“Life after Lean” — Are We There Yet?


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I often see references to “what's next after lean?” I saw two this past week, including the article linked to above.

I have to chuckle, because are we ever “done” with lean? Toyota certainly is not done with lean, nor have they let lean stop evolving (see the “TPS2” concept).

For one, I'm suspicious of those who claim we're moving beyond lean, because they normally have something to sell (such as a software “solution”).

This article is a bit more disturbing, because it says ‘U.S. manufacturing executives are looking for “life after lean.”‘

I'll go out on a limb and say anyone who thinks they are done with lean really doesn't get it.

Am I too skeptical that “lean has become a way of life”? Or do we all still have much much more work to do? I don't think we should be patting ourselves on or collective backs quite yet. Do you see it different?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. “No end to lean” makes some sense, but I wonder if people said the same thing when they talked about big assembly lines and “economies of scale”. What could be better? In fact better was almost the opposite!

    As far as the article and searching for what’s after lean, it’s the classic business pursuit to find the next “thing” that will trump the folks that are eating your lunch. People are looking for that easy fix and, as you noted, someone is always willing to sell!

  2. Ah, so is it possible to have “too much” focus on lean? Is it possible that lean is an “initiative” for a company so much so that it distracts them from other elements of their business?

    That’s the thing I find interesting about Toyota — for them, TPS and the “Toyota Way” *is* their business. For the rest of us, it requires such attention and effort to act differently than our company has always acted… I won’t say lean is ever “too much”, but I might concede that if it’s an all consuming “initiative” and doesn’t become a “way of life”, then you would have diminishing returns from pushing harder.

    This is probably different than the typical “backsliding” where companies just quit working on lean.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. People like a ‘label.’ So if we call it TQM, Lean or Six Sigma. They can learn the tools and implement the ‘program.’ After the program is implemented and the transformation falls significantly short of expectations. Leaders are ready to move to the next big thing. That is one of the big reason I have a problem with labels.

    Toyota of course as you well know does not call it lean. That was a label created to describe the observations of Krafcik, Womack, Jones and others. I personally do not coach lean. I coach finding better ways to get better or improve the way you improve. That is the journey that never ends.


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