If you wish to become a professional cyclist, you can’t buy a bicycle, read the instructions and leave it in your garage. You have to embrace your goal, have discipline and reflect all of that in your routine.

When we talk about becoming a Lean manager, it’s the same thing. Once you’ve learned about it, it’s time for you to commit to it, meaning it has to reflect on your company’s values and culture. 

It’s no surprise to anybody that culture is a critical factor for any business’ success. As Pardot’s co-founder, David Cummings well illustrated it:

“Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur.”

You might be wondering how this culture looks like, right? In a nutshell, it is customer-centric, focused on quality and always eager to evolve.

To create and establish a culture like this, leaders must be the main change drivers. Cultural change must start from the leadership and has to be demonstrated through real change in behavior.


This is exactly what John Shook, Toyota’s first American manager and currently chairman of Lean Global Network, describes in his Change Model. It’s necessary to stimulate behavior changes through experiences to change values and attitudes and, finally, generate a cultural impact.

The attributes of a Lean leader

Since leaders play a critical role in cultural change, what behaviors will be expected from you? What management systems will be required to support this way of working?

  1. Leading by example is the most essential characteristic of a Lean leader – If leaders persistently demonstrate new behaviors, people will follow.
  2. But let’s not forget other essential feature: being supportive. It’s the leaders’ job to motivate people to take the Lean journey with them. They should aggressively address the concerns of their teams and recognize all the improvements being made in their areas.
  3. Last, but not least,  you will be a remarkable leader if you combine all of these characteristics with a data-driven mindset, teaching your people to think analytically and putting opinions to criticism.

If you are not there yet, don’t worry. Leading is just another learning process. So remember: learn as fast as you can, and others will follow you. 

How to promote a Lean culture?
How to build in capability?

Promoting a Lean Culture boils down to 4 best-practices:

  1. EMPOWERMENT: all work, at any company, gets done by people and this is something vital to remember. Providing each team member the opportunity to take ownership of their process and creating a culture of do-ers is what makes a company successful.
    Make sure your team understands the value they produce to the customer and encourage them to look for ways to enhance it. 
  2. SHARED LEADERSHIP: in a Lean company, everyone should be a leader. Allowing regular team members to embrace their leadership potential and giving them the liberty to make decisions to some extent without explicitly asking a supervisor for permission is crucial to make the transformation successful. That’s what we call shared leadership.
    Be careful or organizational silos! Push out this mentality for the sake of improving collaboration, and foster a positive, blame-free environment.
  3. WORKER PULL: how does work flow at your company today? Does management push it or does your team pull it? Many companies still adopt the push system: changes being issued and pushed on reluctant employees. On the other hand, Lean companies allow changes to be “pulled” by the employees, who will then feel part of it and engage in the process.
  4. COMMUNICATION: one of the main differences between traditional companies and Lean companies is in communication. In the first, information usually flows from top to bottom, in the latter information flows freely in many directions. In fact, it flows in all directions. This type of information flow is instrumental and enables commitment to grow stronger.

Traditional Culture

Top-down, bureaucratic, slow, management, push.


Lean Culture

Multi-durectional, connected, transparent, agile, worker pull.

Getting started: select your champions

By now it’s probably clear to you that nothing will get done and things won’t be Lean unless people adopt a new mentality. That’s why you are going to need a lot of help from your team. Here’s how you can get it.

Being Lean is about working in small batches. So a good practice is to start small. Drive incremental changes, one at a time, and eventually, you’ll end up transforming your whole organization. 

If you are working at an enterprise level, in order to promote this change, we recommend you to form a temporary pilot group with members from different teams so they could serve as change agents and advocates. We will call these members “champions.”

These champions don’t necessarily have to be in a leadership position, but should meet this checklist of requirements:

  1. Enthusiastic about change
  2. Influential in their teams
  3. Have strong sense of urgency

Louis Pasteur used to say that “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” Well, by now you should have the right mindset to implement Lean, so it’s time to go to the Gemba and get your hands dirty!

Before you go on, bear in mind

  • Blame-free: problem-solving and improvement must focus on the process, not the people
  • Empowerment everyone must feel like they own the process and should care about its results
  • Systemic view each individual should have a broad view and see the whole picture
  • Communication: alignment, feedback and new ideas across the entire company are crucial, so communicate
  • Collaboration: work together to achieve a common goal
  • Continuous improvement: everyone should be encouraged to improve every day

Meet A3 thinking, the backbone
of your Lean transformation

As you dive deeper into your Lean journey, things will get more and more practical, so it’s important to have the right tools to manage and implement these changes. 

From now on, all the steps and actions presented in this guide will follow the structure of one of Lean’s most important problem-solving and continuous-improvement frameworks: the A3 thinking.

If you search for A3 templates, you’ll find many different ones around the same core concept. In our journey, we’ll use this simplified version with five stages:


The A3 name is derived from the size of paper used to outline ideas, plans and goals throughout the process.

  1. Description of Current State
  2. Background and Supporting Data
  3. Root Cause Analysis
  4. Action Plan
  5. Check and Follow up

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