Real Lean Transformation

What Carpenters can teach Lean Practitioners

A carpenter, attempting to frame a house, needs to attach different pieces of wood to each other. This carpenter has a fabulous hammer, and has used this hammer in the past, with nails, to complete this type of work. The hammer is weighted perfectly and with nominal effort can drive nails into wood with only a few strikes. The purpose or principle of the hammer is to join wood together by forcing a narrow wedge into multiple pieces of wood, thereby affixing the pieces to each other. 

On this particular project, when the carpenter reaches for some nails, he finds that there are screws instead. He has never used these before but the screws are long and pointy like nails, and so he attempts to drive the screws into the wood just like a nail. Unfortunately, a hammer doesn’t work very well on screws. The overall principle is similar… the carpenter is trying to join two different pieces of wood together. Even the application of the tool is similar… they both use narrow wedges. What he failed to understand is that there are many, many different tools that could be used to reach the same end. The specific tool that is used, and the way it’s used, should change depending on the situation. 

We should also note that there are many different types of hammers and nails. For instance, a framing nail (very large) and a finish nail (very small) can both be inserted using a hammer. However, the frame of a house wouldn’t stay together very well with finish nails; neither would large framing nails look attractive in an elegant door frame. 

Other tools for affixing wood might include staples, lashing, mortar, tongue and groove, nuts and bolts, and glue. Every time that this principle is used requires the evaluation of these tools to determine which best fits functionality, aesthetics, available resources and simplicity.

In much the same way, when approaching an opportunity or problem, we need to first understand the problem and then determine the best tool to use. Even after we’ve identified the tool, we may need to modify the tool for our particular application. 5S is a very commonly used tool in Lean environments. However, attempting to apply the tool in the same manner in a machine shop and in an office environment probably won’t be the most effective. Likewise, using a spaghetti diagram to evaluate every situation probably doesn’t add as much value as desired. 

In the end, the best that we can do is to gather a number of different tools and understand the principles behind how and why they work. We should also be aware of which situations work the best for each tool. Last of all, we shouldn’t be afraid to modify a tool so that our results are improved and so that we don’t waste effort implementing something that doesn’t really apply.

This blog was written by Preston Chandler, Consultant at BSM-USA Inc. For further information on implementing Lean and the use of Lean Tools send an e-mail to Preston Chandler.

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