Lean Leaders, circa 2020

By Ron Pereira Updated on May 17th, 2017

Guest Post by Michael Lombard of the Lean Builder Blog

Have you seen any of Conan O’Brien’s “In the Year 2000” skits? They were funny when he started doing them way back in the 90’s, and were even funnier when he kept doing them long after the turn of the millennium.

I don’t know if it was the quasi-futuristic clothing, the dude with the falsetto voice, or Conan’s ridiculous predictions, but that was some hilarious television.

In that same spirit, I’d like to make some ridiculous predictions about what Lean Leaders will be like in, let’s say… 10 years from now (in the year 2020). Here goes:

Prediction #1: In the year 2020… Lean Leaders will do a great job of utilizing Social Media.

I predict this because Lean Leaders place a high value on collaboration, just-in-time communication, and overall organizational awareness…all of which are enhanced by social media. Just check out some of the things Hal and the gang at Lean Project Consulting are already doing with micro-blogging and other tools. Or check out this list of Lean folks I follow on Twitter.

I predict Lean Leaders in 2020 will utilize micro-blogging, blogs, collaboration software, and yet-to-be-invented tools to improve the flow of knowledge and communication in their organizations.

Be honest, do you chuckle when you hear the word ‘Twitter?’

Prediction #2: In the year 2020… Lean Leaders will be leaders in Project Management.

Project Management as a profession is a relatively new phenomenon. It has arisen in response to the chaos that globalization and innovation have wreaked upon organizations in recent history. Products and processes have to be constantly reinvented nowadays to keep pace with the market, so organizations have to constantly manage a portfolio of change projects.

Good project management (i.e. the PMI PMBOK methodology) provides a solid base of stability for projects to be performed. However, as Lean Leaders understand, creating process stability is not the end, but the beginning of improvement. Taking Project Management beyond basic stability and into radically improved flow will be the next great leap for Project Management, and I predict it will be the domain of Lean Leaders.

Have you used Scrum or the Last Planner System? Check it out if you want a preview of what mainstream Project Management might look like in 2020.

Prediction #3: In the year 2020…Lean Leaders will have infiltrated a wide range of industries.

This is already happening. Lean Healthcare, Lean Construction, Lean Military…you name it—Lean advocates are seemingly everywhere now, just in small numbers at the moment. By 2020, I see Lean becoming more generally accepted and Lean Leaders becoming more common in a wide range of industries.

I say this because global trends seem to indicate that resources of all sorts (money, energy, water, etc.) will become more and more scarce, thus placing a premium on the ability to minimize waste—the domain of Lean Leaders. Every industry will be affected by these global trends to some extent, which should create broader demand for Lean Leaders.

Are you pioneering the use of Lean in your industry? If so, let’s hear about it!

Prediction #4: In the year 2020… Lean Leaders, out of necessity, will get really good at organizational design.

Pop quiz—If Lean is a clearly superior approach to management, then why hasn’t it become the standard for all organizations? Why have we yet to make the great leap?

Maybe it’s because we have failed to address deeply ingrained organizational barriers, such as: antiquated accounting systems, short-sighted employment practices, pathetic talent development strategies, rigid vertical management structures, and so on. We need people who can address these issues with authority.

Many of the most talented Lean Leaders I’ve met have had backgrounds in Industrial Engineering, Supply Chain Logistics, Operations Management, or Six Sigma. They’re highly technical people. I predict that future Lean Leaders will not only be technically skilled, but will also display a much deeper understanding of organizational factors. We need to take the big organizational decisions out of the hands of the bean-counters and put them in the hands of the people that can tell the difference between value and waste.

If there was one thing you could change about your organization’s design that would help your Lean initiative, what would it be?

Prediction #5: In the year 2020… things will be so radically different that my predictions will seem as ridiculous as Conan O’Brien’s.

But that’s okay. My hope is that Lean Leaders will surpass my predictions sooner than expected, and that by 2020 they will already be figuring out new ways to improve the world that we’ve yet to anticipate. In so many ways, they already are…which makes right now, 2010, an exciting time to be around the Lean world.

Don’t you agree, Lean Leaders?

About the author: Michael Lombard is a Lean advocate and Project Manager, based in Dallas-Ft. Worth, currently exploring career opportunities in all industries and locations. You can view his profile here, his Lean Builder blog here, or contact him directly at [email protected]

  1. Shane Andrews

    March 8, 2010 - 10:43 am

    Great article and I definitely think number 1 will be true as I already see it happening. Case in point I found this website on Twitter.

  2. Matt Stambaugh

    March 8, 2010 - 1:41 pm

    Excellent post as usual. I love the Conan predictions as well. I think your predictions are very likely, in some form or another. I predict more and more organizations creating Chief level executive positions for experienced project managers. Organization wide change management is lacking, even in many innovative companies.

