Category Archives: Lean Process

Simplicity – An Expert’s View

In his book Simplicity, Edward de Bono, one of the World’s greatest experts on thinking, outlines his case for simplicity.

He believes that complexity is always failed simplicity.

Simplicity, he states,  is not always the natural state, you have to make it happen.  And that might require change.

Just because something has endured doesn’t mean it is the best way to do things now.  There may be a better, simpler way.

The lazier a person is, the more likely they are to find the simpler solution. Henry Ford employed lazy people in his plant as they could find the most efficient manner of producing a car and the result was an efficient production line.

But unless simplicity is set as a priority, it will not be ‘built in’ to any solution.

There is an elegance in simplicity that is appealing and often cost effective.  For example, software that is too comprehensive is too complex.  Only a fraction of the functions of Microsoft Office are used by the majority of users and so lower cost, less comprehensive solutions, such as Google docs can thrive.

Recognising that complexity also generates waste, the Lean Six Sigma movement looks to remove all waste and only undertake processes that add value.  These are often the most simple solution.

Edward de Bono has a passion for simplicity and as always, his research is comprehensive and his conclusions are well supported, resulting in 10 rules for simplicity.

His rules are:

  1. You need to put a high value on simplicity – Very few people do this.  We look for simplicity only when the complexity to difficult to manage.  If a task is within our skill level and not too taxing, we will not look too hard to make the process more simple, despite the value that simplicity can add.
  2. You must be determined to seek simplicity – The value of simplicity is something that you need to actively seek.  We generally like simplicity when it costs us nothing or when it is free to implement.  There are are however savings to be made in implementing simplicity.
  3. You need to understand the subject matter very well – You need to be very clear about what you are trying to do.  You need to understand the values, processes and outcome involved. If you don’t understand the system fully, you may end up with a simplistic result rather than just being a simple solution.
  4. You need to design alternatives and possibilities – Design is critical here to find alternative methods to achieve which are both effective and simple.
  5. You need to challenge and discard existing elements – Challenge everything.  Everything needs to justify its continual existence.  Systems and operations have a natural tendency to grow complicated.  if you can’t justify it being there, then shed it!
  6. You need to be prepared to start all over again – It can be very tempting to modify an existing structure rather than build from scratch.  The more difficult and expensive the system, the less people want to scrap.
  7. You need to use concepts – Concepts are useful for simplifying complexity.  They provide the first stage of setting the direction and purpose.  Concepts are designed to be vague, however, after setting the direction, you must get specific to simplify the system.
  8. You may need to break things into smaller units – Complex systems work best when they are broken down into sub-systems.  Smaller is inherently simpler.
  9. You need to be prepared to trade off other values for simplicity – Comprehensive can mean complex.  Simplicity may require you not look for comprehensive solutions to ensure what you get is as simple as possible.
  10. You need to know for whose sake the simplicity is being designed – Users? Owners? Customers?  Simplicity is a trade off.  To make something simple for one stakeholder might make it more complex for another.

Consider these rules when you are crafting a solution or as part of a business process improvement project.  Simplicity gives you an elegant and often friction free solution which sounds like something to aspire to.

Dare to Aspire


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The Deming Cycle

Following the Second World War, Japan was struggling to regenerate its manufacturing base and a key feature in this struggle was the need to generate a culture of quality.

Their economic saviour in many ways was Dr W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician who was so influential in creating a culture of quality that Japan still has an annual quality award that bears his name. He is a venerable hero of the Quality movement.

A tool that Deming employed frequently for quality and process improvement was the Plan, Do, Check, Act process.

This later became known as the Deming Cycle.

The key principle of this cycle is iteration and feedback.

The key stages are:

PLAN – Design or change a business process with the aim of improving results

DO – Implement the change and measure the change in results

CHECK – Compare the measurements with the original performance to assess improvements

ACT – Decide on the changes that are needed to improve the process


Repeated time and again the PDCA drives any process towards a peak of improved performance. In many ways, this approach now underpins many of the process improvement approaches used in business today.

The Kaizen approach of the Lean process is an iterative improvement process

Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) of the Six Sigma school is also an iterative approach.

Rummler and Brache (1991) also suggested an approach that repeated a pattern of Identify, Analyse and Improve.

And there are many more.

There are 2 key things to remember about any such iterative approaches:

1. What you measure is critical. You must get your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) correct. Measure the wrong parameter and you improve the wrong thing.

