Why doesn’t everyone see it?
Brad Cairns is the senior principal at the Center for Lean Learning and Quantum Lean. He also runs 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].

Have you ever walked around your factory and it seems that everywhere you look you see waste? Whether it’s carts full of parts, people carrying things across the shop or a setup taking far too long, it just makes you want to fall to your knees and scream, “Why doesn’t everyone see it?!”

The silver lining here is the fact that you do see it. If you’re wandering around your factory and you don’t see waste everywhere you look in every nook and cranny, then that blissful unawareness is costing you a fortune. If you’re not seeing waste every time you open your eyes in every situation where ever you are then you are unnecessarily taxing customers with your inefficiency. Yikes! Tough love eh?

So how can we pick ourselves up off the floor and take action in the war against waste? Let’s get started.

Whose fault?

Answering the first question is the most important step, “Why doesn’t everyone see it?” Are you sitting down? (drum roll) The answer is: They do! Not only do all of your people see the waste, they are the unfortunate recipients who also feel it. After all they are forced to live in it.

This leads me to your very next question: “Ok, if they see it, then why aren’t they doing something about it?”

This is the fun part. There’s usually only one person at fault, holding your whole team back from making improvements. Sniffing out the one individual who is stifling the creativity of your whole team can be somewhat challenging. Like Elmer Fud trying to catch Bugs Bunny. However, I find you can get them once a day by following this simple tactic. While you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, being very careful, take the toothbrush out of your mouth and slowly look up into the mirror and WHAM! you got him! That’s right you lucky devil, it’s your fault.

A training matrix helps ensure that employees are trained in the skills they need and are encouraged to take time to make improvements.

Time for improvement

Since the beginning of time we have viewed somebody in our factories who is not working as the ultimate offence! Which loosely translates into “don’t ever stop working.” Every person on earth has an ingrained fear of the boss catching them not being busy. This leads to the first reason why people are not doing something about the waste they see.

#1: they have to know it’s OK to stop working and make the improvements.

Why is this your fault? Have you ever seen someone working and said, “Stop that! We have improvements to make!”? Kudos if you have.

What to do: Leadership must constantly be reinforcing that it’s OK to stop working to make an improvement, or my personal preference is to set time aside every day for improvements, factory wide.

#2: They may have the idea, but not the necessary skill set to bring it to fruition.

Why is that your fault? Do you have a support structure in place where people feel safe asking for help on a project? And do they know who to ask for what type of help?

What to do: Designate qualified helpers who have the tools or skill required for particular tasks. Could be as simple as a project white board or a training matrix. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. It just has to work.

Don’t fear failure

#3: fear of failure. They struggle with the thought of spending company time on something that in the end doesn’t work.

Why is this your fault: This one may be a tough pill to swallow. But if your people feel this way then it may be an indicator you’re focussing on the wrong thing. Most people learn best when they make a mistake. If we prevent that mistake from happening we also inadvertently prevent the learning. A building full of people learning will make way more money than a building full of people making no mistakes, but doing things the way you’ve always done them.

What to do: This is easier said than done, but you need to encourage people to try. When you see that it just might not work out the way they planned, you have to stay quiet and let them do it anyway. Constantly reinforce that trying new things is way more important than whether it works or not.

Build confidence

#4 - lack of confidence. Perhaps for you, speaking up about something you see or approaching your boss with new ideas might not be a problem, but for some people that’s right up there with sky diving and swimming with sharks.

How could this be your fault? As leaders, one of the most important things we can do is create a safe environment. If you just mention in passing, “It’s OK to come talk to me” or “It’s OK to make a mistake”, that’s not enough to convince anybody it’s true. Depending on how sincere you are and your reaction to mistakes, that will be the true test of how long it takes to create a safe environment. It could take months or even years.

What to do: Think of it as being analogous to teaching someone how to ride a bike. You don’t just point at the bike and say go ride it, and if you fall that’s OK. After all, even if falling is OK- nobody likes doing it. So put on the training wheels hold the seat and most importantly run beside them! You Might have to work with them on a few improvements before they have the confidence to tackle it on their own.

Employees need to know that it is okay to stop working to make improvements in the production process and how they do their jobs.

Help them see

#5- It wasn’t their Idea! We all know when we have an idea, the execution of that idea is done with vigor and passion. When someone else gives us an idea we tend to just try and find all the things wrong with it.

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “So, if they don’t see it, and it has to be their idea how on earth could this be my fault?” The good news is, at least you knew it was your fault. Let me explain. If you work in a team of more than a few people, your days of being a woodworker are now behind you, a big part of your job is to train, motivate and inspire. If they don’t see the improvement, this is a great opportunity to help you identify where they need training.

What to do: Make a small portion of each day dedicated to growing your people, the morning meeting is a great way to establish this. This way people are already in the habit of getting together and learning. When you see something that you want to fix, it’s easy just to slide it in as a sort training module and let them discover the waste on their own, without feeling alienated because you had to show them.

Realizing everything is your fault at the end of the day is a big step in your lean journey. A tough pill to swallow, but it immediately empowers you to evoke change. 

And if after reading this you’re still convinced that you have a problem that is somebody else’s fault, I will leave you with two more questions for reflection.

1.            Who hired them?

2.            Who hasn’t fired them yet?

Remember, if it was easy, everyone would do it. I was going to name the article “Why it’s all your fault”.  But then you probably wouldn’t have read it. Enjoy the journey!



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

Brad Cairns is the senior principal at Quantum Lean and is dedicated to improving the woodworking industry in North America using lean methods. He also owns Best Damn Doors, a cabinet door manufacturing business in St. Thomas, Ontario. You can reach Brad at 519-494-2883 or [email protected].