Guest Post: What It Means


Mark's Note: Here's part 4 of a series by our guest blogger, Andy Wagner. Start reading with Part 1 here.

“What lies behind us and what lies in front of us pales in comparison to what lies within us.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jamie Flinchbaugh recently hosted an interesting discussion on who is responsible for lean successes, and perhaps more tellingly, lean failures.   The last several days, I've shared my personal lean journey of the past six months.   I hope to continue to do so as I make progress, both personally and professionally.   For some eight years, I've read books, articles, blogs, and training packages on   this thing called “lean”.   Like most of us, I've seen and applied lean tools.   I've cheered the successes and jeered the the LAME imitations.

I started out blaming the system and ended up using the system as an excuse not to make improvements.

Suddenly, I feel like I've had an awakening.   I've found the way.

I started this series quoting Gandhi. “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I chose that overused quote because it so closely represents the experience of my six month kaizen adventure.   I wasn't satisfied with my ability to change or influence the system around me, so I focused instead on being that change.   In doing so, I experienced the lean ideal in a way I couldn't through shallow application of the tools to other people's work.

I standardized my work.   I eliminated backlogs and firefighting.   I level loaded my daily tasks. I quit blaming myself and my management for problems, and focused on finding solutions–true respect for people.     I did a focused hoshin review on my personal life and tied that review back to my daily standard work.   Quite accidentally, I started dragging my wife and my co-workers along for the ride.   I'm leveraging my standard work in asking others to do their critical tasks every day– it's on my checklist.

There has been a lot of discussion lately in the lean blogosphere about the differences between lean tools and lean management.   Having gone through this process in my own life, I don't know how a continuous improvement leader who hasn't embraced lean for himself or herself can claim to know much about lean.   They might know the shallow tools, perhaps better than I, but I don't think they can understand how this philosophy of improvement can help people to learn and grow and gradually improve themselves and their work, one small change at a time.   Lean management, then, is the personal application of lean thinking to the manager's world.   Doing so truly opens ones eyes to all the possibilities.

As Michelangelo would say: “ancora imparo…I am still learning.”

I hope you will continue to join me.

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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. I found Andy’s posts to be helpful. They have reminded me to dust off and re-read a book that was given to me about 7 years ago by the co-author, Bernie Sergesketter. The book “Quality is Personal” was useful to me then and it is now. The common point I take from Andy’s posts and Bernie’s book is also something I learned from Dr. Deming – “The first step is transformation of the individual. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people. The individual, once transformed, will:
    Set an example
    Be a good listener, but will not compromise
    Continually teach other people
    Help people to pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.” (The New Economics)

  2. Patricia,
    Goodness! My series was “drool-worthy”? I’m sorry to end on a low note. Perhaps you can discuss more offline and I can make some improvements for the next time?

    I’ve read that Deming quote myself and I think it was echoing somewhere in my head when I wrote this. I think change truly has to be personal. From a credibility standpoint, how can you convince others to follow when you aren’t wiling to make same kinds of changes? Secondly, how can you understand what you’re asking for when you haven’t do it?


  3. That’s an interesting take on Kaizen and the lean philosophy. I think what Andy is trying to say makes sense that applying lean tools and the lean philosophy to yourself will help you make constant improvements in every sphere of your life. It’s good to note that something that’s emerged as a business concept can be applied at such a personal level as well.


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