2. If you your process isn’t the correct one in the first instance then you can improve but you are only moving towards a ‘suboptimal’ peak of performance.

The graph below shows what can happen if you focus on only improving the current process.

If you start on the left hand peak, you will optimise, but you will optimse  the wrong process.


You should take away from this the need to not only consider improvement as an approach but ensure you are improving the correct process. Suboptimal is exactly that!

Dare to Aspire

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5 S’s: Lean for one!

5 S’s: Lean for one! (Part 2)

A good starting point for your personal Lean process is a tool called the 5Ss. This tool is a rough guide for looking at the things you do and reducing them to an absolute minimum.

The 5Ss are:

Sort – Group, classify and organize elements of your work and personal life and process. I recommend the use of David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for this process.

Scrub – Cleaning up your workspace and maintaining a clear area will allow you to more readily focus on the activity you are working on. It will reduce distractions and allow your effort to be targeted entirely on the task at hand.

– Organize the remaining things that still belong. Hopefully you have been sufficiently ruthless in your Sort as to significantly reduce the amount of stuff you have to straighten.

– Standardisation is a key element in efficiency. By following a set pattern of activity, you will become familiar and more effective at your tasks. Not everything should be standardised as it can reduce creativity and become somewhat dull. You need to make a choice as to where you want efficiency and where you want interest.

– Having achieved a level of increased efficiency and enhanced the effectiveness of your Value Stream, that effort shouldn’t be wasted. By sustaining and repeating a standard pattern of behaviour for a few days/weeks it will become a habit and you will reach a level of unconscious competence. It will require discipline but is worth the effort.

This tool will hopefully bring significant rewards in efficiency and effectiveness in a fairly short time.

Dare to Aspire

NB. Lean philosophy suggests that individual activities are undertaken at specific standardised workstations, however, this I believe is overkill for Lean for one.


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Personal Kaizen – Lean for one

Personal Kaizen: Lean for one! (Part 1)

No conversation on personal improvement is complete with considering the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Kaizen is the Japanese term for ‘improvement’ or ‘change for the better’. It is most often associated with the Lean process made popular by Toyota and is a generic management philosophy focused on improving processes.

Clearly applicable to the manufacturing domain, there are also clear opportunities to learn individual improvement techniques from Lean processes.

This post is the first of several that will present possible applications of the Lean process for personal development and productivity.

5 Principles of Lean

Value – What is it that is of value you. What aligns best to your personal goals, missions or purpose?

Value Stream – What are the activities and steps you undertake to achieve that flow of activity aimed at achieving value?

Flow – What are the stops, blocks and barriers to the seamless achievement of that value stream?

Pull – Activities should be ‘on demand’ and initiated by triggers.

Perfection – Aim for constant improvement.

So how does this apply?


Much has already been written on the setting of goals. By setting goals we

– Focus on what is important to us.
– Allow our subconscious to identify opportunities that align with our goals.
– Set criteria that enable to make the decisions to move us towards our purpose.
– Identify measures that indicate how we are moving toward our purpose.

By concentrating on the achievement of these goals we implicitly work to increase value.

Value Stream

A Value Stream is a Lean phrase that defines the process, from start to finish that moves a team or person towards Value. As an individual this would be what you do on a routine basis to meet your goals. I have identified simple actions that combine into a process of moving towards my goals and take those actions daily.


Flow describes the seamless movement towards your goal. Sometimes I find that there are reasons that I cannot take some actions. Perhaps time, family or work commitments stop me working toward specific goals. These are blocks and barriers in the Flow of my Value Stream. I try to ensure flow by identifying key Getting Thing Done Next Actions that can be taken in whatever context I am in. My processes change based on which barriers exist but the aim of my activity is to focus on a steady flow.


Pull describes the triggers for action. In simple terms, a deadline for some action like paying a bill is a Pull trigger. Too much up front effort can be nugatory and wasteful and exactly the problem that Lean is trying to reduce. With this attitude, we avoid the problems of ‘planning early causing us to plan twice’.


Perfection is an ideal but it is your ideal. It is your idea of the person you would like to be. Personal improvement and self-development is in itself a process, a stream of activity and a personal journey. With any journey it does require action and movement. Even if you are on the right track, the train will still hit you if you don’t keep moving!

There are advantages and disadvantages with the Lean process but as an approach, there may be some aspects that add to your effectiveness and performance. As with all tools, they may work for you and they may not. Aim for an implementation that meets your needs, is elegant and friction free.

And as always Dare to Aspire

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