Everything Else I Know About Lean...I Learned in 8th Grade Science

It’s been four years now since I spent that fateful day with my daughter Abbey in her first grade classroom. The result of my day with Abbey was my writing the book Everything I Know about Lean I Learned in First Grade. I am very proud of the book as it was a labor of love, and I am equally as proud that several thousand copies of the book have found themselves into the hands of eager lean readers.

However, just like all things in life, most good things that happen have some element of an unintended consequence. In the case of the Lean in First Grade book, the unintended consequence was that my oldest daughter Emilee, was quite put out about all the attention Abbey received with respect to the book. While they are very loving sisters, a dad should never underestimate the “hey, don’t you love me too?” syndrome. And so, in my endless pursuit to be a good dad, I promised Emilee the follow up book would pay attention to her and level the dad attention playing field.

The challenge was how to do this? The reality is, I never intended on writing the Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade. It truly originated from me simply trying to spend time with Abbey due to a busy work and travel schedule. So I talked to Emilee about coming to her 8th grade class. However, I was then educated about how 8th grade does not work the same way as 1st grade and therefore a “day” with Emilee was, according to her, not practical for many reasons. Then, one evening I noticed Emilee working on a project that included building a vehicle or sorts and attaching a balloon to the vehicle in order to propel the vehicle across the floor.

“What are you doing, Emilee?” I asked.

“Nothing” was the response from my newly-teenage


“Looks like something to me?” I replied.

After a few rounds of what may be construed as dialogue, I determined Emilee was in fact building a car that she intended to test and compete with the following day in science class.

“It’s settled then,” I said. I’ll join you tomorrow for your science project and watch you race the cars!”

I was pleasantly surprised when Emilee agreed and was eager for me to join her the next day. After a couple of emails, I arranged to be a spectator the next day in 8th grade science class.

The next day was filled with fun. Emilee’s teacher brought the class and I to the cafeteria and we launched our cars. To say that we had high variability in product design would be like saying Niagara Falls has a little bit of water flow. Alfred Sloan and Lee Iacocca combined could not have come up with

so many random automobile designs. Each student came up to the starting line, attached their balloon, and hoped for the longest ride across the cafeteria floor. To say that we had high variability in results (as measured in linear feet) would be like saying the Grand Canyon has a bit of a drop-off. The high score was well over 40 feet and the low was in fact a negative value where the balloon shot off the car and twisted the car in such a way that it propelled backwards. (The improbable physics of this particular test run still puzzle me today.)

In the end, it was an amazingly fun morning. Emilee and I and her classmates shared some laughs and conversations about how we could make a better balloon-propelled vehicle.

However, in that one morning, I did not gain enough insight to make good on my promise to Emilee to write the follow-up book to

Lean in First Grade. What was a dad to do? That evening I interrupted Emilee while she was doing her homework to discuss my predicament. She was actually doing her science homework and I noticed her text book was very colorful and alive with pictures and tables and all sorts of images and figures that made the text book itself appealing to look over.

“Wow, text books have come a long way,” I said in a “you should have seen what it was like in my day” tone of voice.

“I wouldn’t know” was Emilee’s reply in a tone of voice that only a 13 year-old can perfect.

Over the next few hours I read through Emilee’s 8th grade science textbook. Similar to my experience while sitting in Abbey’s 1st Grade classroom four years ago, I had a sudden revelation: it’s all here.

The fact is, lean thinking and lean principles sh

ould not be thought of as anything new or innovative. The complexity of creating a lean business is in its simplicity. We have the answers to many of our challenges; they have been around for centuries. Why is it that collectively we cannot simply get back to basics, get back to theories and models that have created all of the positive advancements we know in the world today? Arguing against lean principles should be no different than arguing against the laws of aerodynamics or penicillin fighting infection. Not much argument about the latter two.

My commitment to Emilee was that I would write a follow up to Lean in First Grade where she would be the lead protagonist. Holding true to my commitments is very important to me, not only as a business leader, but in this case as a parent. How can I preach the wisdom of walking the talk if I don’t practice it myself? Yet, life is busy. The new normal work week is almost abnormal. So I decided I needed to talk to Emilee and confess that I was unsure of my ability to complete my end of the bargain.

This is how the talk went. Picture my family of four around the dinner table:

“Emilee, I think I will need at least twelve weeks of full time attention to our project if I have any chance of completing the book. And honey, I’m just not sure I can commit to that right now as work and travel make it very difficult to find that much time to focus on one thing.”

“Ok, Dad, no problem. Why don’t we just do a little bit a time? We can spread it over what time we have available to us.”

What came next was silence on my part and full recognition that once again, even with all my training, education and real world experience in lean, I missed to see the obvious solution to the problem. Why did I feel the writing of the second book needed to be a batch process?

“You’re absolutely right Em,” I responded. “Let’s just do a little each day and before you know you it, a job that seems larger than life will get done –done in an efficient and effective way. That is, by doing the right things a little each day, we will complete a great book in the end.”

The good news: in the spirit of small lot size and high delivery frequency, we can share the updates of this second book with our readers as it progresses one chapter at a time. I’m very excited about this second book and look forward to sharing it and hearing comments from our readers.

“A journey of one thousand miles” begins with a single step, or in this case, chapter 1. Please join myself, Emilee and her classmates, and of course Orloe the Wise Owl next month in the LeanCor newsletter as we introduce Everything Else I Know About Lean I Learned in 8th Grade Science.

Written by Robert Martichenko, CEO of LeanCor

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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