The other day I had a friend of mine ask how someone began “getting Lean”.  My answer was 5S.  5S is the starting point of any Lean deployment I’ve ever been a part of.  5S not only focuses on cleaning and organizing the area but, also begins to establishthe mindset in a Lean deployment.  It is the first step in transforming any operation into a Lean operation.  

5S is an acronym for the following sustained elimination of waste, organization of an area, and way of managing its sustained existence.  5S is comprised of the 5 Japanese words/phrases that describe the practice of 5S: 

·         Seiri  整理 (Sort)
·         Seiton 整頓 (Systematic Arrangement)
·         Seiso 清掃 (Shine)
·         Seiketsu 清潔 (Standardize)
·         Shitsuki 躾 (Sustain)

I explained to him that Lean is just a term that actually refers to the Toyota Production System (TPS) created by Toyota in Japan and thus many of the terms in Lean are Japanese.  Anyway, I received a quizzical look of non-comprehension.  Chuckling a bit, I went on to explain the intricacies of each of the 5 stages and to do so we decided to use his tool box to demonstrate.


In this first stage we were looking to get rid of anything that didn’t belong, was unnecessary or just “fluff”.  We put a couple of card tables up and cleared off his work bench, we were going to need some room.  Then, we emptied his entire tool box.  Mind you, he’s a mechanic so this was a pretty sizable tool box.  The purpose was to see what tools he had and what tools he needed.  What tools were unnecessary or just taking up space?  As we went through we set aside the four extra 10mm sockets and the three extra pairs of pliers, the rusted pair of channel-locks and the un-countable number of regular screwdrivers lying in every drawer.  All the remaining tools were left on the table and I then had him pull out the tools he never used.  After our purging of unnecessary tools was completed we were left with still a great number of tools but, had eliminated nearly a drawers’ worth of tools from the box.


Now that we only had the tools he used and would need and nothing extra we went through and sorted the tools by function and use.  We spent time discussing where in the toolbox they would best be housed.  Obviously his larger tools like impact guns and larger pneumatics’ would be placed in the bottom drawer as it was the only drawer capable of holding the larger tools.  The remainder were strategically placed in the box based on how the tools were used.  This took into account frequency of use, type of tool and space the tool type would consume within a drawer.  We mapped out on a large sheet of paper where best he tools could be placed within the box and made several changes along the way based on his workflow.  Once satisfied we moved on to the third stage.


We cleaned the toolbox and every tool going back into it.  We went and got new rubber matting to place in the bottom of each drawer, removing the old and worn out mating that had been in there.  We cleaned the area he worked in and made the entire area shine.  We then put each of the tools back into the toolbox just as we had mapped out.  Everything looked perfect when we were done and he stood back and admired the work.  I commented about not being done.  He gave me a scowl and hinted that he felt things were pretty good and that perhaps it was enough for one day.  I told him we hadn’t even gotten to the most important stage of 5S and then asked him to turn his back to his tool box.

When he turned back around I laid a $5 bill on the bench and told him it was his if he could find which tool I removed from his tool box.  He spent several minutes looking and once satisfied gave me his answer.  He was wrong.  I had made some minor changes to his box and gave the appearance that several different tools could have been removed but, .  I told him we were moving on the fourth stage.


We needed to standardize the drawer.  I went and got a label maker and labeled the drawers.  We went a step further and created a shadow board within each drawer contrasting the light rubber matting with a black “shadow’ of each tool that went into the drawer.  It was a bit time consuming but, afterwards he knew immediately what was out of place and/or missing from his box.  I showed him the organizational wonder called kaizen foam that could turn his drawers into a custom setting for his tools, snuggly placed into a bed of perfectly cut out foam.  One basically takes a piece of thick foam, typically a little less than the height of the drawer and cuts out the shape of each tool as it sits within the drawer.  The foam is placed into the drawer and the tools within their respective cutouts.  The foam is normally black and so contrasting the bottom of the drawer in a light color is ideal to really make a missing tool’s open space “pop”.


