The Truth Will Set You Free!

truth will set you freeLean thinking may not have been big in the first century, but there's at least one quote that can be applied to Lean, " will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." So, in a Lean context how do you know the truth and how will it set you free? Here are three steps.

1. Identify the waste through direct observation. Start with genchi genbutsu, Japanese for "go and see for yourself." Go the gemba. Improvement begins with a deep understanding of what is called the current condition, current situation or current reality. In short, the truth. Truth can be obtained through personal direct observation. Anecdotal evidence is typically incomplete and often just plain wrong. It allows for the introduction of bias, whether purposeful or accidental.

In Lean we often employ the use of certain tools (and methods) to better force and focus us in our direct observation. They also facilitate the identification of waste and help uncover the root causes of that waste. The tools, depending upon the situation,  include current state value stream maps, time observation forms, standard worksheets, standard work combination sheets, % load charts, operations analysis tables, etc. When properly applied, their format forces a presentation of the data in such a way that waste and related issues are more easily identified for the observer and for others (the more, the merrier!).

2. Acknowledge the waste. Easier said than done. Direct observation can identify the truth, but it does not mean that everyone will acknowledge it. In other words, identification is largely a technical exercise, acknowledgment is mostly behavioral in nature. While the truth is the truth whether known or acknowledged, waste can't be eliminated unless it is both identified AND acknowledged. As such, effective Lean cultures repudiate problem hiding. No problem is a big problem...heck, can anyone find a place where there are no problems? In order to facilitate the right environment there must be a large measure of trust where the focus is on fixing processes and not targeting people for blame. The principle of respect for the individual and a data-driven mentality must be front and center.

3. Eliminate the waste. Well, if you've identified the waste AND acknowledged it, then you know the truth.  You are now free to act upon it. Of course, this is a mixture of both technical (how) and behavioral (willpower, aggressiveness and stamina) elements. The truth has helped lead you to the PLAN, now it is time to DO!

What do you think?

Related posts: CSI Kaizen – When Forensics Supplement Direct Observation, Time Observations - 10 Common Mistakes

There are 9 Comments

Jerry Foster's picture

Mark, as always, the pursuit of truth leads to understanding. How many times have we all been challenged by people bearing data, when we were in pursuit of "Facts".

How often we work with organizations that are blinded by data.

markrhamel's picture


How right you are. In fact, I think the Lean principle of "humility" is so very important. Humble people will allow the data to lead them and are ready to apply that overused, but telling phrase, "It is what it is." Once one knows what it "is," they can then effectively work on the "to be." Another important thing to remember is that, especially during the initial part of Lean transformation, employees are watching to see if their leaders are credible. If the leaders can't abide by the truth, then how can the workers trust and ultimately take the risks so necessary for transformation?

Best regards,

Jamie Flinchbaugh's picture

Observation, despite all the talk of gemba, is still a limited skill and practice in lean. I'm not sure why, except to say that learning the skill isn't easy.

Observation, and lean for that matter, are about more than identifying waste. Observation can be used to understand value, explore how systems are operating, and even evaluate and help build the skills of individuals.

Jamie Flinchbaugh

markrhamel's picture


Thanks for sharing your insight. I totally agree. It's a bit more complicated than just taking your place in an "Ohno" circle. Observation should encompass, like Lean, the holistic system(s) that are in place/should be in place. This sensitivity and awareness takes time and experience to develop.


Michael OConnor's picture

In addition to going to the gemba. I think great organizations have a keen sense of who their customers are, and they constantly are trying to meet their needs. i think it is a another example of your apt phrase: "right ladder, right wall."

Kris N's picture

Hallelujah! Acknowledge waste! I could not agree more with this post. So often do we tackle the waste and make improvements, that, without taking a moment to reflect and acknowledge the waste, we tend to slip back to old practices (or at least practices that are somewhere between the new and old state). In our fix it fast world, the ability to reflect, and acknowledge, are sorely challenged.

markrhamel's picture


Thanks for your comment! My sensei taught me that often the "equation" that matters when talking about waste is waste identified X waste acknowledged X waste eliminated = waste elimination effectiveness (let's NOT call that "WEE"). So, once we throw some percentages in there, we can see the leverage (or lack thereof). For example, if we identify 50% of the waste in a given process, then acknowledge 60% and finally eliminate 40% of that which we acknowledged, we have only eliminated 12%!


Dale S.'s picture


Interesting equation. I think this could be helpful in quantifying improvement activity.

markrhamel's picture


Thanks for the comment. The equation can be applied literally, but I think it is more powerful from a conceptual perspective. I remember my sensei running through this "math" at the end of a kaizen event to differentiate the effectiveness between several kaizen teams. This happened 15 years ago and I can remember it like it happened yesterday!

Best regards,