Category Archives: Old Lean Dude


December wasstuff a very busy month for everyone at GBMP.   In addition to all of the usual activities to close out the year, we were packing to relocate from Newton Massachusetts to our new office in Boston.   We were also tossing a whole lot of stuff, something we’d previously neglected to do.  As promoters of Lean, it seems we were a bit remiss ourselves in practicing what we preached.  Shigeo Shingo famously noted that “the worst waste is the waste we cannot see.”   Fact is, if you have enough space and your piles are neat, it looks like you’re organized.   While we were extolling the virtues of 5S to our clients, we were also getting our PhD (Pile it Higher and Deeper) in neatly arranging stagnant files, videos, flyers, posters, banners, displays, and unusable electronics.  It’s amazing how much stuff can hide in plain sight under a cloak of invisibility.  We were tidy, but not organized.    Better that we’d have been sloppy about it because then we might have seen it.

A couple of weeks before our move, we contracted with 1-800-JUNK to leave a three-yard dumpster bag in the center of our office as a repository for the stuff we were sluffing off before moving.   On day one we filled it, triggering a cycle of dump and regret. Employees (including me) began sifting for valuable stuff.  “Can’t we use these file folders?” I asked our office manager, Tracy.  “No! That’s a ten-year supply,” she fired back, “they’re not coming.”   Tracy tried fruitlessly to sell some stuff on Craigslist and finally was able to donate a couple of unneeded printers to charity.  Lela donated whatever office supplies she could fit into the trunk of her car to her daughter’s underfunded afterschool program. (The program coordinator nearly cried at the sight of 2 pristine reams of 11×17 paper.)

Altogether we filled three dumpster bags with the remainder.  The final dumpster load contained two cartons of one of my favorite DVD’s, “Downsizing Lot Sizes,” a final irony in that this video warns about the many problems caused by overproduction (producing too much or producing before need.)  No doubt we had gotten a ‘sweet deal’ at some point on the 200 copies of the DVD, but I had to admit that this might have become a lifetime supply.  (Today we produce all of our videos, one-by-one, or offer them as streaming content.)  I turned to Tracy as if to seek a reprieve for the trashed videos, but before I could ask, Tracy just said “Nope!”

By the time we had finished 5S’ing GBMP’s old office, we had probably discarded two-thirds of what might have continued to hide in our new home.  The experience gives new meaning to “out with the old and in with the new.”   In 2019 we’re starting afresh, Leaner and wiser in our new home, sharing space and ideas with the Lean Enterprise Institute at Tower Point in Boston.    Is it time for you to take a second look at your stuff?

Happy New Year to all of our colleagues and friends.


PS Speaking of our move to Boston, we are looking forward to hosting our first public workshop event here at Tower Point, a two-day Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification course, on April 29-30. I hope to see you there. Learn more about this and our other Lean training events – from webinars and workshops to plant tours, Shingo courses, and conferences – on our website here.

Customer First Santa

santaEvery December the man in the red suit delivers cheer and presents to millions of happy children around the world.  It seems like magic, but a closer observation of Santa’s behavior demonstrates that Santa actually employed critical elements of TPS philosophy long before Toyota itself did.  For example,  Shotaro Kamiya, Toyota’s first president of sales, hired away from Nippon GM in 1935, championed a new idea at Toyota:  “The customer comes first, the dealer second, and the manufacturer third.”  Kamiya’s “Customer First” philosophy was revolutionary for Toyota and bedrock in the philosophy.

Yet, as can be seen from this documentary footage of Mr. Claus,   Santa was abiding by this ideal many years earlier.   His chagrin, when asked to “push” toys that were slow movers, indicates St. Nick’s abhorrence for speculative production also known as overproduction.  After all, the Christmas list was the original Kanban.  Without this pull system, Santa’s elves would, like many manufacturers, always be very busy building the wrong things; and Santa would have to leave backorder notes under the tree on Christmas morning.  As for standardization, anyone familiar with Norad’s Santa tracker will attest to his standardized conveyance route.  And Oh!  What a Takt time for the jolly old elf!  I have to admit that despite my enduring admiration for Toyota’s Production System, none other than Santa Claus is the penultimate just-in-time provider.   Thank you, Santa.

To everyone else, ho ho ho.  Have a restful and happy holiday.  Gratitude.


P.S. I hope you will join me this upcoming Tuesday, December 18th, for my monthly free webinar “Tea Time with The Toast Dude”. I’ll be discussing how organizations sometimes struggle to gain traction with Hoshin planning. While substantial energy is put into the strategic planning process, too often the plan becomes a static document that fails to align and motivate the entire workforce. The deployment part of strategy deployment does not happen. Read more/Register here. Did I mention it’s free? Hope to “see” you there.

Zoo Kata


Senior Keeper Dayle Sullivan-Taylor demonstrates the enrichment process for NEIGC

Last week I joined the New England Idea Generation Consortium (NEIGC) on a tour of the Stone Zoo where we had the opportunity to see how continuous improvement is expressed in an animal care function.  In the open area for black bears, Senior Keeper Dayle Sullivan-Taylor explained to us the importance of animal enrichment. “It’s the best part of my job,” she said, “working with the animals on operant conditioning.”   We watched as she coaxed one of the bears to stand and place first its front paws and then its face against the glass.  “They’re very food-motivated,” she demonstrated, lofting food treats over the glass barrier as a reward for the bear’s response.