After all the shadows were created and all the tools placed back into the toolbox I explained the final stage, sustaining the work we had done.  He had already been thinking of this as we were working to clean the tools up and get them in order.  He came up with a weekly routine that allowed him to go through his box and note anything that may be out of place as well as any changes he may want to put into place going forward.  I explained to him in a Lean environment standard work would be written and in place on the box describing how the tools should be and how to keep them in order.  As this was his personal box we opted to forgo standard work.  The term made him lift his eyebrow and inquire, “What is Standard Work?”  I asked him if he was hungry…we could discuss it over lunch.

That is just a brief example of what 5S is and the impact it can have on something as minor as a personal toolbox.  5S can be applied to nearly everything.  I have implemented 5S in the kitchen, offices, obviously manufacturing plant floors, distribution centers, hospitals, weld shops and garages.  5S helps establish a nice “flow” to the area and helps to increase productivity in that area.  It aids in eliminating the need to think about where something is or if there is enough for the work day.  Standards are in place to keep things where they should be and maintain necessary levels on replenished materials (kanban).  5S is one of the best ways to begin a Lean deployment / journey.  It helps brighten and clean the area, organize,  create flow and prepare for the rest of the various tools that make up a Lean deployment.



Moleskine, Field Notes & The Midori Travelers Notebook

NotebooksI am an analog snob. I have tried going digital on several occasions and every time I find myself grabbing a notebook and pen as I walk out the door. I’ve been quite particular about my analog tools the way some are particular about the car they drive or the PC they buy. I’ve had this issue for years, I remember getting ahold of a PaperMate fine point stick pen that I’ve never been able to find since the fifth grade. My search isn’t over either.

I’ve upgraded my choices since the Mrs. Kauffman’s class but, the passion remains. Currently I am writing with either a Lamy Safari fountain pen with an Extra-Fine nib or a Retro 51 Tornado – Lincoln edition rollerball pen. This lineup will soon be changing. I am going to try the Lamy rollerball pen, which will house the same refill as my Retro 51 but, will weigh less and is a special edition CopperOrange colored aluminum pen. I’m stoked about it.

What I’d like to really dive into is paper. Working for a Fortune 500 company has its positives and also its negatives. A major, turn my nose up at, moment I experienced was opening the supply closet to find the worst paper products sold. Not only is it Saran Wrap thin, it also allows my ink to bleed through as if I were using gauze to fix a busted copper pipe. I nevertheless shut the closet doors turned to the “Keeper of the Keys” and thanked her for the time. I would use my own materials for work.

I’ve carried the same notebook system since 2009. Having carried around a Franklin Planner for years I gave it up a in 2006. I bounced around different systems, many self created, until in late 2009 I came across the blog Scription by Patrick Ng and was inspired to go with a minimal system called the Midori Traveler’s Notebook (MTN).Midori Traveler's Notebook

The MTN is a simple and minimal approach, a leather cover with an elastic band in the spine to hold a blank, lined or grid notebook specifically made for the MTN system and an elastic band around the middle to hold it closed. With the addition of a second band inside, you can add two more notebooks to the interior and carry multiple notebooks. I carry a personal journal, a work notebook and a reading notebook in mine. Researching online revealed a number of systems one could come up with but, with me being a struggling practitioner of minimalism I find this a near perfect system.

The Midori notebooks are made with a thicker paper that accepts rollerball and fountain pen ink alike. There is little to no bleed through and because of the size (11 x 21 cm) there is enough room for me to really write. Staple bound with a simple Kraft paper stock cover the notebooks are quality notebooks for the price, just under $6 a notebook.

The initial expense of the Midori Traveler’s Notebook can be a turn off for some. The notebooks themselves can be purchased relatively cheap however the leather cover is a one time purchase that some people have a difficult time swallowing. It sells for roughly $57.00 and depending on where you live is only available online. I get a lot of interest in my MTN when out and typically after I’ve explained this to someone I get the question, “wouldn’t those black notebooks you see in Target or Barnes & Noble do?”

MoleskinesThose “black notebooks” happen to be the ever popularly marketed Moleskine resurrected from days gone by. The same notebooks used by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Bruce Chatwin. The once French – made pocket notebooks were brought back to life in 1997 by a Milanese company and have become one of the most popular notebooks around. I have a love/hate relationship with the Moleskine. I think what the company has done with these once basic notebooks is impressive. Originally only found in a pocket size version these notebooks have grown in variety not only in size but color and design. Today you can see the images of the Peanuts, Star Wars, and even Batman grace the covers of the notebooks adding a certain flair and individuality to them.

