Lean Comes To A Local Classroom

Back in April, I was watching the local news (NBC26) and was just about ready to turn it off and head to bed.  As they were transitioning to commercials, one of the teaser trailers for upcoming stories caught my eye, because in the lower left-hand corner I recognized a book:  Everything I Know About Lean I Learned In First Grade, by Robert Martichenko.  So of course I hit the record button on the DVR!

The story was about a learning program in one of the local schools, which throughout the year allowed students in the program to do things like shadow health professionals, visit local manufacturing locations, and get a taste of what life is like in the real world of business and healthcare.  Local professionals also come to the classroom to participate.  During this particular story, they appeared to be having a bracelet-making workshop with the students.

Images of the students putting small beads on strings, passing the pieces from station to station, counting inventory, all with flipcharts in the background were overlaid with quotes such as:

  • “The activity focuses on continuous improvement and lean”
  • “Learning about what we do in the real world, in manufacturing, is not much different than making these bracelets”
  • “It is about teaching them to see how things flow in a process, identify the waste, and eliminate it.”

I was excited to see lean concepts being brought into a local classroom environment. I think if schools are educating their students in fundamentals of continuous improvement, then we’re on the right track as we move towards the future.  A statement by one of the school program leaders was along the lines of “we are preparing the kids for what employers look for today – working in teams, collaboration, communication – it’s not just about solving equations.”

The story caused me to pull out my Martichenko book and refresh myself on how simply yet powerfully he connected many lean fundamentals to an environment (1st grade) nearly all of us have experienced and can translate easily.  Great strides can be made in reducing the lean learning curve in organizations when you can move people past the initial fear and resistance to the unknown, into a zone where they are interested and curious to learn.  I mean, if you still fear the unknown after having “Orlo the Owl” drive home the key learning points of each chapter…

We need to remind ourselves of the fundamentals once in a while, because without discipline to them we will stray and begin to complicate things again rather than focus on simplifying them.  Here are a few of my quick favorites, taken directly from the book:

From the introduction:  “We do not need to overcomplicate lean principles.  Successful lean journeys are achieved by organizations that understand that the complexity of lean is in its simplicity: to have a plan, do the plan, check the plan, and then adjust to improve upon the plan”

On visual management:  “The ability to tell at a glance what the work is and the status of each step is called “visual management”.  Making work visible is the first step toward being able to understand and improve it.”

On eliminating waste:  “…picture your organization as a boat navigating down a river.  The river represents the business environment.  Just below the water are many rocks.  These rocks represent the problems in the value stream.  Building on the analogy, inventory is the water level of the river.  As we flow down the river, we are very cognizant of the rocks (problems) below.  When we see a rock, we can do one of three things:

  1. Try to navigate around the rocks – the equivalent of fire fighting each and every day.
  2. Raise the water level (inventory level) to ensure that we float down the river without hitting the rocks
  3. Eliminate the rocks permanently, making the river void of problems”

(Image found at LeanIsGood, by Bruce Baker)

There are an abundance of similar nuggets in that book.  Refreshing myself on them triggers reflection on work in my current group – are people creating visual management to surface problems in order to eliminate them, or just to check the box on their lean learning plan, or perhaps because their manager told them they need to?  When people show me their personal visual management boards, and then tell me they don’t get much value out of it, I tend to tell them to take them down and create something they do believe is valuable.

Refreshing, reflecting, refocusing, rejuvenating, remembering… several great reasons to pull a book like that out once in a while.

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