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The first live presentation of this webinar was so popular that we did an encore presentation!

Watch our 1-hour Introductory Webinar below and you’ll learn how to begin applying Lean right away. You’ll learn what Lean is, why Lean is good for business and how some of the basic Lean concepts can improve and transform your operation.

Webinar Level

  • Introductory


  • What is Lean?
  • Why do businesses implement Lean?
  • How leaders can support Lean
  • Basic Lean concepts and the Five Principles of Lean
  • Q&A

Webinar Slides

Q&As From the Encore Webinar

Q&As From the Original Webinar

Webinar Transcript

Elisabeth: Welcome to another one of’s webinars. We’re happy to have you join us today. This webinar series is for you, our learner community. Lean and Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods and these webinars are part of our efforts to make it easy for you to use the tools and concepts.

My name is Elisabeth Swan. I’ll be your moderator today. Today’s webinar is Introduction to Lean. And our presenter is Tracy O’Rourke. This is an encore and updated presentation due to popular demand, so if you’re joining us a second time, this is going to be worth it for you too.

Our Expert: Tracy

So, let’s talk about our presenter today, that is, Tracy. So hello, Tracy.

Tracy: Hi!

Elisabeth: Hi, Tracy.

Tracy: I hope everybody is doing great.

Elisabeth: Tracy has been involved with Lean Six Sigma process improvement for decades. She got her start with GE Appliances as a Black Belt in 1998. After GE, Tracy became an independent Six Sigma consultant and has been consulting for over 15 years. She helps diverse organizations and industries like healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, state government and a lot more.

Tracy lives in San Diego with her husband and her two sons, 9 and 13. Tracy is a biker, a hiker, and she still occasionally plays Gaelic Football. And I don’t know about you but that impresses me. OK.

Tracy: This is my last year. I swear.

Elisabeth: Oh yeah, you said that pretty much every year. This impresses me too.

How to Interact

All right. So let’s talk about interaction. Before we begin, let’s review GoToWebinar participant window so you know how to be interactive. To ask a question, you will see a segment for questions. You can type them right in there. And occasionally, we’re going to have polls for you and you’ll have 4 to 5 options to choose from. And as soon as we get a certain percentage of you guys then we’ll close them to look at results.

And you can really type in your questions any time during this webinar. And some of them might be answered immediately if they’re logistical but if they’re not, then Tracy will be answering them towards the end of the webinar and anything that doesn’t get answered will be posted after the webinar.

Let’s Interact!

OK. So now that you know how to interact so let’s interact. So our first interactive session is to find out where you guys and gals are from. We have hundreds of attendees, people from all over the world on this webinar. So let’s see how early or how late people got up to see and listen to this webinar.

So under question, please just type in where are you from. Let us know. We’ve got Minneapolis. We’ve got Nevada. That’s Jay in Nevada. We’ve got Beth in Connecticut. Leona in Pensacola. We’ve got Marina calling in from Italy. And Richard from Toronto. We’ve got Missouri. Texas. Charles from San Diego. We’ve got Denmark. Luca from Denmark. Allison from Florida. Mike Turner somewhere in Canada. We’ve got Hawaii represented. Thank you, Judy. Anita in Boston, my stomping grounds. A few more in Denmark and Toronto.

Tracy, you’ve got a good spread here.

Tracy: Yeah, I also noticed that we have someone from Madrid, Spain. And I have actually been there. It is a beautiful place. So I’m jealous of you, Pedro.

Elisabeth: And Monique in Sydney. So that might be the farthest South right now. Yeah, we got some great – we’ve got Houston. Good spread, Tracy. Awesome spread.

Who Is

Tracy: Wonderful. So thank you, Elisabeth for that very warm introduction. I’m happy to be here. And introduction to lean, I’m actually very surprised at how popular it is and I sometimes wonder if it’s just because people just want to get a reminder of what it is or if they’re just – there are so many people out there that still don’t understand what lean is. So I think that’s really interesting.

So just to tell you a little bit about who is, our goal really is to make it easy for everyone everywhere to build their problem-solving muscles. We have been founded on a couple of guiding principles. We want to simplify complex concepts because we do believe that complexity just confuses people and we believe that effective training is practical, accessible, and enjoyable. And our goal is to help you build your problem-solving muscles so that you can help your organization achieve its goals.

So, I really hope you enjoy our programs and our webinars and our podcasts. We have lots of free stuff out there on our website because we are trying to make this accessible.

We’ve Helped People From…

A couple of people that we’ve also helped, you can see that we’ve got lots of diverse organizations from brick and mortar to online. We’ve got healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, government, all kinds of different organizations. And I think, why is that? Because this is really about problem-solving and every organization has problems to solve. We never run out of problems to solve. And so, we need problem-solvers. A lot of organizations need problem-solvers. And that’s really what our business is, is to build that problem-solving muscle. So you can see that a lot of organizations are implementing Lean and this is just a very little sample of how many people are doing Lean and Six Sigma.

We never run out of problems to solve. And so, we need problem-solvers.

Today’s Agenda

So let’s talk a little bit about today’s agenda. Really, we’re going to just focus on the basics today and we’re going to just talk about what is Lean, what are some of those Lean myths out there, why do organizations implement Lean. And we’re going to talk about the five principles of Lean. And at the end, I’ll share a couple of tools that you might see in the Lean world when you start to embark on some training.

