The Lean Blog Holiday Gift Guide


This time of year, every publication under the sun (print and web) has a “Holiday Gift Guide” to share. In that spirit, I am happy to present the first Lean Blog Holiday Gift Guide. This guide is a mix of products I legitimately use and enjoy and some are somewhat tongue-in-cheek items that seem “Lean” in one way or another.

For the Kanban-Loving Coffee Drinker:

Are you a fan of Kanban systems for managing supplies and materials? Are you particularly a fan of the “re-order point” style of Kanban system, where items are replenished when inventory hits a level that's often visually indicated (like this example in a hospital lab), with or without a Kanban card? If so, you can now manage your coffee mug's “inventory level” using similar Lean methods – buy the mug today (yes, it's a real thing). Beer steins also available.

For the Small-Batch Coffee Drinker:

Now, if you're using a Lean coffee mug, you don't want to make a huge 12-cup batch of coffee necessarily, do you? When I do make a large batch of coffee, I often throw half of it away. There are many single-cup coffee makers on the market. My favorite, the one I use at home, is the Keurig  line of coffee makers (I have the B40, my in-laws have the B60). Now, some people don't like the environmental impact of throwing out the plastic pods, so there is a reusable K-cup that you can refill with your own grounds (which adds home labor content, but is “greener”):  ekobrew Cup, Refillable K-Cup For Keurig K-Cup Brewers  ($13). The Keurig makers range from $119 to $175.

For the Serious Lean Reader:

I've been a huge fan of the Amazon Kindle e-book reader since I bought the 2nd generation Kindle in 2009. You can carry most of your Lean library around with you, including my book Lean Hospitals (and the 2nd edition will be on Kindle any day now). The latest e-Ink Kindle reader is a great deal at just $79: Buy Kindle via Amazon.

For the Serious Reader / Movie Watcher / Tablet Geek:

I received the new Kindle Fire ($199) as a birthday gift recently. It's awesome. It's no iPad, but it's a highly portable Android-based tablet. Reading on the LCD screen works better than I thought and I enjoy the small 7″ screen as an easy-to-grab web tablet for use around the house or anyplace else you have wi-fi. Buy via Amazon. Oh, and you can run KaiNexus on it, albeit it a bit clunkily, since it's an Android tablet and it runs flash.

For the Wine Drinker who Hates Waste (Or Wasted Wine):

Lean thinkers hate waste. Some of us recognize the health benefits of red wine (truth: we like the taste!). When my wife and I open a bottle and only want one glass (or one plus a bit of a refill, more likely), we don't want our leftover wine inventory (WIP — Wine In Progress) to turn into vinegar. So, we use simple, proven technology that serves us and our process: the Vacu Vin 0981450 Wine Saver Vacuum Wine Pump with 2 Stoppers ($9). There's also a device for keeping an open bottle of champagne or sparkling wine fresh: Farberware Bar And Wine Series Champagne Stopper ($13).

Related wine gift: Lean thinkers love to reduce the cycle time of a process. It's said that aerating wine can help open up a wine or improve the taste… instead of waiting for an hour to let that wine breath, pour a glass through a Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator ($36). You could pour the wine into a decanter… but, remember, we're not drinking the whole bottle. One glass flow aeration with the Vinturi. We love it in our house.

For the Quick Changeover of Paper Towels:

Our old paper towel holder looked nice and it certainly held a roll of towels upright on the counter. But, to replace an empty roll, the top screwed off like this one and it maybe took 30 seconds to change a roll of paper towel. A real Lean thinker might ask why I'm using so many paper towels… am I a messy cook… ah, the Lean sensei asks “what's the root cause of that, Mark-san?” It's not because we spill a lot of wine (the worst kind of waste!).

Last year, I bought this clever paper towel holder: simplehuman Quick Load Paper Towel Holder, Stainless Steel ($22). The top, instead of unscrewing, has a quick release that you just squeeze. Time to change a roll? Maybe 5 seconds. Now, this doesn't put “creativity before capital,” but I like it.

Related kitchen gift: Help “sustain” your silverware drawer “5S” efforts with this: OXO Good Grips Expandable Utensil Organizer ($15). Since Lean thinkers believe an ergonomically sound workplace is a successful workplace, we tend to like the OXO Good Grips brand of products. Of course, Amazon has a ton of gear for organizing any room, closet, or garage.

For the Old-School Industrial Engineer on Your List:

It's a pretty accurate stereotype that Industrial Engineers use stopwatches and clipboards, although modern Lean I.E.'s teach people how to identify their own waste, rather than lording over them as an efficiency expert. But still, if you're into stopwatches and clipboards (or you know somebody who is), here is a gadget that combines the two: Robic M-457 Clipboard with Calculator and Stopwatch ($19). Pocket protector not included. I don't own or use either of these products, I swear.

For the Value Stream Mapper (Analog Type):

There's software for Value Stream Mapping (or you can use PowerPoint or Visio), but what makes this Gift Guide list? Post-Its. Yes, I prefer to facilitate VSMs with teams using decidedly analog methods – butcher paper and sticky notes. One problem is that when you move or roll up the Value Stream Map, the Post-Its can come off. Or, you have the wasted motion of using clear adhesive tape (I'm suddenly averse to using brand names, apparently) to stick the bottom of the notes down securely.

