Lean and the Adjacent Thinker


My undergraduate degree is in mathematics. Not just mathematics, but pure mathematics. This means that I learned the actual theorems for equations that engineering students and applied mathematicians get to utilize. The fact that I have a degree in pure mathematics may sound impressive, but don't hold me in too high esteem too quickly as I'm not sure I purposely chose the major. With the past being a bit hazy, something tells me I did not get accepted into engineering school. Apparently, there are always seats available in pure mathematics. Don't feel too sorry for me though, as I do now have a passion for numbers and how they work. So, it all worked out as lean and numbers have a close relationship.

In addition to my interest in mathematics, I spend a significant amount of time with words. For example, when I set out to write my recent novel, I had a goal of 72,000 words – the length of Catcher in the Rye. And when Drift and Hum hit the printing press, it’s total word count was 193,000 words. I’m not sure what happened. That's a lot of words! But once again, it has all worked out as lean and words have a close relationship.

So, with all of this taken into consideration, I have a keen interest in words that have to do with numbers. They represent the intersection of my passions.

One such word is adjacent.

Lean and Adjacency

Classic definitions of adjacent include words such as - before and after, close, contiguous, adjoining, neighboring. Still, if we dig a little deeper, we see a definition describing supporting or being an ally of a group or subculture without being a part of it.  I really like the word ally.

The term adjacent has a rightful place in the playbook of the lean thinker, in particular within our quest to implement flow.  We loosely define flow as continuous movement from source to the ultimate end destination. Think of a river that is void of dams or man-made obstructions, and picture a molecule of water starting from the top of a mountain and never stopping until it reaches the ocean. The ocean being the end customer who has signaled a need for the water molecule.

Now, envision a complicated global supply chain that is an aggregate of a large series of processes all intended to move products and information through the chain. It is a far cry from a majestic, continuous flowing river. While flow is the goal, there are very real complications and challenges that dam up the river – economies of scale thinking, logistics lead times, transportation frequencies, supply chain performance risks, unit cost focus, unstable demand… and the list continues.

The good news is, lean thinkers are up to any challenge. They persevere to implement flow by recognizing they must start by connecting processes to create the seamlessness they desire. Which leads to the first challenge – how do they begin so as not to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task?

Enter adjacent processes. As a lean thinker, I can start by asking myself, what are the adjacent processes to my work to which I need to connect and what is the math of the flow between us?  That is, who are my allies, whose outputs are my inputs, and who's using my outputs as their inputs? And how can I formally collaborate to connect these series of adjacent processes to create flow? These questions should create analytical dialogue and a conversational narrative relative to customer consumption, pull, batch sizes, velocity, quality at the source, stability, and a host of other fun lean conversations.

And so, in the spirit of breaking a huge job down into meaningful, manageable chunks, I wonder what would happen if we all simply took responsibility to connect seamlessly to those processes that are adjacent to our own.

With that in mind, what do you know about your adjacent processes and how would you describe the relationships in words and numbers?


Posted by Robert Martichenko

blog author

Robert is CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group. He is also a speaker and award-winning author of several business books - including "Discovering Hidden Profit" and his first novel - "Drift and Hum." Robert has spent over 25 years learning and implementing lean and operational excellence with a focus on end-to-end supply chain management across a wide array of industries. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and an MBA.

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There is no question that building an organizational culture of continuous improvement is a progressive evolution that takes time. In this blog, Robert Martichenko discusses his lessons learned while building these cultures in our new world of constant disruption - sharing key knowledge that will lead today’s business leaders down the path toward discovering hidden profit. 

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