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Updated: Jun 13, 2023

by Lukas Holland

Lean doesn’t apply to the digital print industry.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear it all the time: Lean doesn’t work for me, my industry is different. Well you might be surprised to know that your competition is outcompeting or even crushing your business right now. Do you know why? Because they didn’t give the same answer. They thought “Wow – this stuff makes sense!”. Let me tell you how much sense Lean makes in every industry, and how easy it is to benefit from! It doesn’t matter how big or how small your company, and it doesn’t require bringing in consultants or trainers to make it happen. Why? Because more than anything, Lean is really about people – your employees! It’s about having a culture in which people are empowered to make changes, to fix what bugs them, and to make their jobs easier, and that celebrates and rewards them for doing so. The bi-product of focusing on growing people and building a culture of continuous improvement will be more efficiency, and better quality, leading to higher sales with higher profit margins, as well as happier employees who enjoy work!

There are thousands of pages of text that detail a plethora of ‘Lean tools’ to learn and try to implement if you want to “be Lean”. Enough to make your head spin, and make it easy to say “this isn’t for me” or “my company doesn’t have time for this”. Fortunately, while these academic tools are great resources to try out one at a time years into your Lean journey and some may benefit you in the long run, they are not the core of creating a Lean culture and benefiting from Lean! In fact, they are a bunch of tools that make everyone’s head spin, take hours of your time, and tend to complicate processes, and alienate employees! Lean is about simplicity, and if you keep it simple, there’s a much greater chance of people understanding and implementing the ideas. Let me tell you just how simple it can be!

Lean is really simply all about continuous improvement. Everybody, every day, making something better. It can be as easy as adding a label so something is always in the right place, or moving a tool so it is closer to the point of use, or color coding something to avoid having to go back and check sizing. It can be as simple as committing to a goal to make one improvement, every single day, that will save you at least 2 seconds every time you go to use it, or will reduce some other form of waste by some miniscule percentage every time a process runs! Every single thing you do in life is a process, and every process can always be improved. Waste is everywhere around you – you just have to learn to see it! Imagine if you could accomplish every single thing with the same results every day, but it took you half the time! Well that may indeed be possible in your operation if everybody makes small improvements every day, and you foster an environment in which those improvements will accumulate over time.! You will also find that when people start looking for waste, and looking for small easy improvements, and make those improvements every day, bigger more audacious goals for improvement start to make themselves obvious!

This all sounds great of course, but as with many things, taking the first step can be the most daunting task; especially when you don’t know in what direction to step – so lets start with those first steps. Of course, every business and every industry is different, and the solutions that work for me, or your friend across the street, are not going to be the exact solutions that work for you – but the culture will work anywhere! This can be applied to banks, schools, government, even the DMV, anyone who can start with these simple steps, and keep going in this direction will experience huge benefits! For that first step, lets take a step toward your restrooms!

As I said, everything you do, yes absolutely everything is a process – and that includes cleaning the restroom. This is a great place to start learning Lean concepts, and building a culture of Lean improvement. There are 2 basic steps to being able to make an improvement: 1. Create a standard process and train everyone to do the same process, then 2. Improve upon that process. Everyone has cleaned a restroom in their life, so everyone will tell you they know how to do it. That is why this is a great place to start practicing creating an exact standard process, and getting everyone to follow it! If people can’t follow a standard of how to clean a restroom, how can you trust them to follow a standard process of how to make, package, or ship products!? Starting in the bathroom has other benefits too – it builds a sense of respect and responsibility to have everyone clean the company bathroom; people will be more respectful when they use it, and will start to open their eyes to other things in the building that need to be cared for! Once you have learned to create a standard, and teach people to follow it, you can start creating standards for all of your processes, and it will feel easy!

Having standard processes creates a lot of benefits beyond the immediate reduction in waste or increases in efficiency. To begin with, standardizing a process reduces variation – a huge creator of waste! Variation in how something is done creates inconsistency in how a work-space should be laid out, making it impossible to create an efficient work space. Variation in process also results in variation in the final result – either defects, or best case, it just looks to your customers like you have no idea what you are doing! Second, it makes it easy to train people on processes when there is a standard that is recorded and clear. Standards can be recorded with pictures and words using Microsoft office to create a process sheet, or as simply as shooting a video of the process and creating a QR code for accessing the video.

Have a morning meeting - every morning, with everyone. It doesn’t have to be long – as with everything in a culture of constant improvement expect it to change over time, but have one! It is an investment – a huge investment, but one that will pay dividends over time. A meeting is where you can start growing people, and growing a culture, when you have everyone together. More importantly though, it is a place to teach and train people. Teaching and training people is the MOST important thing for any company to move forward.