I’ve owned and continue to own them for various purposes. The tiny Volant series notebooks are perfect to track my mileage and car repairs in. In between the Franklin Planner and my MTN I was using Moleskine exclusively. They are readily available within and in an assortment of colors and sizes, hard bound and soft bound. The convenience makes it difficult not to pick the up if you are someone who writes regularly.

Functionally speaking the notebooks are well manufactured. I’ve never had any issues with binding or loose pages. They are structurally sound, however, my problem lies with the paper. I cannot write in them using my most often carried pens. The ink bleeds through and makes writing on the opposite side annoying at best. In the interest of frugality, last month I cut a Moleskine down to fit in my MTN and have been eagerly waiting for the time the notebook is finally full and can be replaced by a new one. The experience is just that annoying. I am a self admitted paper snob, just as any Apple loyalist would be if you asked them to use a Droid.

If Moleskine would change the paper they use in these notebooks I would, in all likelihood go back to them exclusively. I really like the look and feel of them and as of late am getting annoyed with the multiple notebook’d Midori. Writing in my personal journal is a minor wrestling match holding back the top notebook while at the same time writing. and, because there are several notebooks in the system I am never writing on a flat surface. I’ve gotten to the point where I am once again looking for something new.

Field Notes Cherry WoodI am for a while going to try the Field Notes brand of notebooks. I have tried these in the past but was unhappy with the edition I had purchased. Field Notes come in a standard edition with a brown Kraft paper cover and a seasonal edition which come in and unknown color scheme. The ever changing seasonal editions are some of the most coveted notebooks on the planet to a group called the Field Nuts, selling for as much as $300 on eBay for three notebooks.

FieldNotes are small pocket notebooks that are quick and convenient. I can carry one in my pocket without even knowing it’s there. Measuring only 3.5″ x 5.5″ with only 48 pages within they are what I call a working notebook. A Field Notes is not going to be used as a commonplace book, nor would you want to use as a journal. They are just too small for such writing. But, everyday notes, lists, thoughts, measurements, these are the perfect size. The paper is good and they are priced well at $9.95 for a sack of three notebooks.

Well, whatever the size that is right for you there is probably a notebook out there. Notebooks like most things are a matter of choice. Moleskin just happen to have the market currently and thus their popularity. I don’t think analog tools in the US has enough of a draw to get many of the other big names pushing the marketing of their paper, yet! I think with the likes of Brad Dowdy (The Pen Addict), Ed Jelley (edjelley.com), Mike Dudek (The Clicky Post), the folks at The Field Notes and countless others are having an impact on the analog tools we know and love, will help ignite the passion these tools once had in our cultures’ lives.

Philosophy, Productivity

Century Gothic, the new Helvetica!!

Fonts copyI’ve been on a quest for nearly a year or so to change the opinions of many to change their default font to Century Gothic. I am not sure what the appeal of this simple font is to me but, prefer it to any other font in the library. The smooth curves of the letters and the simple straight forward design of each downstroke is appealing to me in a minimalist way. I believe the no-nonsense way the letters are displayed, the minimalist, no frills purpose each letter exudes when put to page (or screen) gives this font a characteristic that stands apart from it’s brethren and thus my appeal.

I first came upon the font only a couple of years ago when putting together a presentation for work. The company has the standard font of Arial Black, ugh. Not putting it down or anything but, Arial Black (though simple in its own right) is just bulky and seems, well bloated. I was not a fan of the script I was seeing on the slides I was creating for presentation, so I decided to play around a bit and began my quest for the better font.>

I had read about Steve Job’s obsession with fonts, which began in a college calligraphy class he had sat in on. This passion bled through to the fonts of the Mac and later onto all of Apple’s devices, much to my pleasure. Steve broke the boundaries of an industry steeped in stuffiness and “tradition”. He entered a world of the white shirt, blue tie arena with a pair of ragged jeans, t-shirt and well for the most part…that was it. Shoes were option if not neglected and well ties were not even a concept…though that changed once Apple gained notoriety and publicity but, that is another story.

