean are seemingly invalidated.

In this article we describe the Post-Lean Future and its ramifications. We 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.

Last revised: July 8, 2015

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