Is the LEAN approach cultural? - Intercultural Insights
FR  -  NL
Culture & Countries Intercultural & Business
Is the LEAN approach cultural?
June 9, 2020

Lean managementIs the success of “LEAN Management” a question of culture?

The origin of the LEAN method

The LEAN, TPS or Toyota Product System was developed in the 1950s by the car manufacturer of the same name. Based on the approach created by its founders, Sakichi Toyoda and his son Kiichiro Toyoda and engineer Taiichi Ohno, they successfully implemented production techniques issued from the Japanese culture whose most well-known features are simplicity and discipline. As a result, almost all manufacturing companies in Japan have succeeded in transforming themselves by adopting the “Lean Method”.

This method started spreading to the world and was even adopted in the 1990s in the USA by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). However, transposing the Lean approach to other countries is not always easy and resistance is sometimes high.

Short description of the “LEAN House”

1. The foundations are based on :Lean house

  • Process stability and standardization
  • The 5S: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, Shitsuke which means to tidy and remove the useless, to order and locate things, to clean and shine, to standardize rules, to educate.
  • Kaizen which means continuous improvement.

2. The Two Pillars

– One pillar embodies the idea of “just in time”: coordinating each action with the precision of a watchmaker.

– The other pillar “Jidokas” relates to automation of production and personnel through a qualitative based approach.

3. The Roof protects the house against possible infiltration.

  • Quality
  • Cost
  • On-time delivery

4. The interior of the “LEAN house”

At the heart of the LEAN house is a clear respect for the value chain. This allows teams to quickly identify the root of any issue / challenge, solve it and continue to strive for excellence.

LEAN and culture

Why doesn’t the LEAN approach when extracted from its Japanese cultural environment always deliver the expected results?

The LEAN approach is at its core based on the concept of hierarchy, collective adoption, respect for rules, time management, transparency in communication, etc..  So many cultural dimensions that are understood and lived very differently from country to country.

From there stems a strong need to better understand the need to adapt the LEAN approach to the culture of the country but also to the culture of the company in order to obtain the expected results.

Is it possible to draw up a Cultural Profile of LEAN?

Let’s attempt to do so and compare it to country profiles. By performing this comparison, we will try to better understand the multiple dimensions that could be used in different cultures to successfully implement a LEAN approach.


Relationship to society

Profil Nomad

Relationship to work

Profil Nomad

Relationship to others

Profil Nomad

How to analyse the cultural dimensions to ensure the success of the “LEAN method”?

In Japan

The Japanese cultural profile fits quite well with the LEAN profile in terms of respect for hierarchy, rules and time planning.

But how does the LEAN approach, which requires transparent, clear and explicit communication work in such an implicit culture?

The Japanese rely on their sense of community. In order to lead a process towards success, individual responsibility in the context of collective responsibility is set in motion and goes beyond the implicit character of the culture.

When the process is driven by a strong hierarchy that demands that everything that can happen on the production lines be minutely reported with watchmaker’s precision, the Japanese communicate easily because they depend on their hierarchy on the one hand and on a material and human chain on the other.

In the United States

With a low hierarchical distance and a certain individualism, how do Americans succeed in the Lean approach? What is their driving force? Unlike the Japanese, they communicate in an explicit way and can therefore rely on this dimension. Without imposing or activating the “top-down”, communication gives meaning to the approach through adhesion.

Several expressions in American communication clearly reflect the fact that an actor on a production line is a “hero in itself”: formulas such as “good job”, “good try”, “no blame, no shame”, “time is money” offer them the possibility of moving forward without the fear of making a mistake or possibly being reprimanded. Their strong individuality is at the service of the collective to make the LEAN approach a success.

In France

The aeronautics and automotive sectors in France aspire to increasingly implement the LEAN approach to develop value chains that serve the customer.

Why isn’t it always a great success? Is it perceived as a hindrance to creativity and initiative? Can the differences between the LEAN profile and that of France’s culture map explain the difficulties in implementing this approach? But then how can this be done? On which cultural dimensions should it be based?

The missing piece of the puzzle to integrate the “Kaizen” lies in the combination of the different cultures (national, corporate, individual) and in the intersection of relationships to society, work and others on cultural profiles.

All the originality of LEAN in France would then consist in crossing cultural dimensions by taking into account essential factors such as the environment and the context.

The success of “LEAN Management “is a question of culture

Despite its longevity, the LEAN method has not aged a day. But it can only succeed if the cultural aspect is taken into account. Studying the LEAN approach in the light of cultural dimensions makes it possible to adapt it to the cultural context while pursuing the same strategy. It is therefore resolutely part of an intercultural approach. The key to its success lies in the crossing of cultural dimensions by taking into account the different cultures involved: personal culture but also that of the profession, the company and the country.

Nada Ghanem, Akteos consultant

About author

Nada Ghanem

Nada Ghanem

As a seasoned professional in executive coaching and change coaching, Nada is specialized in Arab-Persian Gulf countries, where she has lived and worked with for many years. She assists emerging leaders, CEO and their teams through complex processes of change involving the convergence of intercultural, inter-functional and interpersonal dimensions. Nada is also a specialist in micro and macro cultural agility in an international environment.

There are 0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sylvie Day, Julia Gaspar-Bates, Barbara Mattison, Pamela Strawgate

Freedom, Equality, Fraternity through the Franco-American prism

We ask ourselves every day how we will approach ou...

Read more

Remote Working, Risks and Opportunities

Is the success of “LEAN Management” a question...

Read more

The Coronavirus Epidemic Across Cultures

Are All Cultures Equal When It Comes to Coronaviru...

Read more