Steve’s passion for perfection broke the molds of the industry. Helvetica, the most popular font at the time and most widely used was a saturation in the market. It was so widely used that a change was immediately seen. That change led to the realization that perhaps doing things as they’ve always been done need not apply. I believe Apple became the computer for the artistic partially in part because Steve Jobs refused to allow Apple to become ordinary. Apple began as a unique company and has remained so mainly in part because of Steve Jobs’ guidance.

Apple has gone so far as to even creat their own fonts for their products specifically for the reasons I was looking at Arial Black with disdain and irreverence. There was something so ordinary and plain about the font that I yearned for change. When I would write a paragraph in the font Arial Black I would often times find myself having to re-read certain sections of the text because the letters would often blend together and become blurs. Everything would become a fuzzy black streak across the page. I don’t have this problem with Century Gothic. The kerning as it is called (the space between letters) is too small compared to the width of the letters themselves and thus causes me, who speed reads, to blur the words.

Century Gothic does not enable this issue. The width of the letters in conjunction with the kerning provides a smooth flow across the page. I was quite turned on to Century Gothic after I saw it on the big screen during my presentation and a comment afterwards was made in private regarding my font choice. The facility manager came up to me to point out that he had noticed the change in font and that he’d been looking at the same font for the past twenty years and the change was nice. It had given the presentation an upbeat appearance and added youth to the presentation.

That alone was not enough to seal my commitment to the font though. It was after a conversation with my wife that bound us together, for better or worse. We were coming home from a wrestling match one late Saturday afternoon…(sidenote: we have a two wrestlers in the house a 9 & 8 year old and much of November through March is spent dedicated to the sport…our Saturday’s are spent traveling to matches & tournaments and so we usually have a good bit of time to talk about weird stuff like font choices…back to our regularly scheduled program)…and got on the subject of presentations.

My wife was trained in high school to give presentations and had gone so far as to regularly given presentations of various subjects to school and government officials at the youthful age of 17 so she was quite aware of everything that went into preparing a presentation. Though rarely did she use something like PowerPoint she is quite knowledgeable in font choices. So, I was talking at great length about changing the corporate font to Century Gothic and he face lit up. Not understanding this I further questioned her to find out that for quite some time she too had been using the font in her everyday job. She found the font easier to read and determined it a better font. That was the moment I knew forever more, Century Gothic was my font.

Thus far I have spread my passion for this font further into the company I work for with hopes to one day change the standard Arial Black to Century Gothic with the marketing department and guidelines. The font is a gives a good contrast to the page allowing just enough white space to show while at the same time enabling a person to read quickly the text provided. This is my plea to the world to give Century Gothic a try and let it into your daily writing.

Lean, Philosophy

Lean & Minimalism

CA Beach 2014 - oct copy

Minimalism is a concept that has taken like wild fire, from minimal lifestyles to shoes to wardrobes, the term proliferates the web.  I first learned of Minimalism from Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus from the blog The Minimalists.  I, having studied Buddhism and in particular Zen, was intrigued by the site initially only to find my self returning daily for more.  The concept, Minimalism, was new to me but, deep down it wasn’t.  My years of Eastern study had ingrained the concept within me but, was being buried by my Western consumerism.  Their story changed things for me.

I no longer looked at “my stuff” as treasures but, as functional items.  I began to pick random items up and ask, “do you belong here?”.  I found myself putting items aside to test whether it had a need in my life.  Eventually, I realized I had a lot of things sitting aside but, now they had congregated together for nearly three years and hadn’t moved.  The concept, so appealing as it is, was met with such resistance that I never committed and continued to accumulate “stuff”.

Lean seems to suffer a similar fate many times.  I have seen too many deployments met with the same enthusiasm only to end up in the same spot at the end of the year.  There is resistance and not enough force [commitment] to push through the “what if’s” and just flipping do it.  I am currently watching this happen and have no ability to help, which annoys the shit out of me.  Some people just don’t get it!

