Is lean relevant in today’s economy?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Casemore: Should McDonald's go lean?

For years, I’ve been helping CEOs and executives understand how to present and introduce lean in order to overcome the all-too-familiar concern of labor force reduction. It simply goes without saying that increasing efficiencies can in some instances lead to a reduced reliance on the number of people required to support the operation.

Despite this hurdle to lean adoption, the reality is that in today’s highly competitive and unpredictable global economy, lean is still just as relevant, if not more so, than ever before.

Steve Easterbrook’s recent announcement of his efforts to scale back McDonald’s across North America in order to “reduce bureaucracy and help the company move more nimbly,” provides hints as to the continued demand for the adoption of lean.

With this in mind, and based on several client interventions, there are some key challenges that lean will clearly continue to support.

1. Validate technology value. When was the last time you were involved in an ERP implementation that went exactly as was suggested by your software vendor? If you are like 70 percent of North American businesses that invest in ERP systems, the answer would be “never.” In an age dominated by technology adoption and integration, lean provides us with a method to ensure that technology offers increased efficiencies, rather than deficiencies. With a focus on process improvement and control, lean provides the best approach for selecting and integrating technologies that deliver on the efficiencies so often promised but never delivered.

2. Facilitate an effective multigenerational workforce. I’ve written before on the power that lean provides relative to increasing empowerment for younger generations. It also provides us with a method to integrate a multigenerational workforce helping various generations collaborate on solutions and efficiencies, thereby improving working relationships and creating solutions that are informed by history.

3. Shift from leadership to facilitation. If you’ve spent time studying Millennials (or you are one), you’ll agree that the top-down approach to management is dead and gone, or at least it should be if you expect Millennials to stick around. Lean provides us with a means to place power in the hands of the people doing the work, shifting the role of leadership to that of supporter and facilitator of improvements, rather than instigator of them.

4. Increase customer value. Lean is based in the premise of building a business around the “voice of the customer.” At a time when customers demand increased personalized attention and solutions, lean has never been more valuable. Using lean as a tool to knock down bureaucracy and increase a company-wide connection with what customers value is one of the most valuable outcomes that lean provides us moving forward.

It’s hard to ascertain whether Easterbrook will incorporate lean in his ambitions to improve McDonald’s. With the continued relevance and value that lean offers however, I would suggest that it would be the best tool for the job.

Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve individual and organizational performance. Learn more at or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.