So hopefully, you will feel – if this is a new thing for you, hopefully, my hope is that you will be inspired to learn more about Lean. And if you are already working in it, hopefully you’ll find a new way to explain things or a new way to understand things that can help inspire you to do more process improvement.

What Is  Process Improvement?

So how I’d like to start first of all is talk first about Lean is really – it falls under what we call – I call it a continuous improvement umbrella. The process improvement, what is that? So first, I’d like to explain, well, what’s process improvement?

And really, we explain process improvement to say, any time you’re working on the process versus working in a process. So most people are hired for a job, an accounting – an accountant maybe get hired to do a process. Or procurement, you’re a buyer. And so, we’re hired because we have expertise in these processes. That’s why companies want us. That’s why they hire us.

But often, what process improvement focuses on is how do we streamline the process we work in? And so really, it’s stepping out of that process for just a moment and saying, what can we do to improve this process? And so, that’s what I really believe process improvement is. It’s working on the process versus working in the process.

And to be frank, most people aren’t as good at working on the process as they are at working in the process. So, sometimes people need help.

Quick Poll

So my question for you and this is our first poll for today is, how much time do you spend working on the process versus in it? So, I’m going to go ahead and see what you guys have to say about that. So go ahead and complete the poll.

Elisabeth: This one, Tracy …

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: … you probably experienced the same thing, is we find people don’t often given the time to do this that there’s an assumption that you can do your job and we want you to do process improvement but we haven’t necessarily given you permission to take time away from working in the process to fix it.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: And the most successful often are people who say, “You know what? Tuesdays, I’m working on the project or I work mornings until 10 on the project.” Whatever it is that there’s a drum beat to it and it’s regular and it’s part of what they do.

Tracy: Definitely. I do see in here that that is what people struggle with the most. So, let’s share some of these results.

Elisabeth: OK. So you have, most of them spend 50-75% of their time in the process, so that’s 41%. Next up, 10-25%. And then less than 10 is 19%. And only 7% are dedicated resources.

Tracy: That’s really interesting. I am seeing that as a trend where people are just expected to do process improvement as part of their job. And I think that has a plus and a delta. The plus is yeah, that’s great. Reinforcing everyone to work on process improvement in the organization is a great thing. Sometimes though I see that they’re not getting people the help they need to grow and they don’t have people dedicated to helping others build their problem-solving muscles internally. And that can mean that it’s more painful for people to apply it and learn it. So that’s a plus and a delta on that.

Alright. Well, thank you for sharing. So I always just say again, what do we mean by process? So it’s a process that you work in. But really, processes are everywhere. Tying your shoe is a process. Baking a cake, going through airport security, getting your lunch, and so all of these are processes and some of them are painful. Some of them often can get – can be painful for people.

Processes Are Everywhere

So again, some of these processes are painful. They could be a very bad experience. And think about processes that either you or a customer has where it was painful for you. As a matter of fact, I was talking to a friend about their Valentine’s Day experience in a restaurant. Not happy. So there are bad experiences happening all the time.

And unfortunately, change can in our own process that we work in that work. Change can be a constant. And often, vigilance on designing a process so that it’s simple can be really difficult because I still hear a lot of complaints especially on Facebook where you can tell thousands of people at once your bad experience in someone’s process. So that is dangerous and ultimately, we’re really looking to improve what processes are.

What Is a Lean Process?

So what is a Lean process? A Lean process is faster, it’s more efficient, it doesn’t contain waste, and it focuses on delivering value to the customer.

Sometimes I hear people say, “Oh, we are Lean already. We only have one person on this now and we used to have six.” That’s not what we mean by Lean. Lean doesn’t mean you’re understaffed. Lean means that the process is designed to have very little waste in the process, steps that are unnecessary. So ultimately, that is what a Lean process is.

What Is Lean?

And ultimately, you can define Lean that way. It creates value for customers by minimizing waste. And there are lots of things that people call Lean. Some people call Lean a toolkit to improve processes. It’s a way to eliminate non-value-add steps in a process. But then other people it’s about creating a culture that fosters respects and helps enable workforces to improve their processes. And I do believe those as well. I think that is when a Lean culture will thrive is when you focus on the cultural pieces too, not just the toolkit or understanding and applying to tools.

Lean Myths

So, Lean can do really good things for an organization. But there are some myths around Lean. So first of all, many people think that Lean only applies mainly to manufacturing processes. And I can tell you that is absolutely untrue. I have spent 18 years working in process improvement and 90% of that work has been in non-manufacturing processes, processes that are paperwork related, insurance companies, financial services, those kinds of things. So it’s not just building widgets. It absolutely can apply to administrative or non-manufacturing processes.

The other thing is it says Lean is too time-consuming.

When you’re first learning tools like anything, it’s going to take more time to learn it. But over time, I think if it becomes the way people think, you actually save time because you’re eliminating steps you don’t need to be doing in your process. So it can save a lot of time as you come to know the tools.

Another myth, Lean is too hard to translate into layman’s terms for employees.

Well, there are a lot of Japanese terms in Lean. And what we’re finding is many organizations are choosing not to use the Japanese terms. For example, instead of saying kaizen event, they call it a rapid improvement event. And so, I think that can help. But I also think it’s the approach, how people approach educating their employees on Lean, and sometimes that approach is more complex than it needs to be.

And finally, a lot of people might think that LEAN stands for “Less Employees Are Needed.”

