Effective Lean Leaders Provide Sufficient Tools. Cheapskates Do Not.

During a recent business trip to Mexico, I spied a hotel worker using the tools captured in the picture. While there is definitely some creativity applied in the development of the tools, the twig broom (or is that a rake?) clearly is not sufficient – lots of motion required, but much of it wasted.

This same thing happens way too often in other gemba locations. Insufficient tools, and often just the plain LACK of tools, get in the way of performance.

The four-fold improvement objective is first, easier, then better, faster, and cheaper. Short-sighted leaders often think they can jump to cheaper by being cheapskates when it comes to basic tools for the job. Among other things, this belies a lack of respect for the employee. Maybe they need to “walk a mile” in their employees’ shoes...or at least  directly observe reality at the gemba!?

Just to be clear, here we’re talking about pragmatic tools, not overbuilt, gold-plated tools with unnecessary features and performance levels. And yes, as the saying goes, we must always, “reach for our brain, before our wallets.” But, workers need sufficient tools that: 1) protect them from ergonomic stress and trauma, 2) are capable of producing sufficient repeatable outcomes, and 3) support the least waste way, as captured within good standard work.

I’ve run into my share of “bad brooms,” as in the picture. Like the homemade knives that the operators made in order to cut foam. Their knives were basically pieces of scrap metal, with tape wrapped around one end for the handle. No knife looked the same. Many made ragged cuts. A lot were unsafe. Could management have done a better job?

How about the leaders who resist buying the required hand tools and storing them, at the behest of engaged employees, at a point-of-use shadow board for a routine set-up? The tools will get lost or stolen, anyway, why bother? Meanwhile, operators constantly venture out on long, time-consuming safaris to go find the required tools (yes, I know tool-less set-ups are the target condition…). Not easier, and certainly not least way.

We could go on. I am sure that you have countless examples from your gemba.

The scary thing is that workers in such situations get numb to the waste that their cheapskate leaders have helped create and sustain. Penny-wise, pound foolish environments are death to the kaizen spirit.

Don’t be a cheapskate.

Related posts: Book Review: How to Do Kaizen, Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper…in that Order

There are 4 Comments

markrhamel's picture

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the insights and the link!

Yes, mura and muri (muda's two ugly brothers), a.k.a. unevenness and strain, often travel together. Poor tools or lack of tools, drive a lot of muda and definitely muri. I think we should include the application of the golden rule when it comes to tools - would I like to work with it?

Best regards,

David M. Kasprzak's picture


Your comments point directly to the concepts of Mura & Muri, which Womack himself call the root causes of Muda. (http://www.lean.org/common/display/?JimsEmailId=63) Too much focus is placed on practicing lean concepts, without knowing why those concepts were developed, and how they work. (Consider Mark Graban's "L.A.M.E" term)

Additionally, adherence to the Shingo Model's concept of Guiding Principles and that Respect for People is critical would mean that an employer would never even think of handing a worker such poor tools. It is because of those principles that Mura and Muri are minimized, and the Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper outcomes come about.

Thanks for a great reminder of just what Lean / OpEx are all about.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Kristen,

Thanks for the comment!

Many leaders provide insufficient tools for their people. This, I believe, is often either because they are cheapskates and/or they have no understanding of the trials and tribulations that such insufficient tools cause at the gemba...because they rarely go to the gemba. Ironically, these same folks many times throw labor at the problem.

Other leaders seek to buy "silver-bullet" tools that do not truly address the needs of the worker. This dynamic is reflective of a lack of gemba-sense and the desire to quickly solve problems that they do not understand. It's an affront to true kaizen.

Best regards,

Kristen's picture

Good post. Visuals bring it to the point concisely.

I appreciate how you tied in these less-than-adequate functional tools to the high-tech, bells-and-whistles non-functional (who are we kidding? If we don't know how to use them) tools.

Great correlation of the waste we see all too often.