This Newbie Has a Good Grasp of Lean


I get a lot of emails from regular readers or people who have just stumbled across my blog. I try to be as helpful as I can (although I'm not really a good connection for Lean healthcare jobs that people are always looking for).

One email was from somebody who has recently discovered Lean and is reading up a storm:

“It led me to the Gemba Kaizen book which I still am trying to get through, The Toyota Way which I am also reading, Womack's Lean Thinking, the Gemba Academy videos (the lean dishwasher being my favorite), your blog and several other popular lean sites.”

Here's somebody who is buying inexpensive used books through Amazon and craigslist, building up an impressive initial library without spending a fortune. I wonder how many CEOs at hospitals that are “implementing Lean” have read that many books on Lean?

The reader shared a story from his job search period:

“I had to take a menial job at [a major retailer] in order to keep myself afloat due to my circumstances. My lean outlook didn't stop. I was able to get my work done quicker than those who had been there for years because I was looking at the tasks, experimenting a little, and figuring out how to do it in almost half the time or doubling the output of my coworkers. Unfortunately, the level of management above me are not interested in the ideas of a person of my stature on the totem pole.”

What a shame. What a lost opportunity for that retailer. This is a retailer I sometimes frequent. I see their registers report a “Green” or “Red” grade to the register clerk based on how fast each transaction is, along with a percentage of Green times. It seems the store is emphasizing speed, but how does a clerk get judged on their smile, helpfulness, and general customer service? What if “going slow” is the right thing for a particular customer?

It seems that retailers like this will browbeat their employees over speed… but they won't listen to said employees about how to do the work better? That's sad. It doesn't sound like a Lean environment or a Lean culture.

In a Lean culture, we listen to everybody (treating them with respect) and we let everybody participate in improvement.

The reader continued:

“It just seems like lean is the way things should be done in the first place with taking care of the next person in the process most important. If each step in the process works toward setting up the next “customer” in the process, the ultimate winner is the customer or patient.”

That's not a bad description… not a bad understanding of Lean… again, better than some healthcare leaders who think Lean is just about cost cutting or that Lean is a way to better enforce top-down rules and procedures.

I hope the reader finds a job where he can work in a Lean culture, as a place to continue learning and a place to contribute his ideas.

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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. Unfortunately, this person’s experience with Lean is all too typical these days. However, as long as the passion and commitment are there, the struggle will only make him or her stronger. Keep fighting the good fight!

  2. I’ve found that a passion for knowledge and a desire to learn – and eventually teach – is the number one predictor of success in an employee (uh… associate, team member, whatever). More than skills and experience. I hope this guy finds a situation and leader that recognizes that.


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