And that is so not true. Lean is not about eliminating employees, believe it or not. Maybe – there are a lot of people that sometimes get scared to employ Lean. But it’s not – Lean is not about getting rid of people. It’s about getting rid of the waste.

And so what happens is people really are not a waste. Often, their talents are wasted on wasteful activities that do not add value. Think about the process you’re working at work. How many of those steps do you think are a waste of time? You got to get multiple approvals. You have a form that’s 10 pages when really it could 6. You have to submit this to four different groups to make sure everybody is OK with it.

I’m not saying all of those things are wasteful. But what I am saying is sometimes those steps need to be looked at to see if they really need to be done. There are many organizations, I ask a lot of people when we do training on site, how many of you feel like you have wasteful steps in your process that waste your time and waste the customer’s time? A lot of people raise their hands.

And so ultimately, Lean is trying to eliminate wasteful steps in a process so that people’s time and energy are not wasted on those things and they can focus on delivering more and better value to the customer. And so, that’s really not the same as getting rid of people. It’s not about getting rid of people.

Lean is trying to eliminate wasteful steps in a process so that people’s time and energy are not wasted on those things and they can focus on delivering more and better value to the customer.

And I’ll just say this really quickly. Why this is true is let’s just think about that. If you did Lean and you did one round of improvement efforts and everybody got laid off, how successful is round two going to be? People aren’t dumb. They’ll figure it out. So it’s not to get rid of people. It’s to get rid of wasteful steps in the process. Obviously, I’m pretty passionate about that.

Why Do Organizations Implement Lean?

So, here are a couple of reasons why organizations implement Lean. I like to start at the bottom with number four, Effective People.

So I really believe organizations want to build a problem-solving muscle. I think that they want to build an organization filled with problem-solvers. And ultimately, that will make their processes more streamlined, more efficient, better at delivering what customers want, and if you’re eliminating waste and you’re not straining the organization with wasted steps, you’re going to decrease cost in order to deliver that.

And ultimately, that will improve profitability. But if customers are happy, they will tell others, thousands of people on Facebook and that will increase revenue too. So these are all the reasons why organizations do implement Lean.

Poll #2

So let’s just get a feel for people’s experience on the call. So it was interesting that not a lot of people are dedicated on this call to a hundred percent process improvement. But I would really like to know, what is your experience with Lean? And I’m going to go ahead and launch this poll.

Elisabeth: These are good questions. Sometimes I find that people, their involvement is maybe they were dedicated in a 5S effort for the workspace they’re in or they got pulled into a project. They may or may not have been given background or training but they got an experience. Maybe they’re in a kaizen. Some people get pulled into those and that might be so that once again learned by doing. Sometimes it’s a little – but it’s good.

Let’s see what you got.

Tracy: I hadn’t shared those results.

Elisabeth: Alright. So, half of our audience is new to Lean, so that’s appropriate. And then there’s a quarter of them that have been involved in other people’s Lean efforts. And close to 20% are actively involved and applying it right now. And under 10 are experienced and they teach others how to apply it, which is always a great thing. Hopefully, everyone gets to that point.

That’s a good question, Tracy.

Tracy: Well, that did answer my curiosity. How many are actually new to Lean? Because this has been my world for 18 years and sometimes we see things differently because we’ve been involved in it for so long, right Elisabeth?

I’m on an airplane and I’m traveling and suddenly somebody asked me, “What do you do for a living?” I go, “Oh, I do Lean Six Sigma.” They go, “What? What is that?”

Elisabeth: What is that?

Tracy: Right. So I’m going to go ahead and hide these results. OK.

Five Principles of Lean

So what we’re going to really spend time talking about because I think this is a great way to look at Lean for the first time is really we’re going to talk about the five principles behind Lean. So rather than inundate you, these new people, with the many tools of Lean and walk you into the Home Depot warehouse of process improvement tools, we really want to spend some time talking about the principles of Lean so that you really understand those principles so that when you go to apply the tool, you have an idea of why we’re applying the tool. So I hope this is going to be really helpful.

So these five principles are written a lot. So if you’re a reader and you want to read more about Lean, one of the books I would recommend is Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones. And they also wrote The Machine That Changed the World. They really talk about these five principles of Lean. And I’m going to spend some time talking about these five principles for the rest of this webinar.

Principle 1: Define Value

So, the first one is define value. What is value? So value is really we have to figure out what is valuable to the customer and that is really important thing because a lot – Deming says that 90% of process have steps in it that don’t add value to a customer.

So this is a great example from our Bahama Bistro. I’m going to move the fork to the left of the spoon and spend time doing that. This lady mumbled, “Do anybody really care about that? I mean is that really where we want to be spending our time improving if the customer doesn’t feel it?” which I think is always a great question. We always ask people that. When they’re going to be doing projects, we ask them, how does this affect the customer in terms of improvement?

What Is a Customer?

So defining value sounds simple but it can take a long time to really understand and define value. And so, one of the first aspects that we have to do in order to define values, we have to know who our customer is. Who is the customer? And we like to identify the customer by process because they could be a customer of one process and a stakeholder in another process.

So often, we will say if you’re looking at your processes, who is the customer? And this is the definition of what a customer is. It’s a person in an organization that can receive a product or service from a process. So they’re receiving something out of a process. That is truly a customer. And if they’re not receiving something in the process that they have a vested interest in how the process performs, that is a stakeholder.