I’ve been contemplating the whole “deployment” subject and how to make the transition into a Lean environment more palatable.  The concept, introduced to me by Joshua and Ryan, better known as Minimalism is where I need to start.

Take a fresh deployment, you start off by training and moving into 5S and creating value stream maps and then coming up with kaizen events to hold and then you can start using all these cool tools you were trained about initially.  No one ever bothers to ask, “Do you really know how to use the tools in your tool box?”  “When to use them?”  How to match tools together to create a tag team like Shaq & Kobe?”  That is stuff only a few can answer.  There are few if any on hand during an initial deployment that can answer those questions.  Good Practitioners take for granted that the masses will understand the depth and meaning of Lean.

Lean, like Ulysses or Shakespeare, cannot be understood fully (let alone mastered) the first time through.  Lean is a hands on, elbow deep, dirty philosophy to “get”.  I hope I’m not painting a horrible picture here.  Yes, you may get a little dirt on you.  Yes, dealing with naysayers is tough at times.   In the end Lean, when embraced by all, works to create an ever evolving, ever improving business.

I believe Lean deployments are like opening a fire hydrant to get a drink of water; too much, too soon.  We overload the masses with new terms, ideas, the cool tools and start putting pressure to change the culture.  Instead perhaps we should start teaching the philosophy that enables Lean to be synonymous with continuous improvement.

Slowly, I don’t mean over the course of several years (though many Lean deployments I’ve seen take longer than a few years just to get started) but, over the course of several months begin to digest the principles behind Lean.  Subtly ease 5S into the workplace without even mentioning it’s name.  Under the guise of learning the business and team building create a value stream map that is easy to read and easy to digest.  There is honestly no need to need an engineer, database expert and a mathematician present to be able to translate the value stream map.  And, above all else, do not start out with setting quantifiable goals to gauge how Lean you are.

Treat it like kindergarten baseball, no one keeps score; play for fun!  Too often competition gets the best of people and getting to the next level becomes more of a priority than actually embodying the essence.  I was fortunate to work for a Fortune 100 company early in my career.  In the near ten years I was there the word Lean was never mentioned or alluded to.  Years later I compare how they ran their business and Lean and the parallels are amazing.  I had learned the essence of Lean without ever being taught Lean and it wasn’t until I truly understood and grasped Lean that I was able to put two and two together.
Lean, Philosophy

Leaning out the Culture

Why is lean such a difficult concept to accept in America?  Every deployment I’ve ever been a part of has had at least a few individuals that would just try and spoil the soup and to what end?  I have sat down with a number of Lean Practitioners in many different industries within the US to get their thoughts on this matter and the following is a summation of those conversations.  It’s a shame that the US has such a hang up with the philosophical principles driving Lean.  Unless one enters a company with a strong cultural affinity towards Lean the transition can be a painful experience.  This is unfortunate because the benefits of Lean are immeasurable.

America just needs to let go.

Whenever the term Lean is introduced the initial thought immediately goes to the phrase, “flavor of the week(month).”  This term was popularized by the band American Hi-Fi but, more so coined by ice cream shops as their premier or special flavor and has been synonymous with new and exciting “programs” companies put out to improve the business.  Many times falling by the wayside after a few months or so until a new “program” is brought to the forefront.  I relate this to the “Peter Crying Wolf” syndrome and soon the latest “program” is understood to be a fad and not to become too engaged.  When this behavior is taken with Lean it creates a great distance between the Practitioners and the masses.

The philosophical principles that drive the tools of Lean are unable to gain any traction because the people never allow Lean to move.  They remain disengaged expecting Lean to be another fad or “flavor of the month”.  But, what happens when a company “pushes” Lean and enables Practitioners to really drive Lean into the organization?

Why does it remain a difficult endeavor even years into the deployment?

Even when Lean is adopted by some areas or groups of an organization because of the silo effect of many corporations, the benefits of Lean are not seen.  When asked of those groups to speak on their journey, much of the time all that is heard is “hard work”, “trial and error” and great deal of commitment required to get the “ball rolling.”  I will admit anything put into an existing system that disrupts the “flow” of that system creates a need for attention which could be interpreted as more work however, the hour you take today will save you the day you spend tomorrow.

