The Characteristics of a Lean Organization

About John Bicheno

In his series The Lean Toolbox, author John Bicheno lists 20 key elements of Lean organizations. These elements summarize the work of Lean masters (including James Womack, Daniel Jones, Richard Schonberger, Eliyahu Goldratt, and Masaaki Imai) and management experts such as Peter Drucker. (Don’t forget that all of these people based their work on the early masters: the Toyodas, Henry Ford, and Taiichi Ohno.)


20 Keys


  1. The customer is the starting and ending point.
  2. Think simplicity.
  3. Reduce or remove waste.
  4. Think in terms of process.
  5. Increase visibility and transparency wherever possible.
  6. Encourage routine and standardization.
  7. Make flow as constant and smooth as possible.
  8. Pull at the customer’s rate, rather than pushing the product through.
  9. Get the timing right. Starting work at the optimal time will increase flexibility and reduce waste and risk.
  10. Be proactive and preventative rather than reactive.
  11. Keep production and process timelines as short as possible.
  12. Make continuous improvement a priority for everyone.
  13. Encourage internal and external players to be partners rather than competitors.
  14. Create a supply chain that creates value.
  15. Remember Gemba: go to where the action is and seek the facts.
  16. Reduce variation where possible.
  17. Encourage participation and accountability from all employees.
  18. When making changes, start with the smallest component and build up.
  19. Build trust internally and externally by sharing information and acting as a partner.
  20. Build and distribute knowledge throughout the organization.