Are we lean by nature in crises?

“Every crisis is an opportunity” – and surprisingly, people and companies always emerge from every crisis stronger than before. New innovations and improvements are developed, groundbreaking changes are possible!

How natural is the use of lean methods in dealing with crises?

There is a great variety of types and definitions of crises. In essence, however, dealing with crises usually has these characteristics:

  • Adaptability
  • Urgency
  • Challenge

In our daily work we find that we find similar situations in Lean Management.

“Projects and workshops are NOT continuous improvement per se” – Toyota Kata


In a crisis, a trigger creates the pressure to change and adapt to circumstances. For this purpose, a project is usually initiated to “restructure” or improve areas. The main aim is to adapt processes. In crises one usually deals more intensively with oneself again.

In Lean Management, continuous improvement is part of the culture. Changes arise through a holistic change of people and methods. Learning plays a central role in order to be able to realise continuous improvements with new perspectives. Small changes are the order of the day and do not require extensive projects. The direction of change and adaptation is always determined by the customer.


The crisis has created a high pressure to act. Negative consequences are feared in the absence of change. Uncertainty, shortages or additional expenses require a quick adjustment of the strategy in order to achieve the final goal.

Lean Management stands for speed, for lean, fast processes and immediate actions or immediate intervention that lead to excellent results. The pull principle (“the customer sets the pace”), just-in-time (production in line with demand), visual management (immediate detection of deviations), immediate troubleshooting and fast, lean communication – these are all examples from the comprehensive toolbox of Lean, which sees urgency as a central element. Important: Quick Wins. Success must not be noticeable only at the end. Both employee motivation and company performance must be continuously improved.

“The workers have a sense of urgency, sense of purpose and teamwork because if they do not solve the problem, there will be a delivery failure”. – the Toyota method

“Success depends on your challenge” – Shinichi Sasaki, former President and CEO of Toyota Motor Europe


The crisis in itself is seen as a challenge – a situation not yet found in this form which must be overcome – a goal which is being targeted. Once the goal is achieved, the crisis is usually overcome.

In lean thinking, challenges are part of long-term, sustainable success. This begins with the management decision to implement lean management and extends to the consistent application and internalisation of all employees at all levels. Challenges always arise from the need to achieve a specific goal. Lean strives for perfection – never resigning oneself to the status quo, but always striving for further improvement. Because who can finally achieve perfection? In short: Lean is learning and solving small problems (“crises”) – and that EVERY day.

At first glance, there is a high degree of agreement between the lean concept and the way crises are handled. At second glance, however, one quickly realises that lean is much more!

Long-term – holistic – systematic – and happens out of conviction, not out of crises. Therefore an active and conscious orientation according to the Lean principles is crucial for success.

But, crises still offer enormous opportunities. Not by sporadic optimisation of individual areas for crisis management – but as a stone of impetus for a holistic change of consciousness.

Have we aroused your interest? Would you like to learn more or join us in the discussion? Get in touch with us now!