Guest Post: Being the Change


Mark's note: Today, I'm happy to welcome back an old Lean Blog contributor, Andy Wagner. He takes a more personal turn here than most of my guest bloggers for the next two weeks, writing about the application of Lean thinking to his personal life in a very meaningful way. His post (the first in what will likely be a series here):

Perhaps Gandhi said it best, and most famously: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”  This blog is the first in a short  series about my recent effort to develop Standard Work for myself as  quality manager  in a manufacturing organization. Although, I work in traditional manufacturing in a production machine shop environment, I'm in a management job that's highly variable, mostly firefighting. The lessons I've learned should apply to a variety of folks,:  most people in fact, who balance work, home, family, friends, long-term dreams and short-term crisis-management.

Being the Change

First, let me set the stage. My workplace is old school.   While we pay homage to Lean  Six Sigma, reality is LAME 2.5 Sigma.   Change is hard, I'm reminded on a daily basis.   Working from crisis to crisis last fall, my  job satisfaction  was at an all time low.   I was burned out.   My displeasure at work was spilling over into my home life, which was quite unfortunate.   I was supposed to be enjoying the toddler-hood of my daughter, not to mention my wonderful wife. The house was a mess.   For the first time in my life, I was paying bills late, not for lack of money, but because of a breakdown in process.   Long hours and frustrating days left me exhausted.   Stacks of mail and paperwork, clutter, got pushed aside.   TV or computer games and bed were all I could manage before dragging myself out of bed for another day in the meat grinder.

I can't say exactly when it happened, but I made a conscious decision.   The boss might make work miserable and stymie my vision of  operational excellence  at work, but he couldn't stop me from doing it at home.   I started modestly, and very personally.   One evening, I did a 5-S clean-up of my mailbox/bill paying shelf.   I used an existing file organizer to queue up my various bills and paperwork tasks.

With the backlog clearly visible, I made a checklist.   I hadn't read  Atul Gawande yet, but I had read of him.   It was modest at first.   Four or five items that I would do every day when I got home:

  1. Spend time with my daughter.
  2. Restock the diapers and wipes.
  3. Put away the laundry
  4. Load/run the dishwasher after dinner
  5. Do one task from my shelf.   Pay a bill, balance an account, file something, etc.

Every night.

The shelf stayed mostly clear-the bills were paid on time.   I quit stumbling into the bedroom at night to find a stack of clothes on the bed, or worse, waking up in the morning to find no socks or underwear.   I quit trying to balance another dish on the stack in the sink.   Life got back to normal.   I had a process.   The process grew: my personal email box dropped to five or less messages each night, I lost ten pounds with another checklist item, and I had the time and motivation to start on some of the other little projects around the house.   I had satisfaction with myself and some peace when I finally sat down to relax in the evening.   It worked.

Would it work at work?   I'd try that next.

Continue reading Part 2, “Not Putting Out Fires.”

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Andy Wagner
Andy Wagner works for a major aerospace company. Andy blogged here regularly from 2007 to 2010 and still contributes occasionally.


  1. For your interest, the website called FlyLady works along these same principles. I wouldn’t call it Lean for the Home, but there are some similarities, including morning and evening checklists. I’d suggest checking it out, particularly the Babysteps.

    Cheers and good post!


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