4 Essentials for Building a Lean Culture

Lean organizational culture helps manufacturing organizations to stay on track with Lean in the long run. The Lean culture is critical for sustainability; and to change it, you have to change your management system. If you stop following through Lean practices because things seem stable and in control, it is certain that you will soon face unstable and out-of-control processes. Lean management culture is crucial to the success of Lean production, because it both sustains and extends the gains from establishing Lean procedures.

The Outside-In perspective expands the traditional way of perceiving Lean, which is very internally focused into organization’s activities. ‘Outside’ means looking at the organization with your customers’ eyes. Thus, Outside-In refers to improving organization’s internal functions with a customer-oriented perspective. Let’s discuss, how Lean organizational culture, i.e. the Lean management system, can be extended with the Outside-In perspective. I will explain the idea of Outside-In Lean in more details later in this article, but in short it’s about expanding the traditional Lean culture with customer-orientation.


To get maximum effect for organizational improvement, implement your Lean management system extended with Outside-In perspective as early in your Lean conversion process as possible. Use the techniques related to Outside-In to maximize the value your processes produce to customers and then Lean techniques to optimize those processes from internal perspective.

The basic outline for creating a Lean culture or management system is quite simple. But, keep in mind that, even simple systems require close attention and maintenance to run smoothly. You should build your Lean culture on the following essential elements: make the customer everyone’s business, standardize work for managers, have daily accountability and require discipline.

1. Make the customer everyone’s business: The customer is the very reason for an organization to exist. There is no need for Lean process management without customers, because there would not be any processes to manage, right? So, make the customer everyone’s business, because if their wage is paid by the customer, they should think how what they do contributes to successful customer outcomes that their organization should be producing. Getting rid of useless processes is more effective than tweaking them.

2. Standardize work for managers: People are not machines, so it is impossible to standardize everything. Managers and especially leaders should have sensitive ears and eyes for what is going on around them. However, it is possible to standardize some aspects of managers’ work to make sure that everyone delivers within same levels. Standardized work (for example task list) presents a clearly stated recipe for management, making it easier to evaluate managers’ effectiveness. That standard should not be solely build on internal tasks; it should also include evaluating processes from an Outside-In perspective.

3. Have daily accountability: Having brief accountability meetings every day is a great way to concentrate your efforts on active improvement (for example compare to daily Scrum meetings). In these meetings you can go through shortly what happened yesterday and what you can do today to make things better. Do not hold accountability meetings to share information of low relevance, or to have long discussions. While having these meetings remember to assign responsibility for the necessary tasks. And it is not forbidden to have customers join the meeting if that serves the purpose.

4. Require discipline: you can think of your Lean management system using a motorcycle metaphor. Standardized work is its ‘engine’ and your daily accountability process represents its ‘gas throttle and steering rod’.  Discipline is the ‘fuel’ that keeps the motorcycle running and the customer is ‘the driver’. Having all the elements of your Lean management system in place is not enough, because each has to be observed individually for the system as a whole to work.


For the Outside-In Lean methodology to thrive in your organization, it must permeate your culture and earn top management’s support in the same way as any process improvement endeavor. Since both Outside-In and Lean are specific ways of thinking, helping others adopt these mind-sets is a big part of ensuring the success. Transforming your organization requires considerable effort. The traditional and new way vary widely, so a conversion requires you to re-educate everyone in the organization, beginning with yourself. As an Outside-In Lean advocate, you are asking people to adopt habits and practices that are the exact opposite of what they are accustomed to doing.

To educate people (including yourself) about Outside-In thinking I recommend you to participate in a CEM (Customer Expectation Management) method training. You should also train yourself to Lean thinking and combine these two to get the best of both worlds. Do not hesitate to have other professionals help you, because they have knowledge on that kind of projects in other organizations.


pixelstats trackingpixel

By Janne Ohtonen @ For a FREE process leadership book - CLICK HERE | November 28, 2012

3 Responses to 4 Essentials for Building a Lean Culture

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *