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View 3 - What To Do
LeanIntent Framework—What To Do



Executive Leadership Mandate and fund lean training for all, specific to each person's role in the enterprise Globally align around value streams and regularly communicate enterprise vision, goals, and strategies In support of strategies, fund business capabilities to finance portfolios of product/service value streams Create a continuous improvement & innovation culture at all levels of the enterprise
Senior Management Create and staff appropriate lean training programs for all levels and supporting functions Create communities of practice to replace traditional functional units Streamline, simplify, and optimize operations with lean principles & practices and a globally aligned mindset Use digitalization and data analytics to identify opportunities and improve performance
Middle Management Create and manage ongoing training plans for all employees & vendors Build self-organizing, self-managing, cross-functional teams As servant leaders, guide and counsel individuals and teams as necessary Form and lead innovation & improvement activities and ceremonies
Intelligent Workers Embrace change and be a life-long learner Develop cross-functional T-skills as part of a larger value creation unit Cooperatively work together to succeed as a team/unit/value stream for the greater good Regularly reflect on processes, products/ services, and operations to identify opportunities for innovation and improvement 


Lean Transformation

Let the journey begin...

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

Roadmap to the Future

The "What To Do" model view of LeanIntent provides useful information to guide an intelligent enterprise on its lean path. This view is organized into four categories which can be viewed by selecting the tabs above.

The categories and their topics are:

  1. Executive Leadership
    • Practice LEANERSHIP™
    • Align Globally
    • Fund Business Capabilities to Feed Portfolios of Products/Services
    • Create a Lean Culture

  2. Senior Management
    • Create & Fund Lean Training Programs
    • Create CoEs/CoPs
    • Optimize Operations
    • Identify Improvement Opportunities

  3. Middle Management
    • Manage Training Plans
    • Build & Guide Lean Teams
    • Enable Innovation

  4. Intelligent Workers
    • Be a Life-Long Learner
    • Cross-Train & Develop T-skills
    • Collaborate, Trust, & Respect
    • Adapt, Innovate, & Perform

Custom Playbook

Competitive success emerges from a multi-dimensional world of complex internal and external influences and environments within which companies create diversified options in response to the best market opportunities. In this section, companies can create their own lean implementation playbook based on industry best practices and lessons from the field. Here are some quick actions to get started:

  • Train executive leadership in lean, including BoD and C-suite—devote at least one half day of your quarterly off-site
  • Determine which aspects of lean you wish to adopt—these become your strategic adoption themes
  • Present to BoD and return with a charter; get permission to sack those who can’t or won’t make the transition
  • Develop a high level change plan for transformation; begin with how executive leadership will work in a lean manner, and how performance of the next lower level (senior management) will be measured differently than today
  • "Pull" improvements from the customer backwards, don’t push improvements on the organization
  • Communicate the plan to the entire enterprise—expect pushback, but assure them that everyone will be educated in the new ways of business and they can find a place in the company that matches their skills and needs
  • Train senior managers and middle managers in lean and how the organization will change
  • Turn everyone into a lean resource by training all employees in the principles of lean that apply to them and their part of the enterprise, and communicate what’s now expected of them
  • Implement new standard work for executive leadership—lean behavior starts there
  • Begin implementing the change plan—look for managers/leaders who “get it” and will lead the transformation by example
  • Reward those who lead by example. Be prepared to sack those who refuse to change, or are highly resistant; their attitude is toxic, and if allowed to spread, your lean transformation could stall or fail
  • Reorganize as necessary per the "pull" change plan

Manage Change

To become lean requires new ways of thinking, operating, and leading. Einstein said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” The lean journey requires change. Things must change, or you’ll continue to get what you’ve got now. If leadership is not willing to endorse, support, and lead the change from the front, then you’re mostly wasting your time. Even if improvements are made, they will often be short-lived and superficial at best. Embrace and embody lean in both your head and heart. Your enterprise can’t be lean if you aren’t. Here are a few ways you can make a difference:

  • People can only absorb radical change at a certain rate. Don’t bite off more than your organization can manage at any one time
  • As the enterprise becomes lean(ish), promote continuous improvement efforts because they typically cause change to occur in small increments
  • Reduce unnecessary complexity wherever possible. In lean, the simplest design is often more productive than complex ones, and lead to more streamlined flow
  • Keep resource utilization between 80-90% to leverage good variability and respond to unforeseen events
Executive Leadership



Like the captain of a ship, executive leadership is responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen under their command. — Colin O'Neill



In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins considers “Level 5 Leaders” to be among the most successful in the world. This type of leader is “seen as humble, self-effacing as well as more concerned about the success of the company than their individual accomplishment. They demonstrate a strong will plus personal humility. The 5th Level leader shows an unwavering resolution and sets the benchmark for building great companies. In equilibrium, he demonstrates a forceful modesty, relies on inspired standards in addition to channels ambition keen on the company, and not into the character.” (Collins 2001)

The most successful lean transformations to date have been driven top-down by an executive leadership team that made a sincere and determined commitment to fundamentally change their culture, organizational structure, and ways of working. Effective change must be led from the top; where executives walk the talk and lead by example—anything short of truthful transparency regarding where the enterprise is heading and why (i.e., accomplishment of its mission and vision) is easily detected by managers and intelligent workers, and will most likely not be taken seriously.

Lean leadership (LEANERSHIP) is fundamentally distinct from traditional 20th century leadership. Many books and articles have been written on the characteristics of a good leader, and numerous of those have played key roles in creating great wealth and improving the standards of living for billions of people the world over. We owe much to these leaders of the last 100 years for their contributions to our way of life. Unfortunately, that world no longer exists because in the Information Age the rules of business and market behaviors have been rewritten. The 21st century has brought its own challenges, shrinking the world with vast communications networks and making exabytes of data instantly available to the masses. Modern companies continually search for strategies that will give them new competitive advantage or advance emerging markets to fill ever expanding and changing consumer and global demands.

This new class of leader is called a "servant leader." Servant leadership is the cornerstone of a lean intelligent enterprise, and those organizations that embrace the new model are those that will fare best in the years to come.

Align Globally

LEANERSHIP borrows from Eastern philosophies to take a holistic and long term view of an enterprise. Holistic in terms of aligning all aspects of the organization to its singular mission and purpose—having all the oars of a boat pulling in the same direction, if you will. A lean enterprise's long term view differs from traditional 5 & 10 year plans in that the fundamental principles upon which a company is based will be around for a decade or more, but because the world is changing so fast, it doesn't make sense to try to specifically predict a company's products or product lines that far out; rather, how lean will the company be in five years in order to adapt and thrive?

No longer do organizations have the luxury of living with dysfunctional, non-collaborating units, especially in growth and acquisition scenarios. The quicker its business units are aligned in value streams, the better the company's chances to rapidly make course corrections as global demand appetites ebb and flow. Systematizing operations at all levels of an organization using lean principles and best practices provides companies the greatest probability of being adaptable, productive, and profitable in the years ahead.

Fund Business Capabilities to Feed Portfolios of Products/Services

Use strategies to determine which business capabilities to invest more in, leave flat, invest less, or sunset. These decisions will drive how much funding each business unit gets based on the business and technical capabilities for which they are responsible. Because value streams are the fundamental value producer for enterprise products and services, business units then allocate funds to their value streams for product and service development and delivery. For many organizations, this approach is a significant shift from traditional budgeting models in which business functions (e.g., marketing, procurement, training, and compliance) were allocated money directly. In lean, value streams are assisted by those supporting functions; therefore, business functions are allocated a portion of each value stream’s budget based on the amount of support needed for the products or product lines for which that value stream is responsible.

With this approach, there are very few cost centers in a lean enterprise (mostly administrative or R&D units) because the value streams, and by extension their supporting business functions, are considered profit centers. An additional benefit of funding products and services directly is that supporting business functional units are only as large as they need to be, and no larger, since each value stream is charged with their own fiduciary responsibility and accountability.

