What Are Your New Year’s Lean Resolutions for 2015? What Problems Are You Solving?


Happy New Year! Let's talk about Lean. Let's talk about Kaizen and continuous improvement and how to get better in 2015.

You're possibly thinking, “Hey, Mark, chill… watch some football… relax… it's a holiday.” But, you're reading this, so you must be as excited about the new year as I am.

The start of a new calendar year is a rather arbitrary point in time. Why do we so often thing that things are going to be different this year?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

We need to do different things if we want different results. We all do, myself included. It's a time to reflect on last year, as if we're doing a “strategy A3” — what worked well last year, what didn't? Did we get the results we expected? If not, why?

Maybe we need to do more “root cause problem solving” before we jump to resolutions. New Year's resolutions are basically a bunch of solution statements and countermeasures. Maybe we should ask, “What problems are we solving?”

Maybe we should “stop doing” some things, ala Jim Collins and via my friend Matt May:


Some Common Lean Resolutions

One idea I have for a resolution is to stop using my iPhone while walking (such as airports, parking lots, etc.). What problems am I solving? I'm not being as “present” as I might be. I risk tripping or falling or walking in front of a car. I don't need to be as anxious — the email or tweet will still be there. My resolution might be a good countermeasure to a problem (or risks… since I didn't trip and fall or walk in front of a car in 2014).

I'm curious to hear your resolutions (or problems to solve) for 2015 (please leave a comment on this post… you don't have to use your full name or real name).

If we were talking about Kaizen, I'd guess this list of resolutions for people might include things like:

Get out of the office and spend more time with customers, patients, employees at the gemba

Be better about asking employees for their ideas

Reward people for pointing out problems instead of labeling them complainers

Be better about helping people take quick action to test ideas

Don't give people answers or solutions

Don't take control of improvements, when I could delegate

Remember to recognize people and celebrate every improvement, no matter how small.

Be better about sharing and spreading good ideas

Will They Stick?

It's easy to make resolutions. It's harder to follow through consistently. For all of the talk of “sustaining” improvements in the Lean community, are we any better about sustaining our own personal resolutions? Maybe we have a better chance if we are deeply committed to solving the PROBLEM that the resolution is meant to address.

Will people still be in the gym come February?

The Wall St. Journal an article recently on this topic: “What's the Best Way to Make a Resolution Stick?” I hope you are able to read it without a subscription. Maybe clicking through via social media will help.

Why do 41% of people fail to keep their resolutions? I'm surprised that number is so low.

Judith Beck, Ph.D., the president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Philadelphia and a clinical associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, explains:

New Year's resolutions tend to encompass big commitments that people have put off. “Usually these are things that are difficult to do, otherwise we would have done them already.”

If someone says, “I want to go to Gemba more this year,” maybe they should ask and reflect on why that hasn't happened yet. They probably have known about this concept for a while… so why take action now? What will be different? Is increased desire enough? Do we kid ourselves that we now have the desire?

Beck says:

“There is some research to show that people who start trying to lose weight because they've had a medical scare are more successful than people who do it for another reason,” explains Dr. Beck. In other words, “Often the resolution will stick if the stakes are very high.”

If the stakes are high… wanting to lose weight is different than NEEDING to. I think that comes back to the Lean notion of having a meaningful problem to solve.

Many of the problems in healthcare are NEED to solve issues, MUST solve issues — like the continuing crisis around patient safety, where one in ten patients are harmed while being cared for. This problem was there last year… and it, generally, wasn't solved. What's going to be different in 2015?



I think the Kaizen approach… starting with small steps… as described so well by Prof. Bob Maurer can be so powerful. Instead of setting a really large goal, such as “I'm going to exercise an hour every day” or “I'm going to lose 25 pounds,” start with a small goal. Start small, make progress, keep upping your exercise.

When you do put on those gym clothes, she adds, you need to congratulate yourself. “Constant affirmation is essential to success,” says Dr. Beck.

That first time you go to the Gemba, congratulate yourself. The first time you catch yourself asking questions and guiding employees instead of giving them answers, congratulate yourself. Take note. Pat yourself on the back.

Then keep going.

I hope 2015 is a year of great personal development and success for all of us who are here. Thanks for being a part of my blog community.

As I reach the 10th anniversary of my blog, I can't say enough how much I appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to read my thoughts here, and for sharing your own.

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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. Ever since I learned the Tiny Habits methodology from BJ Fogg three years ago, I stopped making resolutions. Tiny Habits are an amazingly simple and powerful way to change your behavior to solve problems you want to solve.

    Tiny Habits are similar to the Kaizen approach of tiny steps. To make the process work even better, it helps to make the first step very small, very specific and very easy, and anchor it after another behavior you do. That helps embed it in your brain without you having to count on willpower. You then need to congratulate yourself twice: once you remember to take the step and again when you do the step. This further helps embed the new behavior in your brain.

    You’re basically diving much deeper with the suggestions offered in the WSJ article. By the way, I’ve become a coach in the Tiny Habits methodology because it has worked so well for me and thousands of others.

  2. We only have two options in business (for profit or non-profit)
    1 – Improve
    2 – Or else

    Those who don’t improve will suffer the or else – sooner or later.

    I see the latter happening every day!

    • I’ve seen too many organizations seem happy with not improving. It’s a shame.

      Or, they fool themselves that they ARE improving, when they’re not.

      Or, they convince themselves that improvement isn’t necessary.

      Or, they’ve convinced themselves that big projects, new technologies, and various swings for the fences are all that’s needed.

      We need to do better. It’s critically important in healthcare.


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