And often, these two things, customers and stakeholders, they get confused by people that are designing and making choices and decisions in how a process will function. And I will say this and government knows this too, government really struggles with identifying who the customer is of their process and often, they think it’s the stakeholder. And that explains a lot about why some of these processes can be painful for customers and government.

And so, this is a really important step is defining value. And you have to define who your customer is first by process. And ultimately, I think this can be hard because there are a lot of voices in organizations pulling at the process and pulling at how it’s designed.

So for example, how many of you work in a company where these is a department that has more power over other departments? And so what they say has more weight on what gets decided. So eventually what ends up happening is the process becomes designed to suit them. And that sometimes doesn’t align with the voice of the customer. There could be other voices pulling at the process.

And I will say that government is a great example of this too. Voices of stakeholders tweak the process. They have certain requirements that they want completed and sometimes what ends up happening is those requirements of stakeholders make it harder to identify what the customer wants for the process.

What Voices Do You Hear?

So these are the different voices that are around. And again, they pull at the process all the time. Voice is a business. So it could be something like we need to make sure we’re profitable. We need to make money at this. And the voice of the customer may want speed. So we might want a high quality product as a customer but the voice of the business wants to deliver something as cheaper materials to make more money, as an example. So, these are all examples of different voices.

Quick Poll

And so, this is my last poll for this session is what voices are listened to most in your organization? What is it, the voice of the department? Is it the voice of the customer? Which one is it? So I’m going to go ahead and launch this poll. And you tell me. Is it the voice of the customer that gets listened to? Is it the voice of section or department? Meaning, are we going to make this job easier for me, my section? But then ultimately, we just push the work to somebody else.

Elisabeth: Tracy, one of the classic sort of disconnects I’ve seen on this one was with call centers. That if they are measuring average handle time in trying to get you to reduce how much time you talk to the customer as opposed to supporting you such that you can resolve customer.

Another metric is how many callbacks there are on the same question and things like that. So the metrics often will drive what voice you’re listening because if you’re being measured, you keep your handle time down. Then you’re not going to be listening to the customer. You’re listening to your section or your department.

Tracy: Absolutely. Yes. And I’ve seen great examples of this. I mean my favorite example is traveling on an airline and I ask for a pillow once. I was traveling to Europe nick of the woods. It was going to be a long flight for me. And I said, “Oh, can I have a pillow?” And the flight attendant said, “I’m sorry. Cost cutting initiative. We no longer have pillows.” What? How could you not have a pillow? So I think they kind of saw the light. And now, the pillows are back.

Elisabeth: Thanks to you, Tracy.

Tracy: Yeah, it was all because of me. My guess is a lot of people probably complained. So I’m going to go ahead and close the poll and show the results.

Elisabeth: OK. So, kind of split here. But there’s close to – there’s 27% listening to the voice of the department. Actually, the biggest one is voice of the business, efficiency, save some money. That’s a third. And then it goes down to the voice of the department. And then it’s the voice of the stakeholders, about 18%. Then voice of the customer, a very low 16%. And 6% not really sure.

Tracy: Isn’t that crazy?

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: So, that’s shocking to me. And the thing about Lean is it really does say, “Deliver what the customer wants above all really.” We don’t want to go out of business but the tagline we often hear for Lean is satisfy customers profitably. And so, it is speaking to the voice of the customer and then catering to the voice of the business at the same time. So it’s really – Lean says, “Don’t just pick one. Focus on the customer and you can make money doing it. But focus on the customer.”

And I think what’s really interesting about this poll is it doesn’t necessarily align that way. So thank you for sharing. That’s very interesting. I’m going to hide these results.

So this is really all about defining value. And I think if we get really clear on what customers want, what they see as valuable, it becomes very evident that there is waste in the process. And that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do is once you have clarity on what voice of the customer and what they really want from the process, then we start to see that there’s a lot of waste in the process.

What Is Waste?

And waste is called “muda” in Japanese. And basically, waste can be a strain on any organization’s time and resources because these steps don’t add value for the customer and it takes time and money to process.

Think about any process there is. Sometimes we count the number of steps to process a piece of paper and we’re up to 60 steps, 60 steps. How many of those actually deliver value to the customer? And so then we say what can we do to reduce and streamline some of these?

The 8 Wastes

And so, the first – one of the very first steps for defining value is again, know who your customer is and then know what the 8 wastes are. So if you’re new to Lean, this is going to be one of your very first things you’re going to learn about Lean is what are the 8 wastes? These are the things that are evidence of waste in an organization. And there’s actually an acronym. It’s DOWNTIME. You can see D-O-W-N across the – from top left to right.

And these are all elements of waste in an organization. And if you start to get familiar with what these wastes are, you start to see examples of waste and you start to see the waste in your organization. I think what’s interesting about waste is that sometimes that waste has been there for so long, people are desensitized to it. They don’t even see it anymore. Piles of scrap.

I think what’s interesting about waste is that sometimes that waste has been there for so long, people are desensitized to it.

I went into an office and there was a woman and she had a fairly large area for a desk and there was this big square piece of equipment. It hadn’t worked in four years and it was just sitting there. It never got moved, as an example. So just not needed, it’s wasteful in terms of taking up space.