But now, there's a Post-It that's mostly adhesive instead of just having it along the top: Post-it Super Sticky Full Adhesive Notes, Assorted Bright Colors 3 x 3 Inches, 25 Sheets per Pad, 4-Pack ($6.50). I haven't used these yet… but I'll admit that I'm a nerd and I'm looking forward to using them next time I'm with a client team. I should buy that pocket protector, after all.

For those who Want to Measure Wasted Motion:

In Lean healthcare improvement efforts, there's a big focus on reducing the amount of time that nurses and other stuff run around looking for supplies and equipment and such. The Omron HJ-112 Digital Pocket Pedometer ($21) is great because you don't have to look like a nerd by clipping a pedometer to your belt or waistband of your scrubs. The Omron works and registers steps even if it'stowed away in a pants pocket or a labcoat pocket even. Now, like all pedometers, this seems to pick up sustained, straight-line walking better than it registers sideways shuffling steps. But, as an automated way to collect some data (“here, throw this in your pocket for 12 hours”) it works well.

For those who Cook Small Batches:

Most recipes cook enough for four or six people. Sometimes, a website will be helpful and scale a recipe down if you're cooking for just you and your spouse or partner. There are cookbooks that specialize in cooking for one or for two – smaller batches = less inventory = less waste. These books include Small Batch Baking: When Just Enough for 1 or 2… Is Just Enough! ($9) and and The Pleasures of Cooking for One ($18).

For those who Drink Small Batches (Bourbon):

Lean transformation work can often be fun, but it's often challenging. It's not an officially endorsed coping mechanism (again, I just like the taste) — but at the end of a long day or a long week on the road, there are “small batch” bourbons. I mean, they are Lean Producers, you have to support them, right? A favorite (harder to buy online) is Baker's Small Batch Bourbon 7 Yr. 750ML. Or, amazingly there is a “very small batch” bourbon – even Leaner! — Jefferson's Very Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey 750 ml.

Well, that's my Lean Blog Holiday Gift Guide. What items would you add to the list, either serious recommendations or funny ones? Do you have favorite exercise gear for trying to stay physically “lean”? Leave a comment and suggest other great gift ideas for Lean thinkers, “Leanies” (I don't like that term), or your resident “Lean Geek.” Happy Holidays!

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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. Good stuff, Mark! For anyone out there who doesn’t like the sticky note/butcher paper materials for mapping, there are plastic flipchart sized self-adhesive static cling sheets, which can be written on and erased using dry erase makers. They’re also considerably less bulky and overall less costly since they are reusable (not sure how many times – I need more testing). Two brands I am aware of are the National Brand Write On – Cling On Sheets, which are $26.84 for a roll of 35 sheets (sorry, my browser at work won’t allow me to a url on that one, but you can find them on Amazon) and SmartSheets, which perhaps cost a little more per sheet, but you can find out more about them at

    Happy Shopping.

    • Thanks, Mark. Smart Sheets and products like that are cool… but I’ve found I don’t want to erase a VSM after I’ve created it with a team. Unless you’re taking a digital picture of the map for reference (which I always do as well).

  2. I had the same thought about the coffee cup when I saw it. Now, you find someone that offers that, and I’ll be interested :)

  3. I’m not too sure the “new” paper towel dispenser is actually an improvement – yes it may be quicker to fit the towel roll on, but it seems to require more effort (2 hands) to tear off a towel (rather than one to pull out a towel)…. (incidentally we have the “new” style so perhaps need to visit the gemba and discuss with the key worker/manager/stakeholder/process owner (my wife)).

  4. Another gift idea – not sure what to get somebody? You can give them a Kiva gift card that allows them to small a small investment in an entrepreneur:

    I’m a member of John Hunter’s (of the Curious Cat blog) team on Kiva:

    Or join Kiva and donate as a gift to yourself! You’ll feel good about helping somebody who is working hard to better themselves in a developing country.

  5. Mark,

    Excellent and timely list. How about a companion article on the best Lean-related iPhone apps, apps that help us identify and eliminate waste in our processes. Then you could just buy an iTunes gift card and give them the list of apps. I stumbled across a free one with lean applications – Pedometer GPS+ – that I am able to use to not only record the number of steps that someone takes (like picking surgical case carts), but that also creates a map of the walking – an instant spaghetti diagram of sorts.


    • Good idea, Dave, on the Lean-related apps.

      On the Pedometer GPS+, wow accurate is the walking map within a building? I could see that being more useful if you were out for a jog, but can you get a useful spaghetti diagram?

      • Mark,

        Good question. The spaghetti diagram is more useful if the distances are great (such as moving from area to area as opposed to within a room). So it would be better for tracking a Pyxis restocking process throughout the hospital than a Pharm Tech inside a prep room. I also do not worry too much about the accuracy. The step count is pretty accurate; any diagram of movement is more for “shock value” to help team members realize how much back and forth travel is occurring. This is especially true when there are odd trips outside of the normal work area that can’t initially be explained. This is not a perfect app, but it whets my appetite for more.



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