Use these meetings to teach Lean concepts. Good ideas of starting points include the 8 deadly sins of waste, Deming’s 14 points, as well as Taiichi Ohno’s 10 precepts. Use these meetings to review the 8 wastes every day with the entire company, and discuss them. Go over company principles you will develop along the way, such as what qualifies as an improvement? Which might be something like benefiting safety, quality, simplicity, or speed. As a result, every employee is fully trained to find waste, and eliminate it! I highly recommend that you also go over a few peoples’ improvements every morning, and celebrate what they have accomplished as a group rewarding Lean improvements by recognizing people and publicly telling them what a good job they are doing, and building an addiction to improvement. Nothing is so motivating as public praise! None of this could be accomplished anywhere near as effectively without a morning meeting every morning. Most importantly, it gets EVERYBODY involved in the Lean culture. If you want to enjoy the benefits of a true Lean culture, a morning (or start-of-shift) meeting is a MUST!

A lot of companies who try to go Lean try to do it without getting everyone involved. They put together a Lean team whose job it is to find and implement improvements – a group of people who are not the ones doing the actual work. Let me tell you, this is a great way to spend a lot of money with little chance of actually creating a Lean culture! What can easily happen with this model is that the Lean team comes into an area, does a kaizen event, implementing all the changes they have come up with without ever having worked in a fully integrated way with the workers. In that case, when the actual workers come back to use their newly changed work area – they are likely to HATE it! They don’t know where anything is, they don’t like a lot of the ideas that were changed, and they won’t feel respected or celebrated, and as a result they are likely to be questioning and second guessing everything that is changed while wondering why the things that actually bothered them and created real waste were not adequately addressed! It is likely to create needless rifts, where the Lean team thinks they are the bee’s knees but are hated by everyone else – who incidentally now like their jobs a lot less! This model can literally take a company backwards. In the end it will likely cost more to have this Lean team, whose cost is supposed to be offset by more efficient work and happier workers. In reality their presence creates unhappy workers who don’t benefit much from the improvements and who continue to struggle with waste that they could easily eliminate on their own. Worse yet, it may also demoralize the local management team who is likely to feel compelled to sing the company song about the new Lean program to their direct reports while not having any real buy-in because they find their own input is also not sufficiently valued.

The best ideas come from the people on the shop floor who are actually doing the work. Let them use their brains! If you want to be competetive, you MUST make time to improve. And yes I hear it all the time “we’re too busy – we don’t have time to improve every day!” Again – that’s the attitude that lets your competitors walk all over you! If you make the time to improve – it will save time, and then you will have the time to improve – so make the time! I like to use the analogy of someone trying to put a bunch of nails in a piece of wood using the tool he has always used – a rock. It obviously is slow and doesn’t work well so of course he feels he doesn’t have the time to stop and try to improve his process, he just needs to get the work done! Someone could even walk up and hand him a hammer and say hey try this, and he would probably be so stressed out at how much he had to do that he would wave them away and say “no I don’t have time to try your dumb device, I need to get this job done leave me alone!”. Of course, we all know the hammer is a much better solution, and this is an exagerrated example to illustrate the point, but don’t be the rock guy! There is ALWAYS a better way to do everything you are doing, you just need to stop and take the time to use your brain and improve the process.

What this looks like will be different for everyone – but whether it be half an hour at the beginning or end of every day where people are paid to make improvements, or a more open format where people are allowed to stop work for a set amount of time to make an improvement at any point during the day when they may think of it, you must give the people doing the work the time to use their training to make the process of how they do their work better.

If people get to make their own improvements, they take pride in them! Then they come back to work and get to enjoy the benefits of the improvement and feel good about doing it! Not only that, but now they have more time to make more improvements! Not only that, but they start going home and finding ways to make improvements at home, and save them time on chores, so they have more free time at home! Now you have a company full of happy employees, who wants to keep using their brains, as well as working hard for you, enjoying how much easier it is than it used to be – and THAT is a Lean culture. The by-product is more efficiency and better quality, leading to higher sales with higher profit margins.

Don’t focus on the end goal, the higher sales and higher profit margins. Don’t hire a Lean consultant or trainer who complicates everything and alienates people and costs you a ton of money. Don’t hire a Lean team that changes people’s work area for them, making them hate the idea of Lean and improvements. Instead - focus on growing and training people to be the best they can be and to use their brains, and focus on creating a positive culture of continuous improvement. Start Lean in the bathroom by creating standard processes and training on them. Have a morning meeting every day with everyone and train them how to see waste. Give everyone paid time to make improvements to their own work areas and praise their creativity! You will end up with not only higher sales and profit margins, but also a company full of happy employees that attracts the highest quality people to want to come work for you!


Lukas Holland graduated from Western Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, specializing in Lean manufacturing. Right out of college Lukas was thrust headfirst into the Lean Maniac’s World when he was hired at FastCap by Paul Akers, author of 2 Second Lean and Paul has personally mentored Lukas over the last eight years. Lukas’s responsibilities at FastCap have allowed him to obtain a vast array of experiences while managing the day-to-day operations. Lukas has had the opportunity to visit Japan, tour Lexus and Toyota, and interact with some of the top Lean leaders in the world like Mr. Amezawa former vice president of Lexus; Ritsuo Shingo son of Shigeo Shingo and former president of Toyota China; as well as Norman Bodek who is revered as the father of Lean in the United States.


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