Tattoos, Lean, and Regrets

A friend and colleague provided me with this tattoo parlor photo. He was passing by and just couldn't resist the irony of it all.

The lack of permanence around the sign construction makes the whole thing even more entertaining.

My friend and I share the same passion for lean as well as an often bizarre brand of humor. He thought the photo was blog worthy, although he wasn't quite sure of the exact subject.

Well, I'm not one to waste a good picture.


Lean, by it's very nature, is not permanent. Certainly, if a transformation is not progressing, then it's not transforming.

If it's stagnant, it is decaying.

But, I digress.

I'm no expert on tattoos. In fact, I don't have any.  Although, there were several "near misses" in my younger days.

Other than the stick on variety or henna types, there is very little PDCA around them. Sure there is "plan", which sometimes doesn't get the proper rigor before it quickly turns into "do." Note that tattoo plan and do is best done without the assistance of alcohol and peer pressure.

The "check" part, other than the review of the stencil before the needle, seems to happen largely after the artwork is complete. By then, "act" or "adjust" options are pretty limited.

Lean is a lot more forgiving. Real PDCA, especially within the proper culture, is freeing. Renewable in may ways.

But, as I think through my modest career thus far, I have to ask myself whether I have any lean regrets.

Unlike in the song My Way, my regrets are not too few to mention. So, here are some of my own, along with regrets that I think others should have (based upon my observations over the years).

  • Bending or compromising on one or more lean principles
  • Being too rigid on a lean tool and missing the point (a.k.a. the principle)
  • Not using open-ended questions enough
  • Making technical changes without corresponding management system changes (i.e., leader standard work)...and seeing improvement gains evaporate over time
  • Getting into useless arguments about whether folks need to adhere to standard work. Sure we need to understand the why, but following standard work is a condition of employment. End of story. Improve it if the standard work is not sufficient.
  • Assuming (a.k.a. not validating) that folks understand key lean concepts
  • Not aligning leadership at the very beginning of the lean transformation
  • Not acting quickly enough to remove the saboteurs (after a genuine effort to convert them)
  • Forgetting that people development is as important as business results
  • Giving someone a fish because it's more expedient than teaching them how to fish
  • Basing leadership assignments more on technical skills than core competencies/behavioral skills
  • Not fixing (or at least containing) problems immediately
  • Prematurely moving from pilot to full scale deployment
  • Ruminating about stuff while sitting in a conference room rather than going to the gemba and personally conducting direct observations
  • Short-cutting problem-solving

The list could go on and on and on.

Of course, unlike in a tattoo scenario, we can reflect and adjust. We can turn our regrets, assuming that we can grasp the root cause(s) and apply effective countermeasures, into strengths.

And, in a form of yokoten, we can share our hard-earned learnings, so that others may better avoid some of our mistakes.

What "lean regrets" do you have?

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Lean Listening, 12 Narrow Lean Gates


There are 6 Comments

Jerry Foster's picture

Execellent points, as usual, Mark. You are correct the list could go on with variations on your points. Facinating how the path of least resistance sometimes guides everyone to create alternatives to the known correct paths. The river erodes the rock.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for the comment. Excellent observation regarding the path of least resistance. The easy way out often generates the most regrets.

Best regards,

Wesley Connell's picture

I want to start with the statement that I am biased based on my current career path, but I am wary of stereotyping consultants. I have seen consultants that were used as a tool of management to tell the company that the boss is right, however, in my current position, I see a big problem coming from the lack of management and staff to support the changes that consultants are trying to lead (lead, not force). It often seems almost like sabotage along the thought lines of "if they (consultants) can make the process better in a short time, and I couldn't in 10 years, they're going to make me look bad." Consultants, just like any software package, new machine, or process, should be installed with a specific focus in mind before they are ever used/hired. With that specific focus it will make the results much easier to evaluate, did the new purchase meet the desired result? if not, PDCA again.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Wesley,

Thanks for the very thoughtful comment. Leadership, in the end, makes the difference. Consultants are never a truly transformational magic bullet, alone.

I believe that the sabotage you reference is often driven by the fact that senior execs have made it to their senior exec level by doing what they normally do. (I know, brilliant statement of the obvious!) Lean implementation, by it's very nature, requires change, which for most senior execs is fraught with risk. Why change when the status quo has brought past success, security, and power?

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture


Excellent one! And, I know it comes from the heart.

Canned lean does not work. We should be unbending in the principles, but we need to take into account culture, strategic urgency, lean maturity, infrastructure, strength of leadership, business risk, etc. This is exactly why leadership alignment and pilots are so important, we must learn about the technical, human resource development, scalability, and change management issues and apply PDCA as we expand the transformation.

Many consultants want to just sell convenient blocks of time - which often end up being primarily one week kaizen events, surprise, surprise. In the end, we are looking to develop the problem-solving capability and muscle of the entire organization. This is so much more difficult and profound than canned stuff can bring to the table!

Best regards,

Mark Welch's picture

Biggest lean regret... Blindly following the lead of lean consultants, not questioning their methods or path, resulting in our attempt at a lean transformation failing miserably because we did not customize our approach to fit our particular organization.

This was in my younger days as a fledgling lean coach, and as a result I know that I can never in good conscience prescribe "canned lean" for any organization. These days I learn and apply lean thinking from many sources and I'm wary of lean advocates, especially consultants, who take the one-size-fits-all approach. I've seen too much wreckage.