We get asked all the time, “Where do we start our lean adven- ture? What’s the first
thing we should implement?” Now
depending on who you ask, you might
get varying answers, but generally you
would be recommended one or two
of the amazing lean tools, a few books
to read, then sent on your way. I will
admit, had you asked me even just one
short year ago, I probably would have
made a similar recommendation. However, if you were to ask me today, you
would get a much different answer.
Regardless of which lean books
you are studying, at the core, you will
always find a deep level of respect as
one of the guiding principles.
Who is to blame?
A big part of being a lean thinker is
that our people are just stuck in a
process we created, and problems are
not their fault. Some people flat-out
disagree. They feel that people can
be at the root of the problem. Here
is the catch: So long as you are busy
finger-pointing and blaming your
people, you won’t realize it’s all your
Let’s say a person is to blame, they
are doing everything in their power to
make life difficult at your factory. Easy
solution, point at them and say, “See,
they are the problem!” However, the
The right people
correct solution is to look in the mirror
and say,“OMG- I hired that person!”
(See, told you, it’s still your fault).
If you are a leader in any capacity,
whether it’s a giant plant or a three-
person shop, the sooner you can trace
every problem right back to you, the
closer you are to the right solution.
So how would I answer the “Where do
Clear out the bad apples
we start our lean adventure?” question
now? I would not recommend any tools
or techniques, I would simply quote the
leadership guru John Maxwell and say,
“You have to get the right people on
Forget about lean, TPS, Six Sigma,
TOC, EOS or any other philosophy you
want to implement. If you don’t have
the right people it will likely fail. If you
know you have some of the right peo-
ple, then the more difficult part, but
equally as important, is to get rid of the
wrong people. We all know the saying
“one bad apple can ruin the bunch.”
This holds just as true for people.
Two years ago, you might have got-
ten different advice from me. I thought
respect for people meant giving
everyone a chance, working with them
tirelessly until they have that ah-ha
moment. I believe I was wrong. The
respect should have been for the rest of
the team and our customers. Ejecting
the bad apple right away means the
good people won’t have to deal with
by Brad Cairns
firstname.lastname@example.org LEAN JOURNEYS
Forget about lean, TPS, Six Sigma, TOC or any other philosophy you want to
implement. If you don’t have the right people it will fail.
; Want more? Read Brad Cairns columns at
Brad Cairns is the senior principal at The Center for Lean
Learning as well as running a woodworking business called
Best Damn Doors in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, where
he puts lean thinking into action every day. You can reach
Brad at 519-494-2883 or email@example.com.
Where do you start your lean adventure?
You have to get the right people on the bus!