The behaviors the bears learn, referred to as “enrichment,” serve two purposes, first keeping their minds and bodies active and in learning mode; and second, as in this case, teaching them to stand at the edge of the barrier.  “Behind the scenes,” Dayle explained,  “the face behavior enables us to do many health checks and also give shots as needed without the need of anesthetizing the bears.”   As Ms. Sullivan-Taylor described the regular pattern of exercise and small, constant increase in learning,  I noticed a smile on the face of another of our consortium members, Jonathan Baum, a process improvement consultant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.  I think he and I simultaneously saw the similarity to Improvement Kata, a simple step-by-step routine for creating improvement, popularized in 2009 in the book Toyota Kata.  Ms. Sullivan-Taylor continued. “We take very small steps with daily practice to enable the bear’s learning.  After a while, the pattern becomes natural, however, and we only have to refresh once in a while.”

Next, our host described the importance of consistent behavior from the trainer.  “Our role in interacting with the animals,” Dayle explained, “is critical to their learning.  The Animal Training Advisor regularly observes my interaction with the bear and is able to see things that I miss.  Her suggestions are helpful.  And occasionally, we switch roles; she works with the bears and I observe her.  It’s amazing how different that perspective is.  I’ve learned a lot in that role too.”

At that point, Jonathan and I turned to each other and uttered, “Coaching Kata!”  Ms. Sullivan-Taylor, without apparent awareness of the Kata concept, was now describing the coach’s role to support and develop enrichment, not only for the bears but also for the organization.   Call it Zoo Kata,


Want to learn more about Toyota Kata?   Please join us on Tuesday, November 27 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at GBMP offices in Newton for “Pizza Kata,” an overview & demonstration of Improvement Kata with Pizza for dinner.  Registrants receive a free copy of Shingo Award-winning “Improvement Kata: Teaching Anna to Drive.”  More information and registration here.

Late Bloomers

late bloomers.jpg
Last week as I climbed into my car, I glanced at a tub of morning glories that I’d started from seed last March.   All spring and summer the plant grew taller and taller leaping at one point off the trellis and over the garage door frame.   Green and gangly, my morning glory plant was the picture of health, but for one thing:  it had no flowers. I watered and fertilized, but each morning as I climbed into my car nary a bloom; even into the early fall there was only greenery.  With the first frost imminent, I’d pretty much given up on the idea of blooms.

But then, suddenly (or so it seemed) on October 19th there was a profusion of heavenly blue blossoms.  I waxed philosophical at the sight, reflecting that some of us are just late bloomers.  We find our passion, if we’re fortunate, a little later in life.

One week earlier I’d delivered the opening keynote at the Northeast Lean Conference in Providence, RI.  Before beginning, I asked the audience for a show of hands:  “How many of you,” I inquired, “when you entered the workforce and took your first job, had no idea that one day you’d be attending a conference that dealt with transforming your organization?”   Five hundred hands went up – almost everyone in the hall.    Perhaps there were a few twenty-somethings who knew from the first that this would be their career, but for most of us, there was no guiding vision of Lean Transformation when we took our first jobs.  For me personally, there were few resources to even prepare me for the struggle of a cultural and conceptual revolution.   I left school with a B.A. in English literature to work in a marketing department.  Today I relate happily that, with the exception of that first job, I’ve been equally unprepared for every job I’ve ever held.

In fact, if the hands in the audience are any indication, many of us entered the workforce with a different idea of the future.   Who knew we’d become excited about dealing with seemingly overwhelming challenges?  Who knew that a serendipitous struggle – or in some cases calamity – would draw us into the fray?  Who knew that would become a personal burning platform.   “Thank you,” I said before continuing, “Thank you for the important contributions that you all make.”  Late bloomers, all of us.

I’d be very interested to know, how did your Lean journey begin?  Please share your story.


PS A quick reminder: At the conference last week, we offered a special super early bird discount ticket price for next year’s Northeast Lean Conference – October 23-24, 2019 in Hartford CT – good through the end of this month. If you’re planning to attend (and you should be) register now and save huge (only $795 per person instead of the regular $995 for members, $1095 for non members). The theme will be “Total Employee Improvement”. We can’t wait.



More Than Toast

More than ToastIt’s hard to believe that 2018 is the 20th anniversary for the Toast Kaizen video.  After two decades, nearly one hundred and fifty thousand copies have been sold – in more than a dozen languages from Spanish to Icelandic.  It’s everywhere.  Several years ago, while walking down the streets of Dubai, I was stopped by a gentleman who pointed to me and declared, “You’re the Toast Man.”    I frequently encounter folks who tell me, “You’re famous,” to which I reply, “No, the “Toast Kaizen” video is famous.”  And happily so.  What was originally intended as a device to encourage fellow managers to get out of their offices and go see has become a non-threatening way to explain continuous improvement to almost anyone.   As I say on the video,  “It’s not about the work, it’s about the things that get in the way of the work”.

While it’s gratifying to think that this campy thirty-minute video has found a place in Lean Transformations, it’s also a little concerning when I hear that the “Toast Kaizen” video is the Lean training.  What was created as an icebreaker, has occasionally been overblown beyond its purpose.   Some time ago, while speaking at the Shingo Conference I asked attendees in the audience how many had seen the Toast video.  Nearly every hand went up.  But when I asked who had read any of Shigeo Shingo’s books, only a few hands went up.  I asked the audience, “Did you know there’s a whole lot more to Lean than the Toast video?”

Yes, a whole lot more than viewing the “Toast Kaizen” video will be needed to really receive the benefits of Lean.  Toast is just a small catalyst to kick off the continuous improvement engine.  This is why at the 14th Annual Northeast L.E.A.N. conference, while we celebrate Toast’s 20th (tattoos and Toast caps for everyone), we are also homing in on those transformers that have truly become Lean Learning organizations and whose compelling results bear witness to their efforts.

There’s still time to register, but seats are filling fast.  Please join me on October 10-11 at the Providence Convention Center. Rhode Island is beautiful this time of year. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the two Shingo Institute courses – Discover Excellence and Continuous Improvement – which are being offered in conjunction with the conference. You can learn more about those here.