The Downside of Everyday Lean


An email from a friend, he and his company will remain anonymous.

“OK so it's confession time. I've been reading your Blog fairly regularly here at work. We dabble in lean stuff here. Generally it's frustrating reading an expert opinion on lean applications then watch dis-interested morons here try to apply it.

Anyway, as to why I am ruined. So I'm in line at Target to get a slushy. There was one couple ahead of me. One person at the register handling the order, shouting the order to the back where three more employees are randomly doing other things. There's a problem with the gift card, the register person also responsible for filling the order doesn't know how to use the gift card has to go and get the manager.

So instead of just getting upset that they are just painfully slow, I'm starting to think more in terms of queue times, revenue lost to slow service, not focusing on the customer, poor management and training blah, blah, blah!!! I'm ruined.

Thanks. It used to be so much simpler…”

I've learned that as you look for examples of “Everyday Lean” it's more likely easy to find examples of “Everyday Waste” and non-lean behavior. It's hard to turn off that part of your brain, but sometimes you have to!

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. The same thing happened to me at a restaurant with an “open kitchen” Tuesday night. Customers were watching and waiting while the batches of food waited for the next round on the grill. They could have gone for a continuous flow method that would have allowed only one cook on the grill. I warned my wife that if she took me there again while I wait I’m going to start clocking them and developing a takt time.

  2. Knowing about lean is a torment at times. When I’m on the receiving end of bad service, I get so frustrated because I can think of ways to avoid the problem I’m having, but I know the company’s management would have zero interest. I found myself in the radiologist’s office making a process flow chart about why I was waiting when I was the first appointment of the day, and knew I had it bad. I asked the receptionist whether I was waiting for any particular purpose, and she gave me some non-answer like “they have to set up the room.” I had been listening to the chit-chat in the radiology area, which sounded like setting up the coffee consumption of the day. But the receptionist went into the room after she thought enough time had elapsed after my question that I wouldn’t think she was going there to tell them the patient was getting irritable. Voila – they called me for my x-rays in about 15 seconds. Basically I had identified a non-value-added delay and asked “why?” with no rancor in my demeanor.

  3. The patient is usually the least important customer in the whole healthcare process. Everything is designed around not delaying or inconveniencing the god-like doctor or getting 100% utilization out of some expensive piece of equipment. Sometimes it’s well intended, sometimes its just rude. I quit going to a doctor who was habitually showing up 45 minutes late to start the day. How can you ever catch up (yet alone be on time) when you START 45 minutes late? When the front desk girls said “oh he’s always late” then I told them I was finding another doctor.


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