And then there are also things that we see a lot of like there’s excessive processing and waiting. And a lot of times with waiting, we see that in administrative processes a lot. And we’re not talking about people. I’m not saying – because people go, “I’m not waiting. I’m working on other things.” We’re not talking about the people in the process. We’re talking about the thing going through the process. The thing is waiting. And it’s just waiting to be worked on. And so, many of these are – there’s a lot of waste in organizations.

Defects. That could be anything coming out of a process that isn’t done right. Even if it’s – a lot of times, we’re hearing people not getting information they need in a timely fashion to process it the right way. So that might be a defect, getting incomplete information.

And so – and then my favorite one is motion. So how many of you know a nurse? Nurses are good people. Wonderful. They take care of patients. And what they’re finding is nurses can walk up 8 miles a day looking for stuff, just walking around. And so, there have been big efforts to try to reduce motion for nurses so they can spend more time where there’s value with patients.

So, those are examples of 8 wastes. Once you start to identify which wastes exist in your organization then you can start to brainstorm ways to eliminate or reduce that. So again, this is all part of defining value for customers, which is the first principle.

Seeing With New Eyes

And this is one of my favorite quotes, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” And when you start to define value for your customer and you know the 8 wastes, you start to see with news eyes. So I hope that you start to see with new eyes very soon if you haven’t started already.

Principle 2: Map the Value Stream

So the second principle is map the value stream. And this is really important as well. What is value stream? A value stream is the stream of value that delivers a product or service to a customer. So this is the main process or the main product or service that your customers come to you for. It’s a good or a service that you’re delivering and those are what we call the value streams.

So if you need to go buy something in government, you’re going to go to procurement. That is the value stream. This is the stream of value providing a product or service to a customer.

And so, how do you make that process visible? That’s really what mapping the value stream is about. So ultimately, we have to map the current state. And that’s what we’re doing with mapping the value stream. We’re not designing anything new. We’re not fixing anything yet. We are trying to understand current state by building profound knowledge of it.

And so, when you build a value stream map or you map the value stream, you start to learn and understand that. And that helps you identify where there is time wasted and energy.

And I think the issue with mapping the value stream is, in manufacturing, you can go to any plant and you see the process. But when you’re in administrative process, you can’t see the process. It’s invisible.

Some Processes Are Invisible

As an example, here’s a picture of an office. Do you see a process there? I don’t see a process there. And so guess what? Many processes are invisible. You can’t see them. How do you know something is wrong? Well, usually somebody in one of these cubicles blows a gasket because they’re mad or they’re overworked or they’re at the bottleneck because that’s how the processes are designed.

Many processes are invisible. You can’t see them. How do you know something is wrong?

So, it’s really important to have a visual and make the process more visible so people can fix it or people can look at it for opportunities for improvement. If you can’t see the process but you only see the people, when something goes wrong, what are you going to focus on? The people! So that’s why we want to make sure we’ve got a map. We got to make this process more visible.

Process Design Becomes Like This

And unfortunately when you can’t see processes, they get designed like this. Very inefficient process because people only see their piece of the process, they’re trying to make it more efficient for themselves. But in the bigger scheme of things, it’s not being very efficient from end to end from the value stream. So that could be an issue.

Vertical vs. Horizontal View

The other thing about value stream is, what’s challenging about them is we tend to manage people vertically in our departments. But the issue is, processes run horizontally. So again, this helps not see the process because often we only see our piece of the process and we don’t see the whole process. And we change our piece of the process and others, sometimes we change it and it actually affects others in a bad way or negative way.

We have lots of organizations that have org charts where people are reporting to other people. But not many organizations have their value streams mapped to say, “And here are the processes that we do,” which I think is sort of surprising. We’ve got lots of org charts but no process charts. So that’s ultimately why again, you want to map the value stream.

Some Mapping Options

So here are some mapping options for you and there are lots of different ways to map a process, and you’ll learn some of this in your Lean training or other process improvement training that you decide to embark on.

Value Stream Map

One of the preferred maps in Lean is the Value Stream Map. Now, I know this looks a little scary and I’m not going to explain everything on this map because you can actually spend two whole days learning about value stream maps.

But what it really does is it does capture, after you do your process walk, it does capture your process flow, your information flow, your data, and then it also captures lead time, how long something is taking. And there are some really good books on this topic as well if you are interested. One of them is called Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and Mike Osterling.

So, this is a preferred one. And what you’re really trying to do is show where things are getting stuck, why the process isn’t working as well as it could, where the opportunities are from a process perspective. And so, it’s not about, “Oh, it’s Joe’s fault. He’s not doing his job.” It’s really focused on the process.

Defining Customer Value

So ultimately, once you have the map then you can really brainstorm do these steps add value to the customer, which steps do not add value for the customer. And again, that’s really important. Taking it from the customer perspective because often, if we’re in the process, we think everything is necessary. And when you ask the customer and they say, “That doesn’t really add value to me. I don’t really care about that step.” It can be eye-opening for us to really start to look at how we can eliminate that that non-value add, those non-value add steps.

Once Waste Is Identified

So again, you would identify the waste and then you would eliminate it, simplify it, streamline it, minimize it because now, you get to see the whole process. You’ve made the process visible. And you know what else is really cool that happens when you map the value stream? You no longer focus on the person in front of you. You’re focused on the map together. And I find it opens people up to want to talk about how to improve the process because they don’t feel like they’re going to get blamed. And that’s really important.

