Sunday, November 10, 2013

Get Just a Little Better Every Day

As a Lean Leader, the most important goal to pursue is a culture where people are working toward flow every single day. Not every once in a while. Every single solitary day. Flow is that blissful paradise where a customer gives us an order, and it never stops moving through one value adding process to the next, it ships, and we get paid. The things that make it stop, the 8 wastes, are gone. No rework, no waiting, no unnecessary motion (people) or transport (materials). No unneeded testing or sign-offs. No making more than we need, etc. Our customer gets exactly what they want exactly when they want it. 

The goal is really not to get to Flowland. That is like going to the Emerald City. It is to create a culture where people are conditioned to have a "healthy disrespect" for the current condition with the green light to do small, reversible experiments, using A3 thinking to leverage diversity and to gain agreement. 

I always say that the standard work for leaders is to demonstrate that this change in thinking is important. Don't just say it is important. Show up, ask why, show respect-or, simply "go to gemba". The reason this is so important is because if you don't, everyone will fill their day just doing their jobs...the processes that got you to today, but maybe not to tomorrow. The hardest thing is to get going and then stay going. I've seen lots of momentum generated from periodic kaizan "events" lose steam. The periodic kaizan event is sometimes taking a big bite (binge). What I suggest is lots of small bites. 

If there are 100 employees in your company, and if everyone spent just 15 minutes per day doing A3 (leading or on teams), at the end of one year, your company will have spent 360,000 minutes (15 minutes X 100 people X 240 workdays) getting "a little better". That is 6000 hours, or 750 eight hour work days. I get it. Odds are you won't see this type of participation for awhile. So what? Even if you achieve a fraction of  everyone spending 15 minutes every day, it's better than 10-12 kaizan events. 

Place no judgement on the type of improvements people are doing. The trick is to celebrate their willingness to take ownership in their own jobs. Currently 3 of the companies I have the honor of working for have established this culture and this is when the fun begins. People get very, very good at the process of Plan-Do-Check-Act simply because they do it so much! You will NEVER get very good at LEAN if you give it lip service, or if you only do it once in a while (don't waste your time certifying people on-line). The only wrong way is to do nothing. Like NIKE, Just Do It. Learn by Doing!

Can we get a little better every day? 


  1. Bill, I fully endorse your "small bites" advice…the 15 minutes a day approach seems eminently workable and reasonable. Lean has problems when some advocates go into a business and present lean as a new way of life…a philosophy rather than a tool. That strikes me as biting off more than lean was designed to handle.

  2. First, thank you Dan for taking your time to read my drivel. In my own company, I spent too much time spinning my wheels trying to convince people of concepts that don"t seem to make sense. Small, reversible experiments where they actually use some of the tools convinced them for me. But, hindsight is 20/20. Thank you again and much respect