Mark Graban's - Lean Healthcare, Lean Hospitals, Healthcare Kaizen, Lean Thinking, Lean Manufacturing, Toyota Production System

You are here! The importance of the current state

First, if you’ve read The Hitchhiker ‘s Guide to Lean, you will know that we believe the entire concept of deeply understanding our current state is a vital skill and principle to drive performance improvement. I recently penned an article for Manufacturing Engineering Magazine with my Lean Learning Center co-founder Dennis Pawley. It is titled The Current State: Progress Starts Here. Here is a partial excerpt from the article:

There’s gold in them there hills! What’s the value of the current state of your process? After all, your goal is to make the current state obsolete by rapid continuous improvement. Why would anyone spend so much time on something that’s going to change? The current state has gold in it, not necessarily in terms of results, but in learning. The current state is the product of every experiment and failure of the past many years, or even decades.In the early 1990’s, the best-selling book Re-engineering the Corporation by Hammer and Champy advocated throwing out the current state. “Take out a clean sheet of paper,” they advocated, “and design your processes from scratch.” After this approach led to many failures—some on a grand scale—Hammer, to his credit, reversed himself. It turns out that understanding the current state is quite valuable.

Think about this: you are doing something right. If you did nothing right, your company would no longer exist. If you throw away the current state, imagine how many good things might be lost. Of course, it’s important not only to understand what is currently working, but why it is working. Too often we employ “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But that mantra too often seems to morph into “don’t mess with it in any way, including understanding it.” Second, you have made, and are currently making, many mistakes. Without understanding those mistakes in such depth that they can be fixed, they are bound to be repeated. Put these two conditions together, and you can see why trying to fix a process without understanding the good and bad of the current state often leads to a very deficient future state.

I think this is a vital topic that deserve more attention. If we can’t do this right, the rest is probably waste. I also wrote about this in my Leading Column a few months ago, titled Don’t Just See: Observe!

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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