When I was young and crazy I used to race dirt bikes. I had big dreams of riding
pro one day. A good friend of mine
who was a pro-rider at the time would
often watch me race. One day I had
just come off the track, mouth full of
dirt, exhausted after 30 minutes of
grueling racing. He put his hand on
my shoulder and said, “Brad, you’re
the fastest guy on the track, if you just
slowed down you probably would win
some races.” I cocked my head to the
side and said, “What?”
He then bestowed the words that
would forever change not just my rac-
ing, but the rest of my life. He said,
“Slow down to speed up.”
Last week this lesson came back to
me, and I thought it was worth sharing
in a manufacturing context.
This summer seems as if it has been
totally bonkers in the manufacturing
world, everyone I talked to is insanely
busy. I think we can all agree, when
we get busy, our mistakes also seem to
compound. Before we know it, we are
no longer woodworkers; we are full-time firefighters.
I will happily admit that my company
is no exception. As customer demand
increased over the past few months, so
did all the UDE’s (undesirable effects).
But it was more like death by paper
cuts. It wasn’t one big mistake that we
could easily identify and put in some
countermeasures. In hindsight, I could
see that all these little UDE’s were
compounding and like a volcano, we
were bound to erupt.
We were tracking all the data and felt
like we had it somewhat under control.
That is, until one week we made three
significant mistakes that escaped our
building and made it to a customer.
That was the tipping point for me,
and all I could think of was “slow down
to speed up.” So we did, and we didn’t
just slow down, we brought it to a
We stopped the whole factory and
gathered in our sandbox (meeting
area). We carefully avoided the usual
“so everyone, what’s going wrong?” That
usually turns into a ton of finger point-
ing and complaining. The first step is
to make sure your team is well-versed in
internal vs. external customer/supplier
relations. If this concept is new to you or
your crew, take a moment and review it
with everyone. It’s a simple and power-
ful concept that is already universally
understood outside the workplace.
If you purchase something from a
retail store, and it’s not what you
expected, what do you do? Thats right,
you return it. Typically, you don’t
even think twice about doing so. But
for some reason in our factories, we
hesitate to send things back to our
internal suppliers. The root may be
avoiding conflict with a co-worker or
not wanting to give them bad news. We
set out to fix it ourselves thinking we
are doing the right thing.
In reality what is happening, we are
Sometimes the best way to pick up the pace of production is to stop.
robbing the system of critical feedback
and opportunity to improve. If you
don’t have a formal CPARS (Correc-
tive, Preventative Action Reporting
Slow down to speed up!
✚ 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.