Lean portfolios, when implemented correctly, are powerful mechanisms for effectively managing the funding of an enterprise’s initiatives and ongoing operations. Unlike traditional portfolios that typically contain only capital-funded projects, a lean portfolio apportions both capital expenses (CapEx) and operational expenses (OpEx) to each value stream given the organization’s desired capital expansion plans and known operational run-rate.

Create a Lean Culture

Creating a lean culture is one of the most challenging aspects of an organization’s transformation to a lean intelligent enterprise. A corporate culture has significant inertia—it’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier; it doesn’t happen quickly and it takes a lot of energy to maneuver something of that magnitude.

As presented in numerous case studies of successful lean organizations, leadership by example is the most expeditious and effective means to modify culture. But leading by example requires sufficient knowledge to know what to do and how to act, so executive management must take the time to become educated in lean concepts, principles, and transformational schemas. A two-day off-site training session specifically designed for Board members and executives provides an auspicious start, followed by periodic facilitated planning events focused on the transformational strategies and activities needed to begin the enterprise’s lean journey.

Investing in its people is what sets a lean enterprise apart from most other companies. This also includes investing to change the style of leadership in the company from traditional forms of leadership to “enabler” and “servant leader” (LEANERSHIP).

Senior Management



Any definition of value that does not come from the customer is wishful thinking at best. — Colin O'Neill


Create & Fund Lean Training Programs

Proper training for all employees is critical to lean transformation success. When we say lean training, we’re not just talking about creating Six Sigma yellow belts around the organization, we mean teaching basic lean concepts and principles that transcend many specific training programs widely offered today. In LeanIntent, lean is defined as “as a way of thinking, organizing, operating, and being” and each employee, to act in a lean manner, must understand and be grounded in these four themes.

Senior managers are responsible for ensuring that effective, widespread lean programs are established and adequately funded across the enterprise. Obviously, it is impossible to train all employees at the same time, so cogent strategies for teaching and enabling lean behavior are often phase-based. Training should be timed to best support lean operations, preferably as value streams are identified, mobilized, and operationalized.

Create CoEs/CoPs

As we know, lean enterprises are organized around their value streams, not traditional functional units. However, the affiliated communities of employees into which functional units naturally coalesced can still be realized through centers of excellence (CoEs) or communities of practice (CoPs). Instead of employees reporting directly to functional managers, they report to managers of units within value streams and assume a dotted-line relationship to a CoE/CoP. Former functional managers become CoE/CoP leaders who are responsible for the professional development of employees whose roles map to their functional area. CoE/CoP leaders are also charged with establishing work standards for their members, assisting employees with career development paths, and ensuring that each member receives the proper lean education relevant to their specialty.

It is incumbent on senior managers to effect this organizational and reporting structure shift. Changes of this nature take time, and are often fraught with dissension and resistance, but the end result of this approach is streamlined operations and value creation.

Optimize Operations

Once value streams and CoPs/CoEs have been established, with the appropriate transference of reporting relationships, senior managers should turn their attention to improving operational flow. In this stage, lean basics are applied and managed, further necessitating timely and proper training for all involved parties.

Working with operational leads, senior managers develop strategies regarding which areas to focus on first. Leading candidates are those operational areas that exhibit the greatest delays, most significant bottlenecks, or are not adding value to the enterprise’s product/service portfolio.

Identify Improvement Opportunities

To identify opportunities for improvement across their organization, senior managers must have a firm grasp on the principles of lean operations. The effective creation of value depends on key concepts such as continuous synchronous flow, queue lengths, batch sizes, cadence, synchronization, transport, handoffs, inventory levels, multiplexing, and throughput constraints. Many problem areas can be discerned from large information radiators posted at different points in the product/service development and delivery flow. This is known as the “go see” approach, where senior managers visit the locations where value is being created. In certain operations, data analytics and statistical trending provide sufficient identification of improvement opportunities.

