Lean 4.0: does Lean need a version numbering system?

In the hype of Industrie 4.0, many things have been rebranded 4.0 with the hope to appear modern, trendy, fashionable and up-to-date. At least in Western Europe.

Note: in French and German, Industry is written industrie. Phonetically they are the same as in English.

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Probe your search engine and you’ll find among many others management 4.0, scrum and SAFe 4.0, maintenance 4.0, so why not Lean 4.0?

In a previous post I proposed a definition of Lean 4.0, not for the hope to (make Lean) appear modern, trendy, fashionable and up-to-date, but to name the assumed possible and desirable synergy between Lean and Industrie 4.0. It is not a new version of Lean, but the either the application of Lean altogether with the 4.0 technologies or enabling 4.0, brought to another level thanks to 4.0 technologies, etc.

Now assuming that the idea of aligning Lean 4.0 with Industry 4.0 is (or will be) accepted, one may ask what are Lean 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 then? And does Lean need a version numbering system anyway?

Does Lean need a version numbering system?

The short answer to this question is no. Lean does not need versioning. As Jay Bitsack, long follower and critical reader of this blog, commented on my post What is Lean 4.0? Lean is “highly-adaptive and continually evolving”. I share this point of view until proven false.

Yet if we agree that Lean evolved and continues to evolve and the community of practitioners is not uniformly understanding nor applying Lean principles, the idea of versioning is not that stupid.

In a Youtube video posted in February 2010 on the Lean Enterprise Institute channel and titled “Stuck in the Tool Age?”, Jim Womack is suggesting a kind of Lean 1.0, which is not a version of Lean itself, but a “version” of the understanding of Lean. Still now, some Lean practitioners are more advanced than others, so versioning can make sense, in order to get some clarity about their current “Lean maturity”.

The “versions” of Lean

Elaborating on this idea that versions of Lean describe how the Lean thinking, Lean principles and tools are understood and applied, suggesting that the “Tool Age” is Lean 1.0 and there is a Lean 4.0 face to face with Industry 4.0, what are the other versions of Lean?

To me Lean Management would correspond to Lean 2.0, when people understand that there is a bonding philosophy behind the collection of tools, and the mere application of tools to cure the temporary pains (i.e. solve problems as they appear) will not end up with a sustainable high performing organization.

What is Lean 3.0 then? Well, if we follow the Lean thought leaders, using Lean as a strategy or for a strategic purpose could well be Lean 3.0. Again, this is not a version of Lean itself as the strategic intent or the setting of the True North is embedded in Jeff Liker’s first principle of The Toyota Way. These 14 Management Principles of The Toyota Way have been revealed in the book of the same name in 2004.

Summing up

Lean remains Lean, its principles and tools remain valid, they evolve and adapt. In this Lean continuum, people and organizations adopt the “versions” sequentially as they progress in their Lean journey. The Lean “versions” are not versions of Lean but rather how Lean is understood and applied. This versioning is a convenient and shorter way to categorize the overall Lean maturity stages.

Lean “version” Usually referred to as… Main characteristics, how Lean is understood and applied
Lean 1.0 The tool age – Lean is a nice toolbox
– Cherry picking among the Lean tools and principles, apply them to solve local problems without any holistic view
Lean 2.0 Lean Management – There is a philosophy behind the tools
– Lean is a learning journey
– Develop people as problem solvers and lean thinkers
Lean 3.0 Lean as a strategy Use Lean as a means to achieve your organization’s Goal
Lean 4.0 Smart Lean
Lean Industry 4.0
– Enabler of Industry 4.0 (I4.0)
– Lean brought to the next level by IoT and I4.0 technologies
– Synergy with I4.0 tech

Comments welcome

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One thought on “Lean 4.0: does Lean need a version numbering system?

  1. Hi Chris,

    IMO – The answer to this question is ABSOLUTELY NOT. Why you might wonder? Well let’s start with language as an example. No matter what country or society you might belong to – since the dawn of human civilization – language has been essential to human progress. And, WITHOUT QUESTION, languages have gone through a process of continual evolution. And never once have I ever come across anything referring to the likes of ENGLISH Version 1 or ENGLISH Version 2… Why? It’s because adding a version number makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Language is undergoing continual evolution. What spurs any sort of dramatic evolutionary change is likely to be a combination of factors, but early on change was slow to happen. But now, with near light speed communication on a global basis and constant sharing of information and increasing need to communicate efficiently and effectively both within and between countries, the notion of a standardized/universal language is becoming increasing relevant.

    So too, the same can be said for Lean. Yes, there have been many “dialects” spoken over the years. But the reality of the matter is that there’s been enough of a realization that some dialects are better than others. Accordingly, there’s a growing/heightened likelihood of a convergence taking place relative to what constitutes the most MEANINGFULLY USEFUL (aka VALUE-ADDING) Body of Knowledge that’s representative of TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING. As such, a more universal form of LEAN; is most likely to be one based primarily on the notion of what constitutes TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING patterns within an organization and how those manifest patterns might be captured in universal standard (i.e., the combination of the Toyota Production SYSTEM and the Toyota WAY).

    Finally, as is that case with any Complex Adaptive System (CAS), the Toyota Production SYSTEM – in combination with the Toyota WAY, will continue to evolve and adapt to the prevailing conditions that happen to exist at any point in time across the various global operating environments in which Toyota happens to have its operations. In this regard, the Body of Knowledge (and therefore the PRACTICE OF TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING) will continue to evolve and adapt as needed. Therefore, it’s not unreasonable to expect that “language of TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING” will also evolve.


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