Bridging to Daily Kaizen - 15 (or so) Questions

My teenage education was (maybe) enhanced by substantial doses of Monty Python. Occasionally, I discover a lean metaphor somewhere within their body of work. One of my absolute favorite scenes is from the  movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The three minute scene goes by two names: 1) the Bridge of Death, or 2) the Three Questions.

click to watch

Now would be a good time to watch the scene if you're not familiar with it. Of course, if you're like me, even though you've seen it before, you'll watch it again...and laugh.

So, back the lean metaphor. Most folks are stuck on one side of the gorge (that would be the "Gorge of Eternal Peril") practicing system-driven kaizen - organized kaizen, mostly directed by value stream improvement plans. While this particular side isn't terrible, it's only a stepping stone to real lean. You should be crossing the bridge to the other side, the side of principal driven kaizen - system-driven kaizen, plus daily (mostly voluntary) kaizen. Only then will the enterprise and the culture be truly transformed!

Stop! Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.

In the Holy Grail movie, the only way to cross the Bridge of Death is to successfully answer the three questions. For this kaizen bridge, you've got to answer at least 15 questions. Don't worry, unlike the Monty Python version, if you don't answer any of the questions incorrectly (or at least not affirmatively), you will not be, "...cast in the Gorge of Eternal Peril."

In no particular order:

  1. Have all of your employees been trained in basic problem-solving methods and are they coached how and encouraged to use them?
  2. Is the environment one of problem-solving or problem-hiding?
  3. Has the organization developed good PDCA rigor through the proper application of kaizen events and has virtually everyone participated in multiple events?
  4. Do you have an effective lean management system that employs: a) leader standard work, b) visual controls, and c) cascading tiered performance metrics?
  5. Have you implemented a pragmatic suggestion system that emphasizes quick implementation of true incremental improvement (kaizen teian), typically by the person who suggests the improvement?
  6. Do you broadly and virally share improvement ideas?
  7. Do you apply the 5 why's or the 5 who's?
  8. Do the lean leaders promote A3 thinking?
  9. Has the organization sufficiently resourced the kaizen promotion office (a.k.a. lean function) to help teach, coach and facilitate improvement activities?
  10. Is the focus of improvement such that the order of importance is a) easier, b) better, c) faster, and d) cheaper?
  11. Are folks fearful of failure or do they, and leadership, see it as a necessary means of learning and improving?
  12. Are you internally capable (or at least getting there) or are you suffering from consultant dependency?
  13. Do folks know what "True North" is and how they can do their part to get there?
  14. Is the culture one of humility and respect for the individual?
  15. Is lean applied within the context of a holistic lean business system?

I know there are a bunch more. What are your additions to the list?

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Developing Leader Standard Work – Five Important Steps, Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!

There are 4 Comments

markrhamel's picture


Awesome comment(s)!

The secret sauce really isn't that secret to many...except perhaps leaders who just don't get the importance of full and meaningful engagement. Often, it's a recipe of, "me think, you do" (or at least my crack specialist blackbelts will do). For those of us who do have an understanding of the secret sauce, we soon realize how darn hard it is to create. So, we tempted to blow it off, at least initially, and work the tools and systems stuff.

"How" we answer - excellent distinction there. Yes, and I would personally want to interview folks in person (like the bridge keeper...he's better looking than me) to see their body language, get their intonations, etc.

Problems and the standard work of escalation and ultimate resolution - that is definitely a bridge question.

Best regards,

Andrew Bishop's picture


At the N.E. Shingo Conference last fall, Alice Lee of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center told the story of a "lean" tour group at a factory in Japan asking "What's the secret sauce?", i.e., what made the difference in achieving operational excellence? The reply (in English, bypassing the interpreter) was "TOTAL PARTICIPATION".

How we answer your 15 questions may be our recipe for that "secret sauce". Having the answers may just get us over the bridge!

Taking up your invitation to add questions, and going to our own weakness, I'd ask "Do front line operators know how to handle problems they can't solve? Every time? Are those problems elevated rapidly and effectively until they reach a place where they can be solved?"



Christian Paulsen's picture


This is a great list. Leaders should use this list to determine if they have a change culture. They should then use it to build a strategic development plan. Excellent!


markrhamel's picture

Hi Chris,

Thank for the comment and the kind words. Yes, in the end it's really about "inculturating" and "operationalizing" PDCA throughout the organization. That requires a good measure of strategic development planning. Unfortunately, most folks give that short shrift.

Best regards,