“Practicing Lean” Excerpt from a New Chapter – Bob Rush from Tesla Motors

Practicing Lean book by Mark Graban

Once again, in the spirit of “Lean publishing” (referring to publishing in-progress books), my book Practicing Lean has another new incrementally-added chapter. For now, you can buy the book through LeanPub.com, which has options including naming your own price and receiving updates as they are added. Eventually, when the book is “done,” I'll make it available through more traditional Amazon channels, including as a paperback and Kindle book.


Chapter 8 is written by Bob Rush, who currently works as a Lean Manufacturing Group Leader at Tesla Motors. Tesla, of course, is in the building that was the former NUMMI factory (the famed joint venture between Toyota and GM). Bob has been writing a series of posts on LinkedIn in the theme of “Lean observations from an old guy.” I enjoyed the first few posts and, since what he was reflecting on was right in the spirit of “Practicing Lean,” I reached out and asked if I could edit them into a chapter for the book… so, here we are.

If you'd like to buy the book, remember that 100% of author proceeds are being donated to the non-profit Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation. That said, the minimum price in the “name your own price” model is $2.99. You can pay the recommended $6.99 or other prices (even voluntarily pay more, if you like — it's for a good cause). Somebody chose to pay $10 the other day, so thanks to them!

Here is an excerpt from the middle of the chapter:

Learning From an Expensive Mistake


To my racing buddies, we always say you are either on the throttle or you are off the throttle. No race has been won by being off the throttle. Ted Lin, founder of Lin Engineering, told us to “Play to win, don't play to not lose.” Your efforts could have the same results, but the effort and the feelings about that effort are totally different. My sensei has told me repeatedly that there are lessons in everything you do, but the best ones come from a spectacular failure. I have done this as an employee and I have seen it as a Lean consultant.

Early in my career, I was moved around quite a bit in operations. Our VP of operations believed in cross training and in placing talent where it could have an impact. I moved from shipping clerk, to industrial engineer, to production planner, and then to buyer. This was in the days when MRP was first coming on the scene, but we were still on the Kardex system. Yes, that is how old I am. I had a need for a certain electronic component and worked the supplier for a price break and got it. I ordered $1 million worth of this product, and it was delivered as promised on time and to specification. Unfortunately for me, I had transposed numbers on my order and we received a product that was unusable for our needs.

Rather than fire me, the VP told me to find a solution and then to let him know when I did. It took me weeks, but I found a competitor that used this model AND they paid more for the product than we had. I gave them a 3% discount off of their regular price and we made 5% on the material. I more than learned my lesson from that and, to this day, I check numbers very closely.

I am always asked about what causes failures in Lean implementations and, in my experience, the biggest one is Management (with a capital M). But, not just from the lack of commitment, but from both micromanagement and from playing to not lose.

If a company bets their future on Lean, it is easier to try to not lose than it is to try to win. What happens is that the new people aren't allowed to do as much as they could, being limited to safe projects overseen by a manager and/or a Lean leader.

The new person gets micromanaged, I can just hear it now; NO! I said the “I” goes inside the inventory triangle on a VSM, or your data box has to look exactly like this, or here's what your VSM will look when you are done as the teacher draws it on a whiteboard.

If they make their VSM wrong or if the Kaizen event is not held to the exact standards someone else wants, does that make it any less successful? Not really and, if we are truly Lean coaches or champions, we will take these chances as a real learning time and show them where they went wrong or even suggest some solutions but we will let them make more mistakes if we want them to learn. One of the people I have worked with over 10+ years on Lean recently told me that he learned more when he failed and we talked about that failure then when he succeeded and had no idea why it worked. He is now a Lean coach and tells me of some failures he's seeing.

So, I say let your junior people go try something, anything and, if it doesn't work, have them tell you what lesson they learned from it. You can then work on helping them along their Lean journey by teaching them a better way.

Thanks to Bob for allow me to edit and share his work. I'm sure he'll keep writing over on LinkedIn.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleDebunking Criticisms of Lean and Taylorism in Healthcare: A Response to the New England Journal of Medicine
Next articlePodcast #239 – Pascal Dennis, “Lean Production Simplified, 3rd Edition”
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. Just met Bob today through a mutual colleague. We discussed Lean Maturity Assessments, and his advice was 100% on point, informed from some great experience! Great to see he was part of your book. He is a great coach.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.