OMG, Who Are The Lazy Eleven Percent?


There was a short blurb in the Institute of Industrial Engineers IIE magazine this month that caught my eye.

It read:

“The vast majority of manufacturers (89 percent) plan to undertake process improvements during the next 12 months, according to the Material Handling Industry of America.”

I think the point was to be impressed about the 89 percent, but I was shocked by the 11% who apparently don't plan to improve in the upcoming year.

Now, the 11% who said “no” might mean that they don't have a formal improvement methodology, such as Lean and/or Six Sigma, or others.

But it really sounds like 11% don't think they need to improve. Shocking. Inexcusable (if you're an employee or a shareholder).

I wonder what that number would be in a survey of hospitals, not just manufacturers.

Either way, you'd think if you were asked in a survey, you'd just say “YES! Of course we plan to improve.” How hard is it to say “yes”?  It makes me think of the annual ACHE survey of hospital CEOs where only about 33% say patient safety and quality is a “top priority” (when they could choose more than one answer). I'm surprised they don't at least SAY it matters. I guess it goes to show it's not on their radar (it's been delegated?).

What's your reaction to a number like that? What are your organization's plans for process improvement, generally speaking, in the next 12 months? Is there growing enthusiasm for formal process improvement methodologies – if so, which one(s) – or is enthusiasm and commitment waning? Either way, why do you think that is?

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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. First, I’m a bit shocked that I just saw “OMG” in a post title about lean.

    But more shocking of course is that number. I of course wouldn’t want people to say yes if they didn’t mean it. I’m actually not that surprised at the actual number, just the reasons that it exists. One reason, in what I’m witnessing firsthand, is that too many people think that improvement requires investment dollars. If that’s the case, then if you don’t have the capital then of course you’re not going to plan on improving.

    Could you do something? Yes. But those thinking this way see the available improvements as so few and so trivial that it’s hardly worth mentioning.

    Improvement can occur no matter what the condition. We have play the cards that we’re dealt.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

    • OMG, I’m just trying to relate to the young lean thinkers out there :-)

      I don’t want people just saying yes to this survey or the CEO priorities survey without taking action to back it up. I’m just surprised people don’t lie and say “yes.” That much would be easy. I guess the 11% who say “no” have ethics at least…

      • Didn’t lie? I think they did lie and that is why the number IS as high as it is.

        I have managers and directors that regularly say “thank you for expressing your concern… we’ll try to fix that in the next budget cycle”. Staff are cynically saying “why should I report a concern when nothing gets done… they haven’t addressed issues that were brought up two years ago.”.

        Thankfully, the organization is now pursuing a robust improvement agenda. But it will be a tough hill to climb when organizational culture is so tainted due to neglect and incompetence. Wish us luck.

        PS: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

  2. It might shed a little more light on the thinking of the 11% if we see how the actual question was worded. A key component of Root Cause Analysis is fully understanding the problem.

  3. Mark, you’re a commentator on Lean life. Therefore, this number matters. I, a mere implementer wannabee, think there is only one survey that matters – the one I fill out.

    Do I plan to improve? Yes. Not only does this give 100% positive results, it is a kick in my own pants to make sure I take steps to improve.

  4. Continuous improvement, like patient safety and quality appears to fall into the realm of “someone elses responsibility” and thus of course its important to those people, whoever they are, that are working on it, just not me.

  5. Maybe these 11% are “manufacturers” that don’t actually manufacturing anything – just outsource it all :-/ My guess is it is the “process” modifier that causes some people not to say yes. Or maybe it is the “plan” – maybe they know they will do so, but have not plan?

    I agree, it is a huge disservice to all the stakeholders is process improvement is not an important part of the management process.

    I also agree with PhysioWonk that the 89% could be an exaggeration of companies that will actually make substantial efforts to improve processes next year :-(

  6. Mark,

    I may know one of the 11%. Over 15 years ago a renowned Lean sensei walked our value streams (he was invited) and later sent us a letter which summarized much of his in-person feedback.

    (The letter identified a number of opportunities and discussed some insight into the roadmap to (begin approaching) “world class.” The VP to whom the letter was addressed, reviewed the sensei’s letter and made a number of comments within the margins. One of the comments was…”Maybe, we’re already world class.” I assure you that we were not!

  7. Continuous improvement is boring. That’s not how you get promoted in large organizations in the western world.

    Give me innovation! Fun, exciting, sexy stuff! New projects, new technology, new markets. Not this kaizen business…


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