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9 Words That Kill Lean Progress (+PDF)

As a Lean consultant, I have identified several words over the years that immediately make me see red flags with a process. When I hear them, I immediately start snooping around a little deeper, and often uncover some great opportunities for improvements.

This list is by no means all inclusive, so I welcome your additions in the comments section.

  • Can’t: I talk about this a lot in another article, but the gist is that saying you can’t do something virtually ensures that you won’t be able to succeed.
  • Or: When you believe that you have to compromise between two competing needs, you stop looking for ways to meet both. For example, if you assume that there is a tradeoff between quality and productivity, you will be unlikely to look for ways to reduce costs and defects at the same time.
  • They: “They” are always doing things that make things harder for us. “They” just don’t get it. “They” seem to be on a completely different page. But when you blame “them”, you stop improving us.

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  • Sometimes: The word “sometimes” is an indicator that a process does not exist or is not followed. Granted, it could be used to describe a valid, well-documented  “If-Then” process, but most of the time it just means “winging it”.
  • Bodies/Heads: When people are referred to in disrespectful ways, it indicates that there might not be a lot of respect for people.
  • Eventually/Later: Translation=>Never. As in “we’ll eventually get the Standard Work updated”.
  • Hopefully: A long time ago, I had a boss tell me “Hope is not a method.” If you are relying on hope to get the results you want, you will have a lot of trouble achieving long-term success.
  • Someone: Look in your phone directory for “Someone”. He does not work for your company, so anything assigned to him will not get done.
  • OK: This one is only bad when used incorrectly. Creating an acceptable quality standard is reasonable. More often than not, though, “That paint bubble is OK” is increasingly heard at inspection stations as month end approaches.

The next time you hear one of these words, I hope your “Spider Sense” starts tingling. If it does, look a little deeper at the situation. You may be able to find a great opportunity for an improvement.


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