So once you’ve got the map, you’re going to come up with solutions. You’re going to have quick kits. You’re going to find short-term solutions. You might even decide that you’re going to do a rapid improvement event or what they call a kaizen event. And some of those events might be to improve or create flow and establish pull. And those are the next principles for Lean.

Principle 3: Create Flow

So we’re going to talk a little bit about creating flow. It’s funny because there are a lot of consultants that are what they would say are Lean consultants. And sometimes I hear people say, “Well, I’m a flow guy. I work on flow.” Creating flow, and that’s really what we’re talking about here.

And the analogy we like to use is, think about a boat on a river. And the boat is the customer and the river is the process. And the idea behind this is we want – the customer in this example, wants to get down the river in a streamlined way, in an uneventful way if you will event, and they don’t want to be slowed down. But sometimes there are sharp curves in the river that prevent the boat from going faster. It could slow it down. It could even stop it. And then unfortunately, the boat gets stuck and now we’ve got a very unhappy customer because maybe that’s not what they were expecting.

And so when you think about creating flow, you really want to think about how do we make this process a little easier so that the customers who get stuck or stopped in the process? And so, when you’re thinking about your jobs at work, you really are thinking about where does the customer get stuck? Where is their bottleneck in the process? Where areas of the process are painful?


And when you think about it, flow is everywhere and this is one when you start to see with fresh eyes, you’ll start to see flow everywhere. Flow can be a manufacturing or it could be an application or pieces of paper. Flow could be the thing that is getting service. It could be the person I’m following or it could be a patient that is going into the hospital for services.

And when you think about it, flow is everywhere and this is one when you start to see with fresh eyes, you’ll start to see flow everywhere.

And of course, the one I see every day is the flow for getting lunch especially for my kids because my kids right now love Subway. And sometimes there’s a bottleneck there. I’ll admit. And then I start to think about, why is this a bottleneck? What about their process is causing this to happen? I start to analyze their process and I want to fix it.

And so, flow is everywhere. And how do we maximize flow? How do we optimize flow? And that is really – lots of processes have flow, and how do we improve it? So that’s ultimately the third principle is how do create more flow in your process?

Principle 4: Establish Pull

So pull is a little more complex concept to think through. And it says here, “Establish Pull.” And that’s the opposite of push. And what we mean by that is poll means think about the customer and when they actually want something versus building to a forecast and not necessarily listening to customer demand. So ultimately, that’s what pull is.

The best example I think that exists today is fast food. So it’s the evolution of a fast food process really because it wasn’t pull system and now it is. And I know this and I’m going to go ahead and date myself here, I know this because my first job ever was at Jack in the Box. And back then, they didn’t have a pull system setup. So let me walk you through this and then hopefully this concept of establishing pull would make sense.

So in the ‘70s and ‘80s, again, my first job in the ‘70s and ‘80s just so you know, I know you’re doing the math right now, but back then they would forecast how much they were going to sell at lunch time and pre-make all the food. And then they would put them in these big silver bins like all the Jumbo Jacks and all the burgers and everything and then whatever they didn’t sell, what would happen? They would throw it out or lucky me as an employee, I got to eat whatever was left over which is why I gained a lot of weight when I worked there.

But ultimately what happened is they just were guessing. They were guessing at how many orders they were going to sell and then pre-making the food. And think about how much waste existed in the entire country. I mean every Jack in the Box, every McDonald’s, every Burger King was throwing food out after every rush hour, after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The waste was excessive.

Then in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you started seeing these commercials about, “We don’t make it until you order it!” We’re not going to presell this. We’re not going to pre-make the food. We’re just going to wait until they order it and then we’re going to set up our system so that we can make it happen in the timeframe that we have. It was a new concept. And it was kind of a big deal.

And Burger King, you remember Burger King, “Have it your way.” Because they’re basically say, “We’re not going to pre-make the food for you. We make it when you order it.” So that was a new concept. And now, that is how they do it. Pull systems are common. Waste is minimized. Inventory is optimized. Speed is critical. So, most of the time they’re not making any of this food until it’s ordered.

And think about it, when you go to McDonald’s through the drive-thru, how much time do they actually have to make your order? I mean like two minutes. They got like two minutes to make your order. So they have to have very robust systems that can deliver these products or services in a timely fashion, and that is the beauty of pull is the waste is gone, customers are happy, they’re getting what they want.

And so, I hope that helps explain the concept of pull. I think it’s a perfect example of an entire industry that has actually moved from a push system when you forecast and guess what you think you’re going to sell into a pull system. The thing about pull though is you do have to be able to deliver those products and services in the timeframe that is acceptable to a customer. So that’s going to be the challenge for a lot of organizations.

Principle 5: Pursue Perfection

And so finally, we are at the fifth and last principle of Lean, and that is pursue perfection. And this is just an excerpt from our training and it’s really just kind of talking about – I actually find this happens quite naturally. Once you improve something and you see that it works, most people will say, “Oh my gosh! Do you know how many other things I have on my list that I want to fix?”

So, pursue perfection can definitely happen. People, to sort of get that process improvement bug and they want to just improve more and more. But ultimately, don’t think that this process is going to stay fixed. Well, I’ll give you a perfect example.

Just recently, I think McDonald’s discovered a bun warmer that reduced the wait time down 30 seconds, and they implement it in all their stores. So they’re pursuing perfection of their process. And ultimately, waste will find a place. You have to have constant vigilance on processes and process improvement to pursue perfection. And it could be a lot of fun and it could build your problem-solving muscle a great deal if you continue with that.

