by Craig Corsi, Lean/Continuous Improvement Expert and Lean Together Facilitator

As a lean practitioner for nearly 23 years, I was taught the practices, techniques, and methodologies of lean manufacturing through a large OEM. Even beyond my professional experience at GE, I was continuously exposed to only one approach. An approach that, today, I consider to be ‘traditional’ lean.

A few years ago, I began facilitating the NWIRC’s new Lean Together program. It was my first glimpse into the book, 2 Second Lean, by author and manufacturer, Paul Akers.  His book was the most refreshing and entertaining approach to lean I had ever read. It re-invigorated me because I felt he was someone who really got it.

I resonated with his thinking because I have seen many companies fail by approaching a lean or continuous improvement initiative in a traditional way. From my experience, the companies challenged the most are the ones who seek the wrong primary objective. Traditional lean subscribers are typically bought in for the cost savings aspect of lean. The initiative is usually driven from the top down, is conducted in the conference room, and minimal training and education is provided to their employees. Advising employees on how to perform their job better does not gain their support and the necessary buy-in to allow for any efforts to be sustained.

Example before and after photo from a 2 second improvement

In his book, Akers acknowledges that he too made these same mistakes. He admits that he felt it was exhausting and overwhelming to keep any momentum going. It only seemed to gain traction when he was leading the effort. As his schedule became more demanding, that momentum waned. He struggled for a while trying to jump-start things. His epiphany moment came when he recognized two things: 1) the most important aspect of your business is your people and 2) “lean is simple to the core, you’ll increase your odds of failure if you over-complicate it”. He developed the concept of 2 second lean in response to his attempts at getting people involved and engaged. His philosophy is, “the more you train, educate, and empower your employees, the easier it gets”. When employees are given the opportunity to be trusted, respected, and treated like a co-worker, regardless of any position within the organization, they don’t have to ‘buy-in’, at that point, they are ‘all-in’.

So, what is the primary objective of the Paul Akers’ philosophy versus the traditional one of those cost-cutting measures? His company is 100% invested in their people to create a thriving culture of continuous improvement. It is not driven from the top-down but from the bottom-up.  His motto, “Keep it simple and have fun!”.

The most common question I field from business leaders is, “How do we sustain the gains and make our efforts stick?” My answer is to embrace your people. Teach them, train them, and give them the opportunity to be a part of the solution. And if that is too short of an answer for you… pick up the book, 2 Second Lean, as a starter and then consider a future Lean Together program offered by NWIRC.  Lean Together means, not only does your organization and team take the journey but they are taking the journey with others pursuing the same outcomes. There is no substitute for learning from another and having others learn from you, the reason why the Lean Together plant tours are the most popular element of the program.

Learn more about NWIRC’s Lean Together, working group for operational excellence.