Lean 4.0: nothing but rebranding good old Lean Manufacturing?

Skeptics and critical thinkers (I count myself to the latter) may argue that Lean 4.0 is nothing more than a rebranding of good old Lean Manufacturing, and new opportunity to sell refurbished Lean Manufacturing training and consulting, boosted by the Industry 4.0 hype.

You have no clue what Lean 4.0 is? Read my post: What is Lean 4.0?

>Lisez cet article en français

It may be true, it may be more than that, but by the end of the day, if the name sticks and the community adopt and use it, it will make no difference.

Lean was known by many names before Lean

First thing to remember, in the early 1980s Lean was known by many names before ‘Lean’ was finally widely adopted.

I can’t remember but I assume that hardliners of that time had welcomed Lean as a mere rebranding of their beloved ‘just-in-time’ or ‘Japanese methods’, among the many names that were buzzing around then.

Nevertheless, Lean (manufacturing) made its way into industrial parlance before spreading to business at large, dropping the ‘manufacturing’ suffix on its way. Less than a decade later, the same criticism about rebranding would have ridiculed their author as the name Lean was totally accepted, fashionable and used.

Marketing of the opportunists

Each time a concept gets attention, is hype, opportunists coming out of the blue turn themselves into year-long experts overnight. It happened with Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, Operational Excellence, DDMRP and many more. With them, training courses and consulting offers soon flourish.

Some organizations propose to separate wheat from the chaff with certification programs, colored belts, etc. But in essence those are opportunists too, surfing the trendy wave. It doesn’t take long until ‘serious’ organizations come up with standards to stick to, and the compliance audits to sell. That’s business. It is unavoidable. And somehow I am part of it.

I like the idea of Lean 4.0

Despite the skeptics and the opportunists, I like the idea of Lean 4.0 as an evolution of Lean in the digital age. At the time of writing this post (March 2019), I have only the intuition that, even so Lean is highly adaptive, the technological wave and the growing digitalization will have an impact on Lean. Its adaptations and paradigm shifts may well justify to name it Lean 4.0.

Time will tell if more people share my points of view, if the name Lean 4.0 will make its way to general adoption and if it will stick. If not, a final post on the subject will close it. Until then you may be interested to subscribe to this blog and be notified for each new post.

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One thought on “Lean 4.0: nothing but rebranding good old Lean Manufacturing?

  1. Hi Chris,

    Seems this old horse just won’t die a peaceful death… So, in keeping with that analogy, it’s my contention that putting labels on things, although necessary and beneficial at times, can be very detrimental; particularly when it comes to very broad and complex subjects that possess a long evolutionary history. Accordingly, when it comes to the notion of LEAN MANUFACTURING or just simply LEAN, it’s evolutionary heritage encompasses many different thoroughbred breeds. That being the case, it’s impossible to determine exactly which elements within the DNA of today’s most competitively viable form of LEAN – as manifest by the combination of the Toyota Production SYSTEM and the Toyota WAY – came from which ancestral branch. For certain, TRUE LEAN – as a manifest form of THINKING AND BEHAVING – is NOT a pure bred. In fact, as is very often the case in Nature, the most robust creatures are those which possess a diverse genetic heritage. So, too it is with TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING.

    In this regard, TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING – regardless of its age or evolutionary stage – is continuously evolving and adapting itself (in whatever organization it might be present in) to better address the competitive demands of its current and foreseeable environment. Ergo, to label it is akin to interfering with its evolutionary trajectory and is putting anyone or any organization who buys into the label in jeopardy of encumbering their adaptive evolutionary response capabilities; especially if those capabilities rely heavily on continually being an aggressive “LEARNING” entity.

    Bottom Line: There is now, has been for some time, and will likely always be a genetically superior form of TRUE LEAN THINKING AND BEHAVING. It’s a moving target and exactly what form it will take on at any point in the future will be determined by the prevailing environmental conditions that happen to come into existence. Therefore, the best strategy to employ in the never-ending pursuit of operational excellence via on-going continuous improvement is to remain very flexible and highly-adaptable and to always be on the look-out for a higher-order state-of-being that can be pursued/embraced/adapted relative to what already exists. And doing so will NEVER be a sole endeavor. Rather, it will ALWAYS be a COLLECTIVE endeavor; most likely driven by a highly COMPELLING TRUE NORTH ORIENTATION.


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