Kaizen Principle: Be like MacGyver, use creativity before capital!

MacGyver picRemember Angus MacGyver? He was the star of the old MacGyver TV series and used science and the inventive application of common items (gum wrappers, duct tape, etc. - kind of a one person moonshine shop) to solve desperate problems. Well, MacGyver should be an unofficial kaizen hero for his real-time creativity and frugality.

Are we saying that lean practitioners are cheap? Well, yes from the standpoint that it is muda to spend or use more than is required to implement an effective countermeasure. But, the real driver behind the principle here is trystorming (the dynamic, real-time cycle of try-observe-improve-repeat through which individuals and teams identify and validate the best improvement idea) as much as possible before, if need be, committing some real capital. As Taiichi Ohno was credited with saying, "Quick and dirty is better than slow and fancy."

And with the notion of "dirty" there is need for kaizeners to get their hands dirty - planning, doing, checking and adjusting. This requires the use of often simple, readily available materials (wood, cardboard, PVC, etc.) and "re-purposed" equipment, furniture, materials and supplies. So, what are some examples where people effectively reached for their brains before their wallets:

  • Re-purposed discarded rooftop air conditioner attached to a cooling vessel increased the compounding line rate ($0.9 million annual savings),
  • Urinal flush valve used to quickly dispense the requisite amount of water to a dry material so that it could be safely shipped,
  • Residential dishwasher serving as a right-sized, line-side parts washer.

So, what are some of your favorite MacGyver moments?

There are 2 Comments

Jerry Foster's picture

What I find interesting in the MacGyver approach to improvement beyond the "cheap" is that it captures the creative juices of the moment. People gathered in the "trystorming" environment need things to keep ideas flowing. A discarded item, that may not be the perfect application has often afforded sustainment of momentum to allow time to engineer the right, not necessarily perfect, solution.

People are creative! I always coach clients to look for "nuggets" of opportunity right in front of them. The next time you are in an environment where "things" are processed, look for how people have solved the "chaffing problems". Note the cardboard held in place by the duct tape to prevent items from falling off a chute or capture dust from a process, etc. These should not only fascinate you from a creativity perspective, but let you know the people in the organization that are energized to improve.

In one facility that was measuring and packaging materials that would be the equivalent of feathers, the team went to the local department store, bought several shower curtains, affixed theme together around an area that was blowing the materials all over the equipment and facility. The simple fix removed 30 minutes of cleanup between shifts and product changes and added more than an hour and a half of production to the line every day, 220 days per year. The additional capacity allowed them to take on three more product lines. Suffice it to say, it more than paid for the shower curtains and the permanent fix that followed.

Excellent point, Mark!

Jerry Foster

markrhamel's picture


As usual, thanks for your comment! Some excellent points here. Some people wait around for the opportunity to hit the "homerun" improvement and ignore the quick single or double improvement. As General George S. Patton said, "A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented at some unspecified time in the future."

Take care,