Look below the waterline to understand Lean


The artifacts and behaviors we can easily observe at Lean companies are only the tip of the iceberg. Waste reduction and other Lean practices, principles and tools like A3, kanban, andon and heijunka, are all important parts of Lean but it is only the tip of the iceberg. You need to look below the waterline.

“Toyota’s tools and techniques, the things you see, are built upon invisible routines of thinking and acting, particularly in management, that differ significantly from those found in most companies.”

Mike Rother in Toyota Kata : Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results

If you want grasp and become Lean you need to look below the waterline.


Below the waterline, you will find the invisible philosophy and the underlying assumptions. It is the philosophy and the assumptions that will over time form your norms and values. Moreover, the norms and values will shape the artifacts and behaviors in your organization. The visible practices, principles and tools are just the current manifestation of the philosophy and the assumptions to solve the current needs.

Long-term business strategy


Lean is a long-term business strategy that will base decisions on a long-term view, even at the expense of short-term financial gains. It is a customer centric, flow efficiency first business strategy. The Lean strategy is to improve flow efficiency first and resource efficiency second. See Lean – a strategy on the path towards Nirvana

Learning and improving


With Lean, there is a strong drive for learning. The continuous strive for perfection is at the core of the Lean philosophy. Lean put a great emphasis on continuous learning and improving. The Lean approach to learning is very pragmatic and has a high focus on practical experiments. Small practical, but scientific, experiments that probe the unknown. The probes tries to validate or invalidate the current understanding of how work works to generate insight and learning. This learning then feeds in to the next experiment toward perfection.

Work centric


Lean is very work centric. The work centric view in Lean is often misunderstood. This is probably due to its dualistic nature. On one hand, Lean says; work should be done in a repeatable and consequent manner. On the other hand, it is constantly changed and fine-tuned.

A great deal of focused is put on how work is done, in a repeatable and consequent manner. The belief is that when work is done in a repeatable and consequent manner, you can learn how your work really works.

Then you can start to run small experiments, making changes to how work is done. The experiments are designed to probe your system of work. They will test what will happen when changes are made to create greater understanding.



Lean is a human strategy that show the greatest respect for the employees. The basic belief is that all employees are doing their best based on how the system of work is set up. If people is not performing to their best ability, it is the fault of the system, not the people.

The greatest source of suggestions for how to improve the system of work should come for the people in the system. The leaders’ main role is to support the people in the system to understand and improve the system of work.











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