I once heard a newcomer to LEAN describe his attempt to learn about this Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) tool as "drinking from a fire hose." I thought that method must be pretty uncomfortable. I prefer small sips. All I have learned about LEAN, other CPI methods, quality in general, and life, for that matter, that is worth knowing came in small increments. Hence the title, "Little Lessons ... "

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Need A Speaker?

Gary frequently presents at conferences, symposiums, meetings, and training sessions on Lean, change, quality, being a Purple Cow, workforce motivation, moving cheese, and other current topics.

To inquire about his availability to speak at your next event, e-mail him at

Gary Lister is a Lean Enterprise Manager and Change Agent for a large electronics directorate within the US Air Force. His special interests are Administrative Lean and Office Kaizen. He invites you to send your Lean comments and observations to ThePurpleCow@netcommander.com.

Gary is a Cow by declaration of none other than Seth Godin, author of 'Purple Cow.' You can read more about Purple Cow # 73 in Seth's e-book '99 Cows.'

One of the questions Gary is most often asked is 'How does one become a Change Agent?' He doesn't think you can decide to become an agent of change. You're either adaptable to change, based upon your life experiences, or you aren't. It you are changeable, then you've got most of what it takes to lead others to change.

You can develop and enhance your existing skills through education, just as in any other profession, but you need an aptitude and a good foundation upon which to build. For instance, anyone who grew up on a South Georgia farm with red clay between his toes has a natural understanding of efficiency, Lean, and change. Add a BBA (with an accounting major), a MBA, and a MS in Quality Assurance to take care of the training. Combine all that with twenty-odd years experience as a systems analyst, project manager, operations research analyst, college instructor, and manager then you have something approaching a Change Agent.

Upcoming Speaking

North America's Largest Lean Conference Ever 19th Annual Association for Manufacturing Excellence Conference

October 6 - 10, 2003
Toronto, Ontario

for more info, visit:


Past Speaking

Experiential Education for Today's Blue-Collar Workforce
Twenty-fifth Annual International Conference of the Association for Experiential Education

Effective Training Programs for Technology Novices
Fourth Annual Conference: CROSSROADS and Open Systems Today

Increasing Aircraft Maintenance Productivity with Finite Capacity Scheduling
Robins Air Logistics Center Community Quality Day

The Leap: From Theory to Practice
Second Annual International Symposium on Productivity and Quality

Aircraft Repair Management Information System (ARMIS) Improves Productivity and Quality
Fifth Annual Joint Software Technology Conference sponsored by the Army, Navy, and Air Force

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Suite University

I have a LEAN topic on Suite101. It is Administrative Lean and Office Kaizen. You might find it useful and interesting.

Good Links

Office Lean
Discussion Group

Hall of Fame

You can reach me at


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Lean Is Hot!!!

It would stroke my ego mightily, but I'm simply not talented and inspiring enough as a writer to be the Pied Piper of Lean. Although one might mistakenly jump to that conclusion just by looking at my metrics:

Over 600 members in my various Lean discussion groups (see list below).
Over 300 members in the recently-formed International Lean Association.
Over 24,000 hits since April 10, 2003 at Little Lean Lessons.
Over 1000 downloads of Lean: The Mayberry Approach
Over 100 downloads of Lean Bingo
Etc., etc.

No, as much as I'd like to say it's me, it's really all about Lean. Lean is hot!!!

Have you done anything to help your organization become Lean today?

While you're surfing, take a look at:

High Performing Lean Teams
Lean Examples
Liars Are Not Lean
Office Lean
365 Days of Lean

Thursday, September 18, 2003


Who said Lean training had to be dull?

You can have fun and get your Lean points across. Visit Lean Bingo for your very own set. Use it to introduce Lean concepts to event teams, Lean newbies, etc. Let me know how you like it, its effectiveness, suggested changes, etc. We can even make custom Lean Bingo packages, if the changes may appeal to a wide group.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Is There A Downside To The High Productivity Of The American Worker?

