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Work Management for Teams

6 Steps to Become a Lean Organization

Published By Emily Peterson


In previous posts, we’ve talked about the benefits of becoming a Lean organization. We’ve looked at Lean’s guiding principles, and how it’s been used to help organizations continuously improve the way they work and how they develop products. In this article, we’re going to take it a step further and explore the steps necessary to becoming a Lean organization. By doing so, you’ll be on the path to become a Lean-driven company like Intel, Nike, and countless others.

Let’s get started.


The first step to becoming a Lean organization is determining why you want to adopt Lean practices in the first place.

  • What are your goals and objectives?
  • What do you hope to achieve from becoming a Lean organization?
  • Why are you personally interested in Lean principles?

Perhaps you’re interested in Lean because you’re tired of feeling overwhelmed at work. Or, maybe you want you and your team members to accomplish more in less time, so you feel less overwhelmed and more connected to the organization, delivering value that matters. There are a number of great reasons to introduce Lean to your organization, but if you want to stay committed to your Lean practices, you need to have at least one personal reason that motivates you.


Getting people to change old habits and adopt a new work management philosophy is tough. Most people are set in their ways and don’t want to change. If they’re not constantly encouraged to follow Lean principles, workers will probably slip back into the old way of doing things. This is why we encourage you to identify personal reasons to introduce Lean, because if you’re the Agile leader, you’re the Lean champion who pushes everyone to constantly improve.

Of course, if you’re tasked with creating an entire Lean organization from the grassroots level all the way to the boardroom, you’ll need some help. We recommend finding an executive champion—someone in a C-level leadership position who supports your initiatives and can help you implement Lean at the company level.

Just how important are executive champions? Very. We surveyed 3,000 Lean practitioners and found that 69% of the teams working under the guidance of an executive leader outperformed teams without Lean-friendly executives.

For this reason, it’s essential that you find someone in the upper ranks who supports your initiatives and will build a Lean-driven organization.


Lean may be a collection of simple, easy-to-understand concepts, but actually following those principles is challenging. If you’re creating a Lean organization, you must lead by example. You must do more than simply memorize Lean concepts—you have to actually understand and apply them. And this isn’t a one-time thing, either. Learning Lean should be an ongoing endeavor, so that you’re able to apply Lean to an ever-changing professional landscape. You can do this by reading popular Lean blogs, listening to podcasts and webinars, and reading books exploring new areas of Lean theory.


After you’ve learned Lean principles and begin to feel comfortable applying it in practice, the next step is to map your value stream. If you’re new to the whole process, value stream mapping is when you create a flowchart-like map that illustrates the steps in your production from start to finish. Value stream mapping does more than create a visual representation of your product’s development, however. It’s also a powerful tool for analyzing and improving various steps within the operation, as well as understanding how value flows through the different teams within your organization.


Thanks to your value stream map, you now have a visual representation of all the steps involved in your process. Your next task is to take those steps and turn them into lanes in a Kanban board. This will allow you to see tasks and items move through the value stream in real-time, making it easier to identify and correct any issues as they arise.

An essential tool for Lean organizations, Kanban boards enable teams to analyze and optimize processes for maximum value creation. You can use a Kanban board to:

  • Pinpoint bottlenecks and stoppages preventing teams from completing a task
  • Record and assess time spent on each step in the workflow
  • Prioritize tasks, ensuring that teams stay focused on reaching their goals

Basically, Kanban makes it easier to complete value delivery more effectively. If you’d like to learn more about Kanban and how you can use it in your Lean organization, take a look at our Kanban Roadmap ebook.


It’s common for most people to have a fear of failure.

With the Lean approach, however, organizations embrace failure and what you learn from failing fast. After all, a core part of the Lean methodology is driving innovation, and failure is a part of the innovative process. When we discourage people to take risks and fail, we discourage innovation as well.

In other words, Lean organizations understand that experience is a great teacher. When teams fail quickly, they have an opportunity to learn what went wrong. That way, they can approach problems differently based on previous experiences, experimenting with different approaches until they come up with a solution that works.

While celebrating failure might sound like a strange approach, it’s actually an integral part of the Lean’s drive for continuous improvement. Remember, one of your primary goals under the Lean approach is to decrease the time between production and feedback. Every time you make adjustments after feedback, you’re experimenting with your product to make it better. You’re removing the elements that were considered a failure, creating a better product as a result. For this reason, Lean organizations believe it’s important to fail early and fail often. That way, they can learn from their mistakes, experiment, and improve their product to better meet the customer’s needs and expectations.


Adopting Lean practices is one of the most effective ways to transform your business. Lean adds value, simplicity, and clarity to your organization. Instead of focusing on specific tasks at hand, Lean asks that employees and management focus on one primary objective: continuous improvement.

Innovative software solutions like Planview AgilePlace®, with its built-in Lean-friendly tools like Kanban Boards, work-in-progress (WIP) limits, and enterprise scalability features, make it even easier to become a Lean organization that values flexibility and continuous improvement. That way, you can focus on what really matters—driving innovation.

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Written by Emily Peterson Sr. Demand Generation Manager

Emily Peterson is a Demand Gen Manager for Planview's Enterprise Agile Planning Solution, focusing on helping organizations achieve agility on their terms and timeline. She uses her professional experience in Agile marketing (as the RTE) to leverage new ways of working across the organization, connecting all parts of the business to the overall goals of the organization.