Middle Management



Don’t push improvements on your organization, pull them through the value stream; start with the customer and work backwards. — Colin O'Neill


Manage Training Plans

How can we expect intelligent workers in our organization to be lean if we don’t give them the necessary knowledge, context, and tools? Middle managers are responsible for ensuring that each employee, regardless of pay grade or job title, has been adequately trained in the lean mindset and understands the reasons why the enterprise has chosen this operating model. Training plans are central to confidently knowing that each employee has received, and will continue to receive, the training necessary to be effective in their role.

As part of an extended value stream, vendors, suppliers, and other business partners must also have an adequate understanding of lean concepts and values. These entities should be required to keep training records of a similar nature, and make them available to enterprise managers tasked with ensuring compliance.

Build & Guide Lean Teams

Small, self-organizing, self-managing, cross-functional, dedicated, empowered lean teams are the backbone of a lean enterprise. Teams of people do the work, and middle managers are responsible for creating, nurturing, and guiding them on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. Peter Drucker said “Workers are knowledge workers if they know more about the work they perform than their bosses.” This statement implies that middle managers must be servant leaders to their teams, not directing their every move, but creating an environment within which they can succeed. There is much to learn about enabling and guiding lean teams, including what it takes to be an effective servant leader, so middle managers especially need additional training and encouragement in this area.

Enable Innovation

An aspect of guiding lean teams is ensuring there are opportunities for their members to collect their thoughts and allow innovative ideas flow. Many of us have experienced flashes of inspiration that come when we least expect it, typically when we’re not focused on work, but when our minds can run free such as when we’re driving a car, daydreaming, or showering. This is how innovation often appears—from introspective moments when intelligent workers can reflect on what they are doing and how they can make the enterprise better.

Studies have shown that the majority of innovative ideas come from the workers themselves, those who are closest to the work, creating value on a daily basis. Sometimes innovation arises from workers who are exasperated with current operations because they have to work harder or longer than they should, so they derive a better, faster way for their own benefit as well as that of the organization. At other times, teams are given the time and space to experiment with new product, services, or features that they believe end users (like themselves) would buy. Middle managers should afford lean teams regular liberty to do just that.

Intelligent Workers



Build value, not stuff. — Colin O'Neill


Be a Life-long Learner

Intelligent workers are almost always life-long learners—their careers depend on it. The rate of change in business and the technologies that workers use is quite rapid today, so to not keep up with change is to quickly become superfluous. But learning out of survival, and wanting to learn due to an intrinsic desire to become better at something, are quite different. Lean enterprises typically hire and retain only those who have demonstrated an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, recognizing that eager learners add more value to the organization because of their proclivity to embrace change as an opportunity rather than a threat. With the encouragement of middle managers and other servant leaders, intelligent workers should develop the tendency to continually learn more because it benefits them and is the right thing to do.

Cross-Train & Develop T-skills

All lean organizations have a culture of cross-training their employees. They do it for two reasons: 1) to increase the flexibility of their workforce as market needs and demand levels fluctuate, and 2) to create deeper value of enterprise workers who develop a broader understanding of the business itself, thus sparking creative application of resources and frequent innovation.

A lean enterprise wants people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and learn additional skills for the reasons stated above. Not only do individuals with T-skills become more well-rounded and valuable in the job market, but teams become more collaborative, more tight-knit, and their members have more fun.

Collaborate, Trust, & Respect

Working in small, lean teams is not for everyone—it requires daily interaction with other team members (who you may or may not like), more frequent and direct communications, and trust that others on the team are doing their best to succeed as a unit. To excel, lean teams respect their members as well as other teams with which they operate. Respect and collaboration improve when individuals are cross-trained, giving them a finer appreciation of the work other team members are performing.

Adapt, Innovate, & Perform

Given that intelligent workers are life-long learners, cross-trained with enhanced T-skills, and able to work closely with others on a team, they are better prepared to adapt to changing circumstances. Lean teams are generally hyper-performing, meaning their close collaboration results in elevated, sustainable levels of performance and productivity. When provided appropriate opportunities to reflect and innovate, lean teams are an enterprise’s greatest asset for discovering new products, services, and market opportunities.

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