A USA Today article poses some interesting questions. We are highly productive, but seriously unhappy as a group. Have Lean organizations failed to fairly reward those laboring in the trenches? I'd love to hear what you think, especially if you are really, really happy or really, really unhappy. Please let me know how you feel.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Who Knew? I Though Mayberry Was "Universal"

I've always worn many hats and I've just added another to my wardrobe. I'm now an "internationally read author of management books." Please realize I say that tongue-in-cheek and completely in jest. But I do have a critic in France and he makes a very good point. Having been born in 1957, I was at just the right age to catch the original Mayberry episodes and the reruns have long been a regular part of my television viewing. I just assumed everyone knew about Mayberry. I mean it's just like Mom, apple pie, and the American flag, which I think was Michel's point exactly:

Hello Gary,

Since you consider yourself as International I hope you won't mind getting some remarks from a non-American reader. It was very difficult for me to read the first seven chapters of your book, because I have never heard of this "Mayberry TV classic". "Dallas" being worldwide known, would probably been a better support to spread your ideas

But was it your intention? However, many thanks for your nice offer to communicate it or its link. Just two questions:

1 - May we translate it (at least the non too "American" chapters) or some chapters, mentioning of course its origin?
2 - Since you write that you have taken some ideas or contents from other authors could you give us the corresponding credits and references?

Many thanks in advance,

10 rue des Trois Fontanot
tél : 33(0)1 49 67 06 06
Fax: 33(0)1 46 92 09 67

Well, I needed a new project anyway. Now if I can just get my hands on a few Dallas scripts. I'm sure I can find some Lean in there somewhere!

What about it, you Dallas fans? Do you recall any instances where Lean was employed in Dallas? If so, please email me so I can let Michel and the rest of my non-American readers in on finding Lean in everyday circumstances.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

It's True!!! People Like Free Stuff!!!

Despite a business magazine editor's accolades of " ..... Lean and Mayberry and everything else. Nice relief from the sanctimoniousness of some of the zealots and utter serious of business these days. Keep on plugging away .....", Lean: The Mayberry Approach is not much better and not much worse than most the tons of Lean literature out there. It has at least two distinctions, however. It is free and it is being read.

In fact, it is being read quite frequently. The number of downloads already astonish me and they keep growing. Since the book isn't sold, I’ll never be a best-selling author, but I am quickly becoming a widely-read author. I think that's pretty cool. In fact, it might even impress my fifteen-year-old who is decidedly difficult to impress. You can get your own free copy of Lean: The Mayberry Approach at the International Lean Association's site or at any of the following locations:


Lean Leader Becomes A Sales Leader

Wow!!! What a milestone!!!

The folks who gave us Lean Manufacturing have another first. Toyota has taken the number three spot in monthly sales in the United States for August 2003. In selling 200,482 units, Toyota displaced DaimlerChrysler, whose sales were 190,388 units. Although industry analysts noted that this may have been partly due to seasonal sales, this is still recognized as a significant breakthrough for Japanese automakers. Looks like the Lean pioneers are doing something right.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

What Could Be More Lean Than Free?

If you've enjoyed my posts to this blog I think you'll also enjoy Lean: The Mayberry Approach. You can download a copy by visiting the International Lean Association's web site or in the "Library" folder of the "Files" section of the ILA's Yahoo discussion group.

You might find it useful in your quality or Lean training program. It is interesting and seems to capture the attention of the Lean and non-Lean alike. I think it is very cool that a timeless TV classic can help us apply the principles of Lean manufacturing and the Toyota Production System in surprising places.

If you use it and like it, please let me know. If you'd like to be a part of future projects like this such as our 2004 365 Days of Lean calendar or High Performance Lean Teams, take a look around our web site or stop by our calendar collection site or High Lean.

Hope you enjoy Lean: The Mayberry Approach!

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

International Lean Association's Web Site Up and Running

In true Lean fashion, we've limited (read that extremely limited) the
amount of money we've invested in our web site. We've depended upon
volunteers, free hosting, donations, etc. But at long last it
appears to be up and running. When you have a moment, check out

Please let me know what you think. We'll get updates and changes
made as quickly as possible. And if someone would like to to volunteer
to be the OFFICIAL ILA WEBMASTER, that would be WONDERFUL!!!

Monday, August 25, 2003

High Performance Lean Teams

Have you ever worked on a GREAT team? Do you remember what it felt like? It was wonderful wasn't it? And the focus on common goals? If you've ever had the good fortune to work on such a team, it's something you want to repeat and continue throughout your career. If you've never worked on such a team, you don't know what you're missing.

