Tying together two critical lean tools
Brad Cairns

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 protected].

Let’s discuss one crucial relationship between two lean techniques that are a must. 

The first one is the morning meeting. Now we always refer to it as the morning meeting regardless of when you have it so don’t worry if you’re having your meeting in the afternoon; this still applies to you. 

I’ve already written articles dedicated to the morning meeting, but let’s do a quick overview right now just to rattle the old memory banks. 

Morning meeting
A good morning meeting can be anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes and is the short period of time you have with your people to get them in the right mindset to tackle the day. It’s critical you don’t just discuss work, make sure you include some time for the fuzzy stuff: morning stretching, giving gratitude, and recognition. Share any exciting news. Give shoutouts to people who go over and above.

One of the most important facets of the morning meeting is to share the improvements your team is making. Include before-and-after pictures and videos. And then show this in front of the whole group. A good way to do this is to use Google slides or equivalent. The key is to have an easy way to get the videos and pictures from people’s handheld device to the screen. It will be done in 10 seconds. 

Which leads me to our next lean technique: Setting aside improvement time.

Improvement time
We’re not diving into the nuts and bolts of improvement time right now, but here’s the Coles Notes (Cliffs Notes for you Americans). It’s being intentional about setting aside time each day for every employee to help make their job easier. Everyone has something that they would love to fix at their job, So give them a little bit of time and tell them to fix what bugs them!

With some training and guidance you’ll have a whole factory full of change agents making the business better every day. WARNING: If you just tell everyone they have 20 minutes to fix what bugs them, you might be disappointed. Most people will need help understand what it is they are supposed to be doing. Treat it a bit like teaching a kid to ride a bicycle. First you put on the training wheels and run beside them until they understand what you’re asking. Then, stand back and watch them fly. This is not a fast process, so be patient and don’t give up. 

Putting them together
So, what’s so important about blending these two techniques together? I think we can all agree sustaining a lean culture is not an easy thing to do. Anything that’s going to keep people excited about lean thinking is a must.  

In the morning meeting you’ve got time set aside for reviewing improvements. I recommend showing improvements from your shop and then a quick video from the lean community to show your team what other people are doing. This is the time where the whole company gets to see what’s happening in other departments. The engineering department gets to see that the people on the shop floor are actually making improvements and vice versa. New people get to see the veterans doing things as simple as making pencil holders and shadow boards, which makes the idea of doing improvements much more attainable.

The payoff
And then there’s the ultimate reason. Let’s say you just made a shadow board for your work area. It didn’t take long, it’s functional, and you think it’s an OK improvement. Normally, maybe the people in your department would notice, but that’s about it. According to Dale Carnegie in “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the number one human desire is a feeling of importance. 

So now make a shadow board taking a before picture or video of tools laying around and then the after video of them perfectly organized. The video gets shown to the entire company, with you standing there. How do you think you’ll feel when that improvement comes up in the meeting and the entire company is clapping for you? 

For the person receiving the applause you are on cloud nine. And for everyone watching now they want that same feeling. The best way to get it is to go make an improvement. Talk about a win-win-win. The employee feels great about coming to work, the company benefits from improvements being made, and the customer benefits from products delivered in the fastest-as-possible time at the lowest possible cost.

Worth the time
I know it sounds scary taking time away from production, but believe me, people having a wonderful attitude and the compound effect of all the little improvements will far outweigh the little bit of time you’re setting aside each day.

Supercharg your lean journey by getting everyone’s improvements up in front of the whole company at the morning meeting. Celebrate them all. Recognize the individual. And, make sure applause is given for every improvement. If you need help setting any of this up, we are only a phone call away and are happy to help or connect you with the amazing Quantum Lean community. Or come see me in person at Wood Pro Expo California April 27-29


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About the author
Brad Cairns | President/Owner/C-Level

Brad Cairns is a partner at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He puts lean thinking in action at My Door Factory, a cabinet door manufacturing business he founded in St. Thomas, Ontario. And he is also founder of Stolbek, a machinery manufacturer. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].