By February 13, 2011 6 Comments Read More →

Dilbert’s Boss Again Proves He is Not a Lean Thinker

Today’s Dilbert will resonate with Lean thinkers and, I think, with the Lean Startups crowd:



Lean management is not the same as old fashioned cost-cutting. Lean focuses on quality and time (flow), meeting customer needs in a way that ends up with lower cost. But that’s very different than cutting costs (such as hospitals laying off employees when times are tight).

Less meeting time – if the meetings are waste, that might be a good move. I know of some hospitals that, as part of their Lean culture, are banning meetings during the first two hours of the day so managers can be more engaged with employees at the “gemba” – the place where work is really done (the shopfloor or the point of patient care).

Lean is different than old fashioned micromanagement. A Lean leader sets direction and coaches people, but a Lean leader doesn’t have all of the answers, not are they “top-down” directive, in the traditional sense.

Eric Ries and the Lean Startups movement are thankfully emphasizing that “lean” doesn’t mean cheap – it means fast and iterative. That’s a great lesson for any industry.

Traditional cost cutting is a death spiral – case in point, the now bankrupt Borders bookstore chain that was scrimping on inventory and store staffing… angering the customers they had left, leading, I’m sure, to more cost cutting. Circuit City went through the same death spiral, as I blogged about in 2007.

Amazon, a Lean thinking organization, finds new ways to add value to customers instead of just cutting costs. Unfortunately, Amazon seems to be trying its hardest to avoid sales taxes, leading them to close a Texas distribution facility… but that’s a different topic for a different post or a different blog. I’m not sure I admire Amazon for what they are doing there.

Anyway, I saw today’s Dilbert and couldn’t resist blogging about it real quick…

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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6 Comments on "Dilbert’s Boss Again Proves He is Not a Lean Thinker"

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  1. Jill says:

    One of the issues with more or less meetings, is how to deliver information that is timely and relevant. Emails get blown off or not read right away, face time isn’t guaranteed, and work load reduces conversation time. So how do managers keep their employees up to date, without dumping them with meetings?

  2. Liz Guthridge

    Meetings to deliver or disseminate information is not a great use of people’s time. If people are going to take the time to gather, it’s better to engage them in a conversation or discussion. Instead, managers and team leaders should step back and set exepectations and guidelines around team communication. For example, these should include what team members are expected to do to stay up-to-date and to share pertinent information with others.

    Email also has become an a somewhat inefficient way to reach people for two reasons. One, we’re overwhelmed with email. And second, email is not nearly as easy to search as are wikis, Sharepoint, and other tools.

    So from a tactical perspective, managers and team members should consider what communication channels will work best in their environments. These days, think about supplementing the channels with oldies but goodies, such as as voice mail reminders and bulletin board postiings.

    Great post, Mark! And a very funny, but oh so true, Dilbert strip.

  3. Brian Buck

    I knew Borders was doomed in December14 when my wife and I had a 50% off coupon and wanting to buy at least four different items released in the last six months. Every one of those items were not in stock.

    In the age of being able to get books shipped from Amzon or e-books, having items in the store would have been value-added but their stores could not even provide that! I do not think our tastes were too obscure.

    The last few years also had a decline in quality people who worked there also. Many had no information about their books or other products.

    Cost cutting in stocking needed things and reducing staff who understand the products led to their bad finances.

    Maybe I am just bitter since Borders was a fun date place for my wife and I and now it is probably going away!

    • Andrew Bishop

      The arc that Borders took over the decades is pretty interesting. Back when they were a locally owned downtown bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the inventory was awesome and the staff knew books like nobody else. Good coffee, too, and one of my favorite T-shirts! Oh well! I’ll leave the analysis to someone else.

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