Lean can be implemented in a manner that is less disruptive than many have experienced.  Often I hear that when a company begins a Lean implementation, the company either hires a consulting firm to train a few individuals to act as Practitioners in addition to their “day job” or they send a number of individuals to be trained in Lean Principles but, ultimately have the same expectations.  Either way the company is expecting these individuals to add on to an already full day and typically results in a poor attitude towards Lean.

Rarely does a company enable or hire someone(s) who will focus their entire being into a Lean deployment.  When this does happen though the second part must be full support and adoption by the top leadership team.  It must be driven down through the organization allowing Lean to become the way they manage the business.

Going further into a Lean initiative I have only seen one instance of a company starting at the top and truly driving Lean down from the top but, even then was met with quite a bit of resistance.  Finally after talking with many different owners and practitioners I feel it boils down to culture.  That big nasty word we’ve even created curriculum around to train people to deal with, CULTURE.

 Is culture really a deal breaker in any deployment? 

Many times there is nothing in place that “forces” a team, group or department to embrace the Lean philosophy and use the tools in the toolbox.  Some of the more successful Lean deployments have gone so far as to change personnel in areas to those who would promote and were in line with Lean philosophies.  I am not suggesting firing the department and starting fresh but, there are times when people are so toxic that purging the system of that toxicity is necessary to move forward. 

Removing “effective” from an organization and taking that step back is daunting however, there are times when taking that step back is required to enable the organization to move forward.  Toxins spread quickly and often result in killing any ground gained initially, taking the deployment back past the initial stages because there is animosity and unacceptance looming in the air.  Any attempt at re-deploying is met with greater resistance.

If those at the top are not embodying Lean what is the motivation to follow?
One must remember that the US is only less than 240 years old whereas, many other countries Japan specifically are far older and more importantly have had far less influence over their base culture.  Japan, which is where Lean was conceived and born, has a much different mindset and culture than that of the US.  These cultural differences enable the acceptance of Lean.  Culturally speaking Lean is Japanese.  Just as the philosophical principles of Buddhism, martial arts such as aikido or judo, and even manga are looked at quizzically by many citizens of the US, Lean is looked at with much the same reservation. 

I think going forward with a Lean deployment is tricky in any environment but, within the US where being an individual is preferred over being a part of the whole adds an element of disruption.  The consensus remains that a dedicated group of Practitioners educating and deploying with full support of the top leadership pushing Lean down through the organization is the best option to create a Lean culture within an organization otherwise, you’re just pushing a rope up a steep hill.  



Spring Happiness

This is the reason I love the spring.  I love that April showers clean away the harsh winter we’ve endured and allow nature to begin anew.  A fresh start to a new season.  I enjoy watching life spring forth from everything around me from the trees to the flowers to the animals that are coming forth from their winter lairs.


My wife has a small garden that we have very little planted, unfortunately.  Strawberries are one of the fruits we all enjoy eating and this little one is the first strawberry of the year.  We will see about a bushel of strawberries before the season ends but, this is the first and most important one…in my opinion.  It represents the beginning of harvest and the beginning of life. There is something about eating fresh off the vine that causes it to taste better.

Spring not only brings the wildlife out into the sun but, my family and I as well.  Though we do plenty outside all year long during the fall and winter we are covered in layers of clothing protecting ourselves from the cold.  Spring brings with it warmth and sunshine and feeling the sun warm the skin is a pleasure I like to take the time to enjoy.  I will even go so far as to set up a make-shift office out on the porch to work instead of being cooped up in my home office.  The sounds of nature and the fresh air make me feel better and thus affects my productivity.  It has also been shown that sunlight helps in your overall sleeping at night. (Sleep Study)

I honestly haven’t seen any change to my sleeping since setting up outside compared to working in my cubicle in the office but, I do know when I was trapped in a cubicle within the belly of an office I had a foreboding feeling of depression and anxiety.  I can’t speak to there being a correlation, just to my feelings at the time.  I dreaded walking into the office knowing that all I’d see all day long was a puke colored fabric wall, listening to the buzz of fluorescent lighting that just killed my eyes.  You can read a good article on fluorescent lighting here at Fast Company.