I always say that we live in exponential times. The only thing that is constant is change. And it’s not going to become obsolete. And process improvement is about changing things and making them better in the cycle of continuous improvement. And Lean is a huge component of that.

Build the Problem Solving Muscle

And I really do believe that a part of pursuing perfection means that you’re building your problem-solving muscle and you’re always growing. I’ve been doing this 18 years and I still see stuff that I learned from. I learn from all of my students all the time and I’m very humbled and appreciative of it.

So I hope that you continue your journey on learning about Lean. I hope that you enjoyed this webinar and that you found it inspirational. And I welcome new Lean enthusiasts. We always do.

Today We Covered

So we covered these elements today. And we do have some time to answer some questions if you have any. And so, I will let you think about any questions that you might have. If you have a question, please put it now in the question window and we’ll see if we can get some of these answered for you in the timeframe that we have left.

So while we’re waiting for you to ask the questions, I’m going to go ahead and share a few more things. So again, one of your questions might be, “Well, where do I start?” And I will say, start with defining value, the principle of defining value. And you could also do that by learning the 8 wastes because trust me, customers don’t want waste. They don’t want waste in their process. They don’t want defects. They don’t want to wait. They don’t want excessive transportation or motion. They don’t want extra processing.

Getting Started

Another thing you could do is we have online training available. You probably already know this but some people don’t know that we have a Lean specific training and certification as well. And it really focuses on the Lean tools. is a big advocate of being trained on both but we do recognize that there are a lot of organizations that only implement Lean or only implement Six Sigma.

Lean Course

So, I love our Lean course, and these are the things that it talks about with Lean. It basically says, first, understand current state then develop future state and then build a Lean culture. Actually, you’re kind of doing many of these at the same time.

Establish Current State

But here are the tools you’ll learn. So I hope you weren’t hoping to cover a bunch of tools here on Lean, but if you want to understand current state, these are all the tools you’re going to learn in Lean to help you understand current state. You have to understand current state before you can start fixing things. That applies in every process improvement effort.

Develop Future State

We also have developing a future state. So these are all the tools you would learn about to help you develop a future state. So things like the future state value stream map, quick wins, mistake-proofing, standard work, kanbans. Those are all things that can help you develop a robust future state.

Build a Lean Culture

And finally, and I think this is often the most overlooked, building a Lean culture, getting an organization to promote and embrace Lean is really important. And you always hear about frozen middle. The frozen middle are those managers that are not sure of what they’re supposed to be doing to support a Lean culture. Well, that’s what this is for. It’s for leaders that really want to promote and build a Lean culture and these are all things on the left that talk about the standard behaviors leaders can do to promote a Lean culture.

So if you have a manager or a supervisor and they want to learn about how to promote and build a Lean culture, have them go through this training.

Just-In-Time Podcast

So, we also have a Just-In-Time podcast that’s always available. It’s free. And our last podcast, we interviewed Richard Baron who works in the Coconino County. It’s in the state of Arizona. And he wrote a book and he talks about his book and he talks about some of the stuff that he has done in government to help process improvement.

I think what’s really interesting about Coconino County is the Grand Canyon is in the Coconino Country, so that must be exciting. I just went there last year and it’s beautiful.


So, let’s see if we have any questions.

Elisabeth: Yeah. Tracy, we’ve got one from Elma and she is asking, “What is the most dangerous of the 8 wastes?”

Tracy: That’s a great question. The most dangerous, I think it really depends on how prevalent they are. So I think the most dangerous waste is the one people don’t see. It’s the one that people don’t identify it’s there. And it wastes people’s time and energy and it’s expensive for the organization.

I will take a stab at it and say that if it were manufacturing, a lot of people think inventory is the most dangerous because if they have a lot of inventory on hand, it’s dangerous because it could go obsolete. There are a lot of financial dollars.

Elisabeth: With respect to the whole bunch.

Tracy: Yes. And in administrative, I would say the most dangerous are the two most prevalent ones I see which is waiting and excessive processing. Those are the two that I see a lot and people don’t see it.

Elisabeth: Good point. One person is asking if they can get a copy of the presentation. So Tracy, you tell him.

Tracy: I almost always say that at the very beginning and I didn’t this time. So, you will get a copy of the slides. There will be – this webinar will be posted as a recording on our website as well. So if you want somebody else to talk about and learn about Lean, send it to them. But yes, you will get the slides.

Elisabeth: OK. Thank you, Tracy. Here’s one from Sergio. What do you mean by exponential times?

Tracy: Great question. So exponential times means that there’s a lot of information coming our way. Gosh, I’m going to mess up the quote and I think, Elisabeth, maybe you even know what it is. But they say that the amount of information we get in a day is I think 100 years in someone’s time 60 years ago because of the internet and books and TV. We are bombarded with information. And that sometimes doesn’t help us in terms of maintaining consistency. There are a lot of changes happening and those kinds of things. So I hope that helps.

Elisabeth: That was good. There is a question here. Rochelle is asking, “How is Lean different than Six Sigma?”

Tracy: We’ve got a brand new infographic that’s out called Lean versus Six Sigma. And I think you should go and find it because it does a way better job than I could in the short time we have together. But I will say that there are a lot of commonalities between the two. I always say that they’re both process improvement toolkits and there are pluses and deltas to both. And I think I will say this, often when I help organizations with process improvement, I tend to bring out the Lean tools first but I always use Six Sigma tools later, graphics and statistics and those kinds of things.