If you've learned to appreciate and leverage the strengths of individual team members into a high performance Lean team, the business community and Lean Community of Practice (CoP) would like to hear from you. Spotlight yourself and your team. Become a Lean Team champion. You'll be glad you did. To share your Lean Team lessons, please visit High Lean. When we have one hundred examples, we'll publish a book and share the good news with everyone. Submitters of examples get unlimited free copies of the e-book and unlimited hard copies purchased at cost.

Make your team a part of High Performance Lean Teams. Won't it make a nice memento of an outstanding Lean career?

Mistakes Happen

Did you know that the Rolling Stone magazine put Peewee Herman on its cover not once but twice? Mistakes happen!

They do, it's just an unfortunate fact of life. But smart people learn from their mistakes, and being the smart folks that we are, I know we can learn from ours.

Have you ever made a mistake on your Lean journey? One that you'll admit?

Share it with us so we can learn from it. You may save a fellow Lean practitioner from making the same mistake. Drop me a line at ILAPresident@netocmmander.com and do us all a favor. Chances are that we've all made a similar mistake. And sharing it with us isn't like putting it on the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

That Isn't Lean

While some managers may pooh-pooh the potential ROI of poka-yoke, baka-yoke, idiot-proofing, error-proofing, call-it-what-you will, clearly processes intended to help employees avoid mistakes have some merit and value. The absence of such processes often carry costs. In Tuesday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the costs associated with a simple mix-up of materials was made clear:

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Last fall, a few days before Thanksgiving, a technician at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle nuclear reactor made a costly mistake.

Asked to fetch a chemical intended to prevent corrosion inside the reactor, he came back instead with a chemical that was itself a corrosive, a kissing cousin of salt.

It would be 24 days before Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia was up and running again. In the interim, Georgia Power spent more than $6.3 million buying enough natural gas to pick up the downed plant's slack.

Now Georgia Power wants ratepayers to pay for that mistake, plus 13 percent interest.

As a consumer of electricity from Georgia Power, I'm now expected to help pay for this mistake.

I sure do wish Georgia Power was a Lean organization. You can see the whole article here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

LEANed Anything Lately?

Lean Enterprise Managers and Change Agents, what did you accomplish today? Have you thought about it? You should. Senior Management is increasingly concerned about the ROI for Lean efforts. We need to become better at articulating our Lean accomplishments.

We can start small. What did you Lean today? Once you've collected your thoughts, visit What I LEANed Today and share it with the rest of us.

You (and we) will be glad you did.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Take The Lean Floor

Join Jim Womack, Dan Jones, John Shook, Mike Rother, and others. They’ve graciously given me quotes for the International Lean Association’s 2004 365 Days of Lean calendar. You can be in distinguished company and provide the Lean Community of Practice (Lean CoP) your opinion on Lean.

There are still days that aren't taken. Take a moment to submit an original thought, a favorite quote, a brief story, etc. Tell us if there is a day that is special to you such as a birthday or anniversary and if it's still open, it's yours. You'll have the entire Lean CoP floor on your special day!

Visit the collection site . You can join immediately and post your thoughts. Full credit will be given when the "box" style calendar is published later this year. Submitters get unlimited free e-copies. You'll also be able to purchase unlimited copies of the printed calendar at cost.

So join the experts, the Lean pioneers! Share your thoughts with the whole Lean CoP.

Take The Lean Floor

Join Jim Womack, Dan Jones, John Shook, Mike Rother, and others. They’ve graciously given me quotes for the International Lean Association’s 2004 365 Days of Lean calendar. You can be in distinguished company and provide the Lean Community of Practice (Lean CoP) your opinion on Lean.

There are still days that aren't taken. Take a moment to submit an original thought, a favorite quote, a brief story, etc. Tell us if there is a day that is special to you such as a birthday or anniversary and if it's still open, it's yours. You'll have the entire Lean CoP floor on your special day!

Visit the collection site . You can join immediately and post your thoughts. Full credit will be given when the "box" style calendar is published later this year. Submitters get unlimited free e-copies. You'll also be able to purchase unlimited copies of the printed calendar at cost.

So join the experts, the Lean pioneers! Share your thoughts with the whole Lean CoP.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I Hate To Say I Told You So -- Well, Not Really

On May 23, 2003, I posted the story of my experience with thinly-disguised Delta and ASA Airlines. I've re-posted it for a bit of validation and a reminder of the Lean lesson that it is the customer who defines value. Seems others agree with me (please see AJC Artiicle). Perhaps now the folks at ASA will get the message, but I doubt it.