Overall I just enjoy the spring.  I am an early riser, typically pre-5 a.m., and enjoy sittiFlowerng on the porch with a cup of coffee and watching the sun rise.  The birds singing in the background and the rooster (we have a dozen or so chickens for the eggs) welcome the morning.  There have been several mornings where I’ve been able to catch a deer or two grazing in the pasture beside the house.  The serenity of the experience is a great way to begin my day.



Lean: A Philosophy

A good friend of mine asked me what it was I did for a living.  He knew I took calls at all hours from all over the globe but, had no clue what it was I actually did.  So, I told him, matter of fact, that I was a continuous improvement analyst.  He returned a blank stare.  There was a long awkward pause and I added that I was trained in a philosophical business practice termed Lean.  This didn’t improve the situation and it was then that I realized most people, outside specific industries, don’t have a clue what Lean is.

I poured us both a drink, offered him a chair and began a twenty minute dissertation on Lean.  I went through the concepts and “tools”, briefly reviewed how to begin a Lean deployment and that because it is a philosophy, can be tailored to any industry.  He finished his drink as I ended my speech, looked at me and said, “Sounds like you just add fancy terms to common sense actions and principles.”

I didn’t know how to respond to this at first because, though it was not the first time I had heard Lean equated to “common sense” it was the first time I actually gave it deep thought.  Had I been fooling myself into believing Lean was more?  Is Lean just a “common sense” approach to business wrapped in a fancy expensive suit?

No.  There is nothing common about Lean.

Common sense infers there is a mass consensus of understanding regarding some, thing.  It supposes the majority of the population would agree to a common practice, thought, conclusion, etc.  Wikipedia defines common sense this way:

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people, and can be reasonably expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.1 The everyday understanding of what common sense is derives from philosophical discussion, involving several European languages. Related terms in other languages include Latin sensus communis, Greek κοινὴ αἲσθησις (koinē aísthēsis), and French bon sens, but these are not straightforward translations in all contexts. Similarly in English, there are different shades of meaning, implying more or less education and wisdom: “good sense” is sometimes seen as equivalent to “common sense”, and sometimes not.2

Neither Lean, nor the foundational principles are, in my experience, truly understood by many or common to all people.  Experience has shown a wide gap between those who “get it” and those who don’t.  Many of those who don’t, sadly, show great resistance to the “philosophy” of Lean.  The feeling that Lean is just an “add-on” to their already full day creates animosity towards Lean and the practitioners.  The lack of understanding is a roadblock to true innovation.

Lean gets back to basics.  Lean, when implemented with 100% commitment, allows a person to do their job proactively instead of reactively.  Too often when sitting down with a manager I’ll ask, “How is your day going,” I’ll hear the same story.  They spend so much time putting out fires they have little time for much else.  Before we get to deep into the weeds I will be blunt and honest, Lean will not prevent fires from occurring.  Lean is not magical, however, it will allow you to see the fire before it grows and also get back on the road if a fire arises.

Lean encompasses so much that over the course of the next few months I will be writing posts describing the elements, principles and practices of Lean.  I won’t be focusing in any one industry.  Lean is typically related to manufacturing, which is where it was born.  I will keep these general on how Lean is deployed.  We have already begun the Lean journey here, as I would in a deployment.  My goal is that you have a deep understanding of Lean and hopefully become as passionate as I am.

Lean initially seems ridiculous at first because it starts well, at the beginning of what we do.  Too often we spend too much of our time “putting out fires,” or dealing with co-workers or office politics.  Our focus is not on our job.

Lean starts with getting back to basics and focuses attention away from everything except, what we are paid to do, our core job function.  It forces us to take a real deep dive into job specific elements and how they impact to the overall business.  It allows us to find the waste in the system and enables us to “stream-line” our operation.  Lean is our heads-up-display to guide us and continuously show us our status enabling us to make changes before we realize that the ship is off course, and that is just a high level look at Lean.

Lean is something I have a great deal of passion for.  Lean is something that works and keeps the job simple.  In today’s world of mass chaos Lean allows us to maintain the farm and catch the chickens when they get out of the coop without having to increase our efforts.