So I guess to answer your question briefly, Six Sigma is more statistics-based and uses statistics to prove hypotheses and Lean really focuses on waste and removal of waste and maximizing flow and creating value.

Elisabeth: Tracy, this is the question from Denise, what causes the number one failure to the Lean journey?

Tracy: The number one failure, I would say and I hope I don’t get killed when I say this, but a lot of times it is leadership unfortunately. It’s the follow-up and that the changes that have to happen from a leader’s perspective in terms of supporting a Lean culture and a Lean process improvement, that’s where there can be a lot of failure.

And I always hear people go, “Oh yeah, we tried Lean or we tried Six Sigma or process improvement. It didn’t really work. It didn’t stick.” And those are coming from leaders. And I sometimes think in my head, “Well, I wonder what they actually did as leaders to promote the journey?” So I hope that helps.

So I think the developing a Lean culture piece can help a lot with that if people are struggling with that.

Elisabeth: That’s good. That’s helpful, Tracy. Here’s a question from Michelle. In terms of the waste of extra processing, how do people adjust with the customer needs, more work or higher quality? She says, “I tend to go all out and give my best but it’s not always needed. I’m not exactly sure how to pull back so I don’t get burned out.”

Tracy: Oh, that’s a great question. So a lot of times, we look at it from a process perspective. And what I think is wonderful is someone has actually coined the term a listening tour where you actually go and interview the customer. Now, that can be over the phone. But I think the best thing to do is to actually go there and watch them do the process that we sometimes forced them to follow. So, submitting a quote, getting insurance, whatever it is that we’re asking them to do, go there. Find out what’s happening.

And so, some people do these massive surveys, and that is great. I’m not saying that those aren’t good because sometimes just getting out there and watching them and listening to what the customer wants is really important. And I think to generalize just a little bit, if we’re talking about processes, there are two things I know customers definitely want, they want it fast or not fast. They want it timely and they want it done right. So those are typically the big buckets that I see that process improvement can solve.

Elisabeth: That’s a good one. This next one is kind of a follow-up from the earlier question but I think and I suspected that we didn’t touch on, and this is from Crystal and she is asking, “I saw you mentioned PDCA, Plan, Do, Check, Act but not DMAIC, Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Any reason? Is DMAIC not considered Lean?”

Tracy: That is a great question. So, in the traditional sort of birth of Six Sigma, that actually did come from Six Sigma, DMAIC. And Plan, Do, Check, Act has been more associated with Lean but I have to be honest, PDCA was around way before Lean was. So, I kind of look at it as just another – it’s the same breath, just different vegetables. But yes, you’re correct. DMAIC did come from Six Sigma.

Elisabeth: Yeah. And I think they’re both based on a scientific method.

Tracy: Exactly.

Elisabeth: So, here’s a nice question I think people will appreciate. Let’s see. What books do you recommend to get started with Lean?

Tracy: So I did mention a few of them on this webinar. And we’ve got a great book list on our website as well. But one of them is Lean Thinking by Jim Womack and Dan Jones. It’s a great book that really breaks these 5 principles out into a lot of detail.

And then of course, if you’re looking to map current state, if you have a really great interest in understanding value stream maps, you can also look into purchasing or reading Value Stream Mapping by Karen Martin and Mike Osterling.

Elisabeth: Those are great. And that next question was from Leslie. And the other one I would add, Tracy, you turned me on too, is it 2 Second Lean?

Tracy: Yes, 2 Second Lean by Paul Akers.

Elisabeth: That’s a nice one. Yeah. That’s kind of fun. Here’s somewhat of a different type of question from Carol, “How do you deal with a situation where you have very vocal internal stakeholders. You have very vocal internal stakeholders that you also need to satisfy. They all have different priorities than the customer.”

Tracy: Yeah. It depends again on what industry you’re in. There are lots of organizations that unfortunately do have a lot of stakeholders they have to listen to. And the reality is, you can’t ignore them.

And so, it’s really around the both and or the genius of the and concept is how do we satisfy the customer and satisfy stakeholders? And I would even take it a step further. How do we satisfy stakeholders without negatively impacting customers? And that can help you get to some really creative solution sometimes.

Elisabeth: Yeah. That’s great, Tracy. We hit the end here. There was one question from Charles asking, will there future webinars? I’m just letting you know, absolutely. Next one up is about the fishbone or cause and effect diagram. But we have them every month, so please tune in.

Tracy: Yes. And I just put that one up. It’s scheduled for March 16th and Elisabeth will be leading that one. It’s going to be awesome.

Elisabeth: Thanks, Tracy.

Tracy: Thanks for joining us today. If you guys have any more questions, just send us a note at [email protected] Don’t forget to go to our website for free tools, templates, webinars, podcasts, and infographics. Have a great day.

Elisabeth: Bye everybody.

Tracy: Bye-bye.

View our upcoming webinars and join live so you can ask questions and let us know what you’d like to us to cover next. We’re busy building new webinars all the time. And we’re happy to know you’re busy too – building your problem-solving muscles – keep it up!

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. The question in Poll #1 is mixed-up on the video. You start (slide 8) by asking ‘What percent of your time is spent working ON the process versus IN it’? Then the question in the poll is flipped to ‘IN’ versus ‘ON’.

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