  3. Michael Lombard

    March 8, 2010 - 6:09 pm

    Thanks for the comments.

    @Shane, I didn’t get your Twitter link, but I agree that #1 is already happening…big time.

    @Matt, your prediction about C-level PM’s needs to happen for a variety of reasons. I just hope that those leaders understand Lean thinking and don’t just continue outdated project management techniques.

  4. Ted Naples

    March 8, 2010 - 9:47 pm

    Superbly written and I agree that Lean is expanding fast to all industries. I am hoping to see Lean more a part of how this country is run.

  5. Greg Brophy

    March 9, 2010 - 12:06 am

    Good stuff Lombard!

    I think Conan’s got you beat in ridiculousness…its a shame NBC paid him so much and raised the expectations.

    Your predictions are valid, and they all seem to compliment each other…social media tools can often make things seem chaotic. However, when used effectively with a focused approach, they improve collaboration, which encourages innovation, and if managed properly (say by a bonafide LL with an understanding of PM) will certainly improve the flow of knowledge…and presumably continue to minimize waste, even in already “lean” processes. This kind of continued improvement is applicable to all industries.

  6. Michael Lombard

    March 9, 2010 - 10:15 am

    Good feedback, guys.

    @Greg, your point is true about how social media can actually make things more chaotic. It’s just like if a company adopts a fad-of-the-month approach where they’re constantly introducing new tools to the workplace. This can obviously become counterproductive if it ends up confusing the work team.

    With social media, it can’t just be for fun or to make the bosses seem more approachable or friendly. It has to be to actually improve the flow of communication and/or accelerate learning somehow. Otherwise, it’s just more waste.

  7. Narayan

    March 31, 2010 - 2:28 am

    Oh! Lean will be center of the universe?

    When we start thinking what we do is the most important thing in the world and that is the only thing it takes to make the world a great place, we are dead. It takes all kinds of skills and people to succeed in projects and organizations. I am not sure Lean is the most suitable skill for Project management and Organizational design.

    Social media can be a waste of time when you need to read posts from a large number of people, and make sense of a wide variety of opinions, often repeated in many words and forms. Lean social media needs a way of getting the right set of people, with experience, understanding and thoughts expressing themselves through non repetitive posts.

  8. Michael Lombard

    March 31, 2010 - 10:44 am

    Narayan, thanks for the good comments. It’s good to have an opposing viewpoint on things.

    Keep in mind that this post is a bit on the lighthearted side, if you couldn’t tell from the Conan O’Brien intro. That being said, I don’t think I’m discussing Lean as the center of the universe. It’s not written from the perspective of the universe with Lean in the center; it’s written from the perspective of a Lean advocate looking out at the world. In other words, I’m not making predictions about the business world in general, just how Lean folks will contribute to the business world. So, from that perspective, the article is obviously Lean-centric, by design, in accordance with the type of readers one would expect from a Lean Six Sigma blog.

    You are “not sure Lean is the most suitable skill for Project Management…” Lean is not a skill per se, it’s a methodology, but I take your meaning as ‘people with Lean skills.’ With that in mind, I’m interested in knowing why people with Lean skills might not be suitable for PM. Both Lean and PM are socio-technical methodologies, and there is huge overlap on the social side. The technical side differs between the two, but my contention in the article is that the technical side of PM will probably shift away from the traditional PMBOK approach and towards agile PM techniques, such as Scrum or Last Planner. This is already happening, and bodes well for Lean Leaders.

    You also mention that maybe Lean Leaders are not well-suited for organizational design. Traditional leadership has yielded organizational designs based on outdated principles such as: manage-by-numbers, command-and-control, and rigid vertical hierarchies. Is that the best we can do? Lean Leaders, if they can acquire the status necessary to be influential in high-level organizational design decisions, can correct some of these outdated models. I say this because Lean Leaders understand that we must identify customer value, align the organization around value streams, and put in place management systems that improve value stream flow and reliability through continuous improvement. Those are powerful organizational design principles.

    “Social media can be a waste of time when you need to read posts from a large number of people…” I agree that reading a wide range of posts can be time-consuming, but I don’t think it’s wasteful if it helps you broaden your understanding. I do agree that there is an opportunity to provide a little bit of structure to the Lean blogosphere to avoid repetition and create synergy.

    Thanks again for your good comments and your opposing viewpoint.

  9. lean construction logistics

    April 8, 2010 - 2:27 am

    Brilliant!!I love all your predictions..!! I just hope and wish that all those predictions will come true..!Nice post.!!Keep up the good work.!!I love your blog..!!

  10. Lean Construction

    November 28, 2011 - 3:32 am

    Good predictions, agree about Social Media, when LEAN is applied correctly it achieves value for ALL and a more streamlined process until perfect, but its getting all people in the chain onboard, with the correct mind set and DOING the process correctly and efficiently.

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