Crystal BallWay back at the end of last year I opened my big mouth (actually wrote it down) and made some predictions regarding Lean for 2012. So with great humility let’s see how I did…

  1. More culture, less tools – organizations will continue to look beyond the lean tools to building a lean culture.

There is definitely a surge on the emphasis on culture and principles in Lean. We have learned the hard way that the tools are not enough. If you attended any of the Lean conferences in 2012 the trend was that there were many more sessions on culture and people. The tools are still there, but they are just part of truly understanding and implementing Lean. For more information on Lean principles I would recommend “Lean Thinking” and The Shingo Prize.

  1. Healthcare still doesn’t “get it” – lean in healthcare will continue to lag other segments (see #3)

I know that there was a lot of discussion on the Affordable Healthcare Act this last year. I happen to think they missed the boat. To make healthcare more affordable, they should be focusing on reducing waste and hence this will reduce costs and lead-times while increasing quality and service levels. There are some pockets of healthcare that are applying Lean in hospitals but far too many have not seen the light. For a great book on the benefits of Lean in Healthcare I would recommend “One the Mend” (no pun intended).

  1. Is Lean Government possible? – government agencies will continue to see the benefits of applying lean principles and adopt it at a quicker pace

I’ve been personally involved with helping some government agencies applied Lean principles over the last year. Their intentions are good and they want to improve. I suspect many of them are concerned that budgets will be slashed and they will have to find new ways of doing things; and hence are turning to Lean for improvements.

  1. What’s next? – companies will try to look beyond Lean to see “what’s next” even though they haven’t realized the potential of lean

I’ve seen a few articles, advertisements and consultants that are touting the ‘next best thing” throughout the year. It is okay that we are learning more deeply and applying what we have learned in Lean, but why is it that we are always concerned with what’s next? How about focusing on improving the areas that need it with our current principles (see #5)?

  1. Getting Back to Basics – mastery and true understanding of the basic tools of lean like Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA), 5 Whys, 5S, etc.

I’m not sure how to judge this one. I think there is still an undertone of lack of true understanding of the basics element of Lean. This might be in part to chasing ‘what’s next’ (see #4). We need to continue to coach and mentor our people in the fundamentals of Lean so that they truly can become lean thinkers.

So as you can tell, I am no soothsayer, nor an oracle to the future so I will save us the trouble and not make predictions for 2013 except one – many of us will continue to support and propel Lean forward to those who are willing to accept it.

All the best for 2013!

P.S. Don’t forget to stop by 5S Supply to see what’s new!


This idea came from Katie as we were trying to organize files in our office. We had a lot of client files that date back ten years or so. They were taking up valuable real estate in the office (a nice three drawer lateral file cabinet that was full and that we could use for something more important). Because of our growth and moves over the years (in additional to reorganizing files once in a while) we had moved these same files at least five times. The files were stored in a very common method – alphabetical order. This is, of course, to make them easier to find when we need to look something up. I mentioned to Katie that I read somewhere that 95 percent of the items put in a file cabinet are never looked at again. From “The 5 Pillars of the Visual Workplace” by Hiroyuki Hirano, Figure 5-4 Document Usability Trend (Source: NAREMCO) shows that documents that are six months old may have a ten percent use frequency and at one year they would have a one percent use frequency. So this got us thinking…

Katie fixing the files.

Katie fixing the files.

The files would continue to grow in number. As we add more files we would either have to reorganize the files periodically or have extra unused space to accommodate more files – neither of these alternatives is desirable. I mentioned to her that of my files from just a year ago (I only probably had to pull three of them out to look at). So this is where Katie had her breakthrough moment – why don’t we just organize the files by year and then alphabetically?  More than likely I would be able to guess what year that work was done so all I would have to do is to go to that year’s box and look alphabetically for the file. So what if I got the year wrong? No big deal, just try one of the other boxes. It would only take a few minutes to find the file and this would not surpass the savings in filing time, storage costs and general ease of use. Now many of you may already be using this type of filing system; that’s not the breakthrough. The important part to me was that we took the time to think through a problem, suggest multiple solutions, decide on which target condition to experiment with and implement it.

Now I know this method my not work for everyone and is definitely based on the number of files you have to maintain, but for us this will be a great way to store files and retrieve them when needed while reducing waste. By the way, we were able to get rid of a lot of unneeded items by Sorting through the files.

Way to go Katie, keep up the Lean thinking!

Check back with me in a few months and we’ll see how our experiment is going.