The Four Themes of Lean


“Get the fundamentals down and the level of everything you do will rise.” - Michael Jordan

The last week has been exciting in that I got to talk to and hear from a host of friends and colleagues relative to lean thinking. It's amazing how many people are running on parallel tracks as we all work towards building cultures of continuous improvement.

The question I posed last week was around identifying common themes inside many of the books that have been written on lean and business excellence. I wasn’t surprised to receive several comments and great feedback. The answer to my question seemed obvious and intuitive to many people, which makes me think many of us are watching the same movie. Perhaps this has something to do with our collective experience and lessons learned?

The four main themes I received from other lean thinkers included: Culture, Leadership, People, and Process. 

These are exactly the four common themes that emerged during my self review of several well-known and respected books on lean and business excellence.

However, there may be something missing when we build on these four words. We are missing descriptors in order to make the themes actionable. Descriptors that can be used in order to understand what we need to do in order to progress forward.

Taking this into consideration, the themes - or actions - become:

  • Cultural Alignment
  • Leadership Participation
  • People Engagement
  • Process Improvement

Over the next four weeks we can dive a little deeper into each one individually. For now, let’s look at a short definition of each fundamental principle:

The Four Main Themes of Lean and Business Excellence

Cultural Alignment: The entire organization and business improvement system is connected to the purpose, vision, and values of the organization and drives transparency, commitment, and improved decision making based on value to the customer.

Leadership Participation: Leadership is committed to behaviors based on participation, collaboration, and actions driven by agreed-upon targets, objectives, and operating principles. Leaders understand and support the value of a rigorous management system to guide our work.

People Engagement:  The organization is committed to the development of people, and leadership ensures that improvement opportunities are identified, problem solved, and realized by the people who do the work.

Process Improvement:  The organization understands that the customer feels the impact of the aggregate performance of all processes across the extended value stream.  We are committed to process discipline and improving processes at the functional level and across functions (value streams) within the entire organization.

The next four weeks should be fun as we dive deeper into each of these core fundamentals and learn from dialogue and discussion.

And so, I leave you with a question:

How would you describe cultural alignment and what it requires us to focus on in today’s business environment of constant change?


Posted by Robert Martichenko

blog author

Robert is CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group. He is also a speaker and award-winning author of several business books - including "Discovering Hidden Profit" and his first novel - "Drift and Hum." Robert has spent over 25 years learning and implementing lean and operational excellence with a focus on end-to-end supply chain management across a wide array of industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and an MBA.

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Lessons in Lean : Lessons in Leadership - The Blog

There is no question that building an organizational culture of continuous improvement is a progressive evolution that takes time. In this blog, Robert Martichenko discusses his lessons learned while building these cultures in our new world of constant disruption - sharing key knowledge that will lead today’s business leaders down the path toward discovering hidden profit. 

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