Halloween Snow and Two Lean Lessons

Along with hundreds of thousands of folks in the Northeast, I am in my 6th day without power. I expect at least a few more such days before the lights come on...and the heat.

Heck, they just sent the National Guard to my town, and an adjacent one, to start clearing downed trees.

The root cause of this whole mess was about a foot of snow on heavily treed land...when virtually all of the trees were still laden with their leaves. Near many trees were houses and power lines. You can guess the rest.

Last Sunday was full of chain saws and snow blowers. Now, it's a lot of dark and cold. But, we'll make do.

The point here is that there's a lean lesson somewhere. In fact, I think there are two related lessons.

Before the snow started flying, my youngest noted that my neighbor, Rich was blowing the leaves and pine needles off of his driveway. Rich later shared that he wanted to avoid the messy mix of snow, leaves and needles. At the time, I must admit, I was thinking perhaps that wasn't a bad idea.

Well, shortly thereafter the heavy snows came. By around 3:00 p.m., the first tree split and hit my house - just a glancing blow, mind you. After that, it really started getting bad. The power went out and the next 12 plus hours were full of crashing tree limbs and trunks. My family and I slept, more or less, in the basement.

At sunrise, we could see the full scope of the damage. We had been absolutely hammered.

It was chain saw, shovel, and snow blower time. Fortunately, my neighbors came by and helped clear a path through my driveway. We then patrolled the neighborhood and cleared the roadway.

(Note to self: there should be a legal limit on the number of chain saw wielding amateurs within a 20 foot radius...)

Well, during this orgy of fuel and bar and chain oil, I recalled a figure that is within my Kaizen Event Fieldbook. This leads to:

Lesson #1: When the muda and the stakes are high, ditch the scalpel and carving knife. Instead, go for the chain saw.

In other words, don't screw around with making things elegant. If you've got to get the tree off of your house or clear a path in your driveway (or road), go big and go aggressive. Make it pretty later.

Too often during lean transformation efforts, folks will spend too much time, resources, and political capital trying to make things perfect. Well, perfect never happens. Get the value to flow better, as quickly as possible.

And my neighbor's pre-snow leaf and pine needle blowing? Well that, as admitted by Rich, was just plain stupid.

Lesson #2: Quickly understand and acknowledge the magnitude of the coming storm and take proportionate action.

How often do we give the proverbial patient the proverbial vitamins while he is on the proverbial operating room table?!

Put another way, bad things happen when we: 1) are ignorant of the pending competitive challenges for our business, 2) choose to ignore the challenges (maybe they'll never materialize?!), and/or 3) do something lame that will never sufficiently address the challenge.

Yes, there's nothing like a little post-storm hansei (reflection)!!

Related posts: The Best or Nothing, Kaizen Principle: Bias for Action

There are 6 Comments

James's picture

Sorry to hear about your house. It would have been funny if you had a neighbor who cut back all his branches before the storm and everyone thought he was crazy. My brother was trying to get from NJ to NH during the storm. He said every street in NJ had trees in the roads and on the power lines. In NH I think they've gotten tired of power outages. It seems like the trees are cut back farther and farther from the power lines each year.

markrhamel's picture

Hi James,

Thanks for the comment! Noah's neighbors thought he was off his rocker.

I love trees, got about 600 acres behind me of woodland, but I don't love trees that are near power lines.

Best regards,

Tim McMahon's picture

That was a crazy storm. We were without power for several days and then had a house full till about Thursday. Work was delayed till Thursday morning. Glad to hear you made it through. It certainly has been full of lessons. Some I hope I don't have to repeat for a while.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the comment or more like commiseration. I'm heading into day 8 without power, but the lessons still are (sorta) worthwhile.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture


Thanks so much for the comment.

Spot on. Voltaire was correct!

Glad you weathered the storm.

Best regards,

David M. Kasprzak's picture

Up here in NH, we were 4 days without power. We did just fine, however, thanks to a wood stove that provided plenty of heat and a cooking surface, the propane grill that we cooked on, and a municipal water supply that gve us cold, but running water. My point being something that's lost all too often when trying to manage change, of any sort - the realization that the environment is going to generate failures, and you can get through them with minimal discomfort if you're prepared and adaptable.

Your post also brought to remind a quote from Voltaire: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." This is a bit of the inverse of Jim Collins' Good to Great concept, however, it's also indicative of the need to focus on something else very Lean-esque: the need for flow. In this case, the flow of activity that leads to both progress and learning.

Instead of looking for perfect tree removal - just move limbs out of the way and to restore functionality. Tidy up later. To borrow another management guru's sage advice: Understand what is Urgent and Important, and do that first.