Making Sense of Lean - Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade (A Review)

Making Sense of Lean - Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade (A Review)

Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade

As a brand new employee and person to lean, I was a little intimidated during my first week of work at a “lean enterprise.” I came to LeanCor with a marketing and sales educational background and non-profit career experience where lean thinking wasn’t part of everyday discussion. I thought, “why is lean such a big deal?”

After reading Everything I Know About Lean I Learned In First Grade written by Robert O. Martichenko, I understand the “why.” Using a setting as simple and fundamental as a first grade classroom, Robert explains lean on the most basic level and creatively applies it to an organization. His passion for lean creates enthusiasm and a positive outlook toward making changes for improvement.

Each chapter demonstrates an example of lean during Robert’s day in his daughter’s first grade classroom. Orlo the Wise Old Owl recaps the concept at the end of each chapter (for example: Orlo the Wise Old Owl on Visual Management). The summaries are short, simple, and clever ways of explaining lean concepts and how they apply to organizations in order to create lean enterprises. A lean enterprise is a way of thinking and learning, not just a new program or set of tools that organizations will adopt for a short time.

As I spend more time at LeanCor, I have applied lean methods to my own work and have seen many examples of lean used throughout the company. Here are a few of my lean experiences with corresponding explanations borrowed from Orlo the Wise Old Owl:

The Organized Workplace

On my first day at the office, I notice everything is labeled and absolutely everything is in its place. I think to myself, “These people are neat freaks. What is the deal?” From labels to designate where the scissors, paper clips, sugar, and silverware are stored, to explicit directions on how to make coffee. Why is everything so meticulously organized? Because it’s all a part of the 5S:

“The Lean Enterprise creates the organized workplace through the 5 S’s

  • Sort: Separate and categorize all material and information and discard the unnecessary.
  • Set in order: Organize, label, and color-code remaining items for easy use.
  • Shine: Clean and keep all storage areas void of clutter and unwanted material.
  • Standardize: Create standards for how the workplace should look at all times.
  • Sustain: Complete regular audits and improvements to ensure the workplace remains organized.”

The 5S concept is a great tool and I have found it especially helpful for a new team member. Everything is labeled and in its place so I didn’t have to ask over and over again where to find things. It made the transition into my role much more smooth.

Making Expectations Clear

From my perspective as a new employee, clear expectations are important. Understanding what is expected provides me with the opportunity to meet and strive to exceed those expectations. Each week I meet with the department director to go over my calendar. Together, we talk about the upcoming week and how and when things need to get done.

  • “To be successful, people need to know where they are and where they are going, as well as how their efforts fit into the greater good of the organization.
  • Communicate clear plans that show respect for people and set expectations for what should happen.
  • For people to work at their full potential, they need to know the plan for each day.”

The Self Explaining Workplace

The calendar is also a way to provide visibility to the director which creates a self explaining workplace. If needed, I can pull up my calendar immediately to show exactly the work I’ve completed, things I’m currently working on and what I plan to get done. The activities are color coded for quickly recognizing what types of projects I’m working on.

“Self explaining workplace tells managers and team members to prioritize and focus on the areas that need attention at that moment. Whether in the factory, the warehouse or in the office, you need to understand instantly what is happening in the operation. The whole team needs to know if anything is out of order so you can fix potential problems before they become real problems. This helps to ensure you are working on the right things at the right time. Working on the right things at the right time is what creates an efficient and effective organization.”

The Learning Culture

Process training went smoothly. I was up and ready to go within the first few days. One of my tasks involves entering information into a customer relationship management system. While working through the stack of paperwork, I asked if there was a system in place to mark the entry event to ensure the information is not entered again. I was told that there was no current system in place. So, I suggested marking the paperwork as an indicator when I’ve completed my task. I then heard Derek across the cubicle yell, “KAIZEN!” It startled me to say the least, and I asked, “What?” Apparently I had improved a process already put into place and it was recognized as a good thing! Around here, learning and continuous improvement are encouraged.

“All people inside a Lean Enterprise must learn every day. People need to go to work each day with the intent to learn and gain knowledge by relentlessly working to improve the business. This concept is known as Kaizen, a Japanese term that means incremental and continuous improvement. To generate improvement, you have to solve problems; to solve problems, you have to learn something you didn’t know before. As you learn, your organization learns and strengthens.”


One of my responsibilities is tracking inventory ( = books kept in our supply closet) of Everything I Know About Lean I Learned in First Grade. The existing system worked well before I came on board, but since reading this book I’ve found some ways to improve upon it. (“KAIZEN!”) I’ve implemented a simple pull system that reminds me to bring more boxes out of storage to keep in the supply closet. Applying the concept from the book, I simply taped a pink index card with instructions to the outside of an upper-level box in the stack. When I’ve shipped all of the boxes above the pink index card, I know it’s time to get more boxes from storage.

“In lean manufacturing such a “pull card” is known as a Kanban. The Kanban is attached to material and tells a team member when material should be produced or replenished. Pull systems do not need to be based on complex technology. Keep it simple and keep it visual.”

In the beginning of the book, Robert warns about being bitten by the lean bug. I’m afraid I’ve been bitten! I’ve reassured myself that it is a good thing and I’m ready to learn more. It just makes sense. Think about it. Lean ideas can be applied to almost anything. Have you read the book? Have you used any lean concepts in your own life? If not, I highly recommend checking it out!

Written by Leeanna Thomas, Customer Relations Associate at 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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