What My Dad Taught Me About Lean Thinking

What My Dad Taught Me About Lean Thinking

Thinking Lean and doing it right the first time have some things in common: money, savings and profit. First developed for Lean manufacturing, the 5S’s can be applied to the idea development lifecycle process as well. They help ensure that after your idea initiates and proceeds through each development stage: 1) concept, 2) design, 3) build, 4) integrate and test, 5) make, and 6) verify for approval to release into production, that the final product, service or process, and sustains the essence and integrity of your original idea into the production mode.

This reminds me of some bits of wisdom my dad bestowed upon me one day.

I had just bought a new set of encyclopedia (you remember them – very tall books filled with lots of information), when I realized that I needed a bookcase to store and display them prominently. So I did what most young people fresh out of college do: I asked my dad, a carpenter by trade, to help me with my idea. I showed him my drawing and we headed for the lumberyard to find some knotty pine boards, a board for trim, some nails, and a can of maple varnish stain. My idea was simple: a top and bottom board attached to 2 side boards with a stationary shelf half way between. Simple idea until my dad asked, “How tall are the books?”  At that moment, I realized I had no idea.  Not wanting to waste our time making a bookcase that may not meet my requirements, my dad suggested adding metal strips with clips for flexibility to adjust the shelf height. It seemed like a good change to my idea and so we purchased the material and headed home.

As we began, my dad instructed, “Measure twice before you cut. You don’t want to waste a perfectly good board or your money.”  I heeded his instruction and slowly, my bookcase took form, and it soon was time to install the metal strips. My dad’s advice to use them seemed simple, but became frustrating to implement as I tried to line up each metal strip so the clips were level for the bookshelf. My dad suggested installing the strips from the bottom edge rather than the middle. This method used more metal strip than necessary, but made it easier to install. It also added the possibility for another shelf later. By day’s end, I had varnished my new bookcase and it was a beauty!

Looking back, it is clear that my dad was Thinking Lean. Creating flexibility was his way of adding value, and “measuring twice” was reducing or eliminating wasting material, time and money in the process.

Today, when you embark on a journey to develop an idea, this same advice mirrors the 5S’s principle of Lean thinking: Sort, Setup, Scrub and Shine, Standardize, and Sustain, and then apply them to develop your idea. Start by Sorting out your thoughts, presenting its “big picture” and writing your idea’s specifications document. As you discuss your idea with your team, potential customers, and possible suppliers, you are Setting up and organizing your idea’s features, functions, and options into final form.

Once you have all the details, it’s time for reviewing and refining the idea; that is, Scrubbing your idea to keep the good features and removing the unnecessary, or “waste,” in your design.  For instance, is being available in 21 different colors really necessary, when 2 or 3 will do? Once you are done weeding, you have completed Standardizing your idea’s essence with a baseline and can stop writing. This baseline document allows your finance department to estimate the cost of your idea, and your marketing team can determine a fair price, putting out feelers on its marketability. If their feedback suggests changes, then consider additional refinement while Sustaining your idea’s essence through your change management process, which might be as simple as the one I used to build my bookcase.

Thinking Lean through the 5S’s principle became my approach to make my idea reach its final form, a useful bookcase. I still remember that day my dad first taught me about Thinking Lean as I gaze upon my simple bookcase that still prominently displays my encyclopedia. It is still with me – it has endured.

The 5S’s, Thinking Lean…simple, yet so powerful!

Joann O. Parrinder, MSIE, PMP, CPIM, CSCP, is a dynamic project manager and process leader having managed successful projects to develop radios and satellite tuners for the auto industry, a website infrastructure for technician training, and other complex engineering and IT initiatives.

To learn more about how the 5S’s can be applied to developing your idea, please read Driving Operational Excellence – Simple Lean Six Sigma Secrets to Improve the Bottom Line or click on www.drivingoperationalexcellence.com.


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