by Molly Reichard, NWIRC, Culture Development & Training Specialist
Photo of NWIRC's Lean Together Reboot graduation class.
NWIRC’s Lean Together-Reboot graduation

Culture, accountability, engagement – these three words were used frequently throughout presentations for NWIRC’s Lean Together™ Reboot graduation last month. Twenty-two (22) employees from seven (7) manufacturing companies gathered to celebrate successes, share challenges, and discuss their ideas for moving forward after participating in facilitated discussions and plant tours over the past 9 months. These companies took part in one of the Lean Together cohorts years before, but their focus shifted over the last couple years because of the pandemic. They all wanted to get back on track, so the Lean Together™
‘reboot’ was born.

These companies know that Lean Together, focusing on concepts from the book 2 Second Lean, is more about creating a culture of engaged employees than it is about lean manufacturing methodologies. In fact, during NWIRC’s Lean Together™ programs the companies are asked to complete a self-assessment regarding specific characteristics of their company’s culture – as to where they have been and where they want to go. The exercise gets participants talking with the teams at their company regarding five important characteristics that enable culture change: 1) transparency, 2) tearing down barriers, 3) trust,
4) teaching, and 5) tracking. When companies have honest discussions about where they rate among these areas (on a scale from 1-5), it helps them chart a course for the future. During the recent ‘graduation’ session, each company presented company progress to their peers, noting the rating at the start, current state, and where they are targeting to be with their ‘5Ts’ by the end of this year. The average self-rating across each of the Ts when these companies started last May was 2.44 and the average rating cited now at their current state is 3.44, but there is more work to be done. Each of the companies are projecting to be well above a 4 or close to 5 by the end of the year. They were accustomed to this company self-assessment process because of previous Lean Together 1.0 experience and acknowledge participation in a cohort as an opportunity to learn from each other, and hold each other accountable.

Industrial Sales & Manufacturing (ISM) was one of the first companies to participate in a Lean Together cohort back in 2018. “It’s been an evolution for us, but COVID totally paralyzed efforts to keep our team engaged with 2 second lean. The Lean Together™ Reboot got us back on track, reigniting our daily meetings and in the past 12 months we’ve had over 650 improvements,” said Lori Colvin, Director of Quality and Regulatory at ISM. The Lean Together companies, including ISM, document most of their improvements by taking before and after photos. Josh from SEPCO said, “It’s important to always track two second improvements – we now have six years’ worth.” The team at Peters’ Heat Treating noted they didn’t realize how many improvements they actually did until they were preparing for the group to tour, “The before and after photos create excitement for employees, and at the end of the year, seeing the list is eye opening of everything you did.” They plan to continue documenting improvements, because doing so “provides motivation and satisfaction for everyone working at the organization”.

One of the biggest ongoing challenges for most of the companies is “cementing the 8 wastes” and having 2 second lean become another part of everyone’s job. There was no shortage of ideas from the cohort participants of things they are doing, or plan to do, to keep 8 wastes in the forefront, such as: discuss with new employees during onboarding that making process improvements is part of everyone’s job and start the basic education of 8 wastes, teach 8 wastes at each daily or weekly meeting, discuss 8 wastes repeatedly so eventually become habit, do random employee spotlights to ensure understanding of 8 wastes, take before/after photos to visualize 8 waste examples, establish employee contests that focus on 8 wastes, and rotate different employees through a Lean Together™ cohort – to name just a few.

These seasoned Lean Together™ (and 2 second lean) companies value the camaraderie and collaboration that the program provides. Lean Together 1.0 is a catalyst for foundational learning of 2 second lean – including how to develop and execute team improvement meetings tailored to create a culture of continuous improvement. To wrap up graduation, each company shared what they learned, what they will take action on, and what they will share with others. One of the participants simply stated, “Don’t stop just because something has improved.”

Side Note: NWIRC is currently forming a Lean Together 1.0 Cohort to begin in May. Contact Molly Reichard for more information at