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The Lean-Fitness Analogy

The Lean-Fitness Analogy

The Lean-Fitness Analogy is a teaching aid originally developed in the Lean Enterprise Research Centre for use in lean oriented courses for practitioners and employees. It presents a comparison of going lean with getting fit and aims to communicate the ‘essence’ of lean thinking and the challenges of going lean.


Development of the Lean-Fitness Analogy started when some LERC researchers were training for a marathon and after a casual remark about the challenges of getting fit and likening it to going lean, the idea grew. The story was developed and recorded as a presentation for use in teaching.

Generally, it was used at the end of executive education courses, as a light hearted finale and provocative discussion aid and it proved very popular with course participants, as many could easily relate it to their own fitness attempts.

The Analogy Method

The analogy method is well established and is about the teaching of a new topic by connecting it with familiar information. It is considered an effective strategy as learners tend to find it easier to understand a topic when teachers form connections between the new topic and what is already known.

Furthermore, it is claimed that when making use of analogies that are familiar to students, retention and retrieval of information is increased, thus improving and strengthening the learning process.

There are numerous articles on the analogy method, many easily found with a web search, for example:


The main purpose of the Lean-Fitness Analogy is to highlight the behavioural dimension to lean thinking. It draws on an holistic, systems perspective of lean thinking, that contends that organisations must adopt a contingent approach to going lean, with a strong emphasis on individual motivation and self discipline.

The Lean-Fitness Analogy Video

The presentation has a video version, show below (7 minutes 15 seconds in length):

How to use it in teaching

The Lean-Fitness Analogy can be used in several ways in lean related courses, especially in those introducing the topic to practitioners, for example:

  • At the start of an introduction to lean, CI course:
    • Have a post presentation discussion on validity, applicability and implications for going lean.
  • At the end of an introduction to lean, CI course, summarising and pulling together key themes.
  • In lean leadership and management courses, as it emphasises the role managers must play in motivating staff to adopt and sustain lean behaviors.
  • Break out groups discussion 1:
    • Groups describe the challenges of trying to get fit and relate stories and anecdotes, highlighting the measures adopted to achieve and sustain fitness, and/or reasons  for failing to achieve or sustain fitness.
    • The groups consider the relevance of their fitness experiences to going lean.
    • Show the presentation, followed by further discussion, highlighting key take-outs.
  • Break out groups discussion 1:
    • Show the presentation.
    • Ask groups to challenge its validity and/or extend the analogy
    • Ask how would they design a lean programme in the light of the analogy.


The following versions of the Lean-Fitness Analogy are available to download. Permitted to adapt and personalise and adapt if desired.

Please ensure that appropriate acknowledgements are always made in any version you produce – that is: author name, copyright holder (the LCS), graphics and music acknowledgement


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