Thanks! I Feel So Much Better Now.


I'm a frequent flier. I spend a lot of time waiting at the end of Terminal C of a major airport in my neck of the woods. Invariably, my fellow waiters are grumpy, irritable, and angry at XYZ Airlines, a Yazoo Connection and a wholly owned subsidiary of Yazoo Air Lines.

We are angry because of incredibly poor service. We're not poorly served by all Yazoo Connection subsidiaries. I took another Connection flight to another airport before Yazoo flew me to the major airport. It wasn't bad. Actually, it was rather nice (as flights go). And the Yazoo Air Lines flight wasn't bad. Nope, it's just XYZ that's dropping the ball. So I decided to exercise my rights as a customer and demand acceptable service. I went to Yazoo's web page. It was easy to navigate and I quickly found the customer comments section.

I vented and logged off satisfied, sure that someone would say "We're sorry. We were wrong. We'll do it better next time."

Boy, was I wrong.

I got an e-mail from Yazoo Air Lines, pointing the finger at XYZ, saying my flight was "solely the responsibility of XYZ" and they had forwarded my comments and were sure someone would be in touch. They were -- after weeks.

I finally got a letter from a "Customer Care Representative." Except for the flight number and airline names, I'm going to quote him verbatim:

Mr. Lister, Flight xxxx was delayed due to a late flight release. I am confident that our team members would not intentionally misdirect you or keep information from you. Rather, it is a matter of technology and resource constraints which inhibit their ability to meet your needs. I realize you expect XYZ customer service agents to have access to the same information you are accustomed to receiving from Yazoo agents. However, today, that is not the case. This is being addressed.

Let's see now. Yazoo owns (wholly, mind you) XYZ, but XYZ agents do not have access to the same technology. In the same airport. What a way to run an airline.

I wish Mr. Customer Care Rep had just said I'm sorry or We screwed up or anything except that the airline I had entrusted with my time, my schedule, my life couldn't help poor customer service because they didn't have access to same technology as their parent organization.


Is this anyway to run a wholly owned subsidiary?

The World's MOST PERFECT Lean Glossary

One of the things I most appreciate about the Lean Community of Practice is the willingness of its members to share their knowledge and experience. Several weeks back, many of you helped me compile one of the most comprehensive Lean glossaries I've ever seen. I included every suggestion, even those that were only "slightly Lean" or "sonewhat Lean." It's a VERY comprehensive glossary. It's nearly perfect.

To be the perfect Lean glossary, I think it only needs real-life examples. And as usual, the Lean Community of Practice is helping me make something that is already good better.

If you'd like to share an example or illustration of a Lean term to be included in our glossary, please visit Lean Examples. You can join and post immediately. Visit today and be a part of the worlds most perfect Lean glossary.

Friday, July 25, 2003

365 Days of Lean

I'll bet there are 365 of you out there that:

1. Have an inspirational Lean message
2. Are willing to share it
3. Would like a bit of publicity for yourself or your organization's Lean efforts

The International Lean Association is sponsoring a 2004 "365 Days of Lean" calendar. Send in your material. You'll get full credit and your very own day in 2004 to share your opinions on Lean with the world. Submissions should be sent to ILAPresident@netcommander.com.

Thursday, July 24, 2003


I'm Impressed!!!

It's usually hard to impress yourself, even if you have a healthy ego, but I've done it. "Lean Leader?" I guess so. At least someone thinks so. I'm speaking at "North America's Largest Lean Manufacturing Conference -- Ever!" in October in Toronto. I'll try not to pay too much attention to their press releases. Of course, it feels really great to be included in the group described as "Lean leaders from around the world will gather in Toronto, Canada at the largest Lean conference ever to share their breakthrough success in leading their organizations to measure-up and win by applying Lean thinking. " Lean Leader. Breakthrough success. The AME thinks almost as much of me as I do.

And sharing a stage with keynote speaker Rudy Giuliani is more than a little cool.

Who would have believed that a good ol' boy from South Georgia would find himself in such high cotton -- in Ontario of all places!!!!!

My presentation is even identified as an "Advanced" session for those "well along the path who are looking for tools."

Best practices. Advanced session. Lean Leader. Breakthrough success.

I'm impressed!!!


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