Making the Switch from Classic Lean to 3D Lean


APRIL, 2016

Welcome to Innovation Thinking. I interview, observe and write about innovation thinkers challenging the status quo through the creative work they do.  Contact me at  Contact Jim Lippens at

In this article Jim Lippens takes us on his journey from the roots of Lean in Japan in the 50’s to his recent Lean experiments on the factory floor at Desso and into his 3D Lean philosophy. He walks us through Lean ideas, principles, action experiments, goals, problems and the future of Lean.

Jim is R&D Continuous Improvement Manager at Desso, an innovative textile company producing carpet tiles, woven carpets and artificial turf in the Netherlands/Belgium.”

I asked Jim for a conversation after reading about Desso’s sustainable design initiative. I was curious about the cradle to cradle thinking behind it and excited by the scale of their waste elimination effort. I was curious about what it means to be a Continuous Improvement Manager. Was continuous improvement the same as continuous innovation?

Put your thinking caps on people. You are reading and watching your way into the past, present and future of Lean thinking as told by a master of the trade.

Evolution to 3D Lean Management 

Classic Lean (elimination of waste) + The Harada Method (focus on self-reliance) + Continuous Innovation = ‘3D Lean’

In Chart 1 below Jim shows key elements of his 3D Lean vision.  He distinguishes between Non Lean, Abused Lean, Classic Lean and New, Modern Lean.

The Four P’s of Classic Lean: Philosophy, Process, People, Problem Solving

In Chart 2 Jim is showing the 4 P’s pyramid from Classic Lean with the addition of 3D components.

Searching for Deeper Knowledge and Insight; The Harada Method

Jim went in search of knowledge he could use to add value beyond what classic Lean (elimination of waste) produces.  From previous work with Volvo, he had learned about the importance of ‘the human factor’ in Lean manufacturing environments. Looking for deeper insight into how to manage the people side of Lean, Jim studied The Harada Method with Norman Bodek and became one of 9 certified Harada Method instructors in Europe. (Jim recently finished the Dutch Translation of The Harada Method written by Harada/Bodek.)

At Desso he set the following goals to change his organization and how his plant operators were thinking and feeling about work:

  • Create an organization built on trust
  • Develop an open communication culture
  • Empower plant operators to work autonomously
  • Invest in employee training and respect

To reward operators participating in the continuous improvement experiments he was rolling out, Jim put recognition and small incentives in place. He hosts celebrations for work well done. He initiated modern employee evaluations and created tools to help plant operators set continuous improvement goals and track their progress. Team leaders visit other companies to learn how they work. Jim’s lean cell helps other departments in the plant avoid external invoices.

With only 10 percent of the population at the plant, his department generated 85% of operations’ financial result. Financial results for the department keep improving year after year without putting extra pressure or increased workload on operators.

He measured his operators on Harada’s 33 self-reliant characteristics. He deployed a ‘Semco’ survey and a ‘top 3 positive/negative’ survey to measure how happy his employees are. Survey results indicate that plant operators became empowered, invested and self-reliant. They take it upon themselves to standardize the new continuous improvement work practices. They became self-motivated problem solvers. Jim had found a way forward. He said,

“The potential in the coming years is in the cooperation and empowerment of the people on the shop floor to innovate.”

“The human approach decreased absenteeism in my department to 1/5 the company average.”

“The innovative thinking I contribute to Lean is adding modern features to Classic Lean. One of them is continuous innovation. Classic Lean does not innovate a lot. It improves.”

Jef Staes and Continuous Innovation

With these positive results in hand, Jim attended an Executive Masterclass with Jef Staes entitled, Organizations in Search of a New Balance. It was Jef who supplied the 2D – 3D switch language that Jim quickly perceived as useful for communicating about his action research, observations and experiments. It gave him a language with which to speak about his vision for the future of Lean.

“The ‘3D switch’ is a term from Jef Staes [that related directly to work I have been doing.] He explained that there is a switch going on from 2D to 3D organizations. The world is changing every day due to the amount of information available on the Internet. Organizations need to follow new trends to survive and thrive. In his 3D philosophy, Jef claims continuous improvement (2D) is not enough; you have to continuously innovate (3D). You need to facilitate 3D smarts (self reliant people, with freedom of information, freedom to decide about their budgets, and the right people in the right positions.” Jim Lippens April 2016

From 2D Lean to 3D Lean: Charts and Videos

Historical Overview – From 2D Lean to 3D Lean by Jim Lippens – Graphic and Video Below.

3D Lean Journey Part 1

Graphic and Video Below.

The Importance of the Human Factor – Lean Journey Part 2

Graphic and Video Below.

Next Steps

Jim invites your questions and comments and hopes for many conversations on the future of Lean and his ‘3D Lean’ philosophy.

Contact Jim Lippens at

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See all of Jim’s videos on YouTube

Ethnographer’s Notes

  1. I had no idea who I was going to encounter or what I would learn when I reached out to Jim to speak with him about continuous improvement and continuous innovation.  This is always the case with ethnography and is what makes it such a great tool for extending personal knowledge about people, culture and cognition, including our own.
  2. The concepts of continuous improvement and continuous innovation are not the same.  Continuous improvement can occur in the absence of innovation; continuous innovation does not necessarily result in continuous improvement.
  3. In my last blog post I wrote about artist/scientist Angelika Domschke and her creative project Saving Planet OO.  It is an interactive fairytale she is writing and illustrating, designed to teach children with Sickle Cell Disorder and their caregivers, about how to manage (SCD) during the dangerous (and sometimes deadly) transition from childhood to teenage years.  I called the article Innovation with Heart.
  4. I was completely surprised to find the Innovation with Heart principle again in Jim’s work.  I could easily have called this post Innovation with Heart; The Switch from 2D to 3D Lean. He is passionate about helping manufacturing plant operators and Lean manufacturing companies survive and thrive. Both Angelika and Jim are change agents who have set their sights on changing conditions for people and professions near and dear to their hearts. For Angelika, an artist/scientist, these are seriously ill children and their caregivers. For Jim these people are manufacturing plant operators and Lean organizations.  Both are responding to the significant risks they see to health and happiness, by developing new knowledge and tools for deceasing these risks.
  5. Definition for change agent – Change agents are creative knowledge workers who are passionate about protecting others from unnecessary harm and helping them reach their highest potential.
  6. The swtich from 2D Lean to 3D Lean has a continuous innovation component thus opening the door for incorporating a design ethnography for continuous innovation practice into 3D Lean organizational change initiatives.
  7. Possible next steps:
  • Turn Jim’s graphics into info-graphics for his presentations and training.
  • Experiment with integrating design ethnography into Lean 3D goals, activities and measures.
  • Follow along and write about Jim’s journey from 2D to 3D Lean and beyond.
  • Look deeper into Lean history, the Harada Method and Jef Staes’ Red Monkeys concept.
  • Look deeper into Lean manufacturing to get a better understanding of how Lean principles are applied to startup management and user experience design.

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