Lean Lessons Learned: 10 Steps to Success

My Lean thinking has gradually evolved since beginning my journey in 2000. You'd think I’d have figured it all out by now, right?... Not a chance. I was recently asked a very good question: What would you do differently if you had all the Lean knowledge and experience you have today?1 Below are 10 thoughts to this question.

1. Understand the 8 Wastes

Use the 8 Wastes to start. Understand how the 8 wastes interact and lead to one another. Don’t get hung up on the DOWNTIME acronym (Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-utilized talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Extra processing).

Instead understand the nuances of how one waste creates another. E.g. how inventory hides waste. Information is also inventory – too much information (overproduction) can lead to misunderstanding which is likely to turn into rework (excessive processing) of the document, or physically on site.

2. Eliminate Batch Work

Work on reducing set-up times (SMED) – not creating bigger batches. Only produce what you need to produce. Aim for uninterrupted flow and look at how the 8 Wastes are preventing this.

E.g. break construction work into smaller chunks and don’t wait to pass RFIs (Requests for Information) in batches.

3. Understand Variation

Understanding the role of variation is critical. If something unexpected is happening, stop and readjust. Variation produces mountains of waste, slows you up, reduces your productivity (stop/starting) and the quality of your product. It sucks emotional energy right out of you.

4. Recognize the Importance of Standardization

Variation is a symptom of having no set standards. Today, standardization is almost a religious experience at my company. Basically we use one cleaner (Windex) that cleans 98% of everything in our facility. Before, we used 15 different cleaners. Now only one kind of paper towel is used. The list goes on and on…

5. Focus on Quality Not Lowest First Cost

Back in my cabinet making days, I often bought drawer guides and hinges based on what was a good deal. However, I replaced a whole bunch of these drawer guides. Twenty years later, I still get calls from customers asking me if I have replacements and I have not been in the cabinet business for 17 years! If quality was the most important factor in my decision-making, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache. Today, quality comes before cost every time.

6. The Power of Kanban

I used to order a whole bunch of stuff to ensure I never ran out. My garage was getting bigger and bigger to store all the inventory – hiding all the waste. Spending time managing excess inventory is another waste. Do you see where I am getting at? Managing low levels of inventory requires a Lean system. Lean always takes a system approach. Kanban used as part of a Lean system becomes a trigger to replenish in small batches. Think about how a grocery store shelf is re-stocked?

7. Everything on Wheels

Put everything on wheels. You have flexibility to move things around quickly whenever you need to adapt. Have you ever seen stacks of drywall/materials just lying on the ground? What happens if you need to move them quickly? Lots of the 8 Wastes I guess…

8. The Shop Layout

How would I layout my new shop if I was doing it again? Guess what? Everything on wheels! At FastCap today, we have an open plan where almost everything is on wheels. Everything is very simple, our desks, our carts. All easy to move/change at the drop of a hat. We make everything out of our FastPipe system3. When you understand standardization, standard work, quick setup time, SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Dies), kanban, flexibility and building nothing in… gosh, I don’t know what to say, It’s just a magic system!

9. Cut it in Half

Toyota use a powerful concept: “don’t approach anything unless you can cut it in half.” If it takes an hour, ask: how I can do it in 30 minutes? Don’t even question it, everything can be cut in half.

Here are two great examples: During construction of the World Expo Center in Kazakhstan, they went from installing 1 window a day to 15. Walters & Wolf were manufacturing approximately 30 windows a day. I challenged them to make 50. Six months later they make 110. Their new target is now 200 a day!

10. Lean Culture

In my cabinet making days I had no employees – I was effectively the culture. If I was starting FastCap again, I would look at culture completely differently. From 2000 to 2005 I viewed Lean as just a management tool. However, in 2005 I realized that is Lean really is all about people and tapping into their boundless capacity and non-utilized talent. This is when our Lean culture began to develop. Lean is essentially a learning culture where management focus on relentless training, teaching and elevating its people to become world class problem solvers. When I started focusing on developing my team members every day, everything changed. People don't believe in you until you believe in them. Invest in your team and reap the rewards.

Lean Thinking – It Never Ends! Becoming a lean thinker is like stepping into a perpetual Edison’s laboratory. Experiment with every facet of life. Use the scientific method (PDCA) every time. Start questions with 5W+1H: "Why are we doing this? What’s happening here/there? Where else? When? Who is affected by this? How often? Always look for problems, solve them and keep learning.

When you create a deep understanding of Lean, ideas and creativity flow. The benefits never end. So what would I do if I was to start over again? I’d become a Lean maniac first and foremost.


1. FastCap Lean Re-Start: https://youtu.be/KJfRRWI3Yqk
2. FastCap Lean Tour Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYby_HczyDA
3. FastPipe System: https://www.fastcap.com/estore/pc/FastPipe-p44266.htm

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