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Minimalist Lean – Build a waste elimination culture in seven simple steps


I was going to call this blog post ‘Build a waste elimination culture in seven easy steps’ but the reality is that while the process is very simple, it’s far from easy. Building a new habit is always a challenge but like most things that are difficult, the rewards come with time and effort.

In reality, it’s very simple to build a waste elimination culture. The principles are not difficult to grasp, the process is low cost and doesn’t require years of training. The most important principle to remember is that building a waste elimination culture is more about the culture than the waste elimination. I mentioned in a previous post that focusing on the process will lead to greater success than focusing on results. This is true also for waste elimination. If you are focused on the dollars saved per improvement, you are at risk of missing the point of the whole exercise, which is to build culture.

This post will provide a guide on how to go about embedding a culture of waste elimination in your business by following these basic steps.

1. Start with a message

Throughout the whole process you need to have a strong, unwavering message around waste elimination. Your team needs to understand that you are going down this path no matter what, but that the team will help develop the best process along the way.

2. Basic training

And I mean basic. If you read my post about getting started with lean and keeping it simple you will get a bit more on my philosophy on simple training but in short, teach the 7 Wastes, give some examples, go for a waste walk and leave it at that. Teach your team to start with what bothers them the most and what is within their control.

3. The power of 5 second improvements

Early on in the waste elimination process big wins will happen. These are great when they happen and they build confidence in the teams that achieve them. What I’ve noticed though is they can tend to discourage the other teams that are not achieving big wins. It’s important to stress the power of the five second improvement to your team. A five second improvement is easy to find for everyone.

5 seconds every day = 1,260 seconds per year = 21 minutes per year. Tiny right?

What if you did one five second improvement every day?

That’s 21 minutes per year x 252 days per year = 5,292 minutes = 88.2 hours and 252 individual improvements.

Imagine if everyone in the company did one five second improvement every day!

On top of this, big improvements come around less frequently than little ones and the whole purpose of the process is to build culture. I would rather have my teams doing piles of five second improvements in a year than one or two big ones.

4. Short, sharp reporting and visual display

While it’s important to record improvements and embed reporting as part of your waste elimination culture, there is no need to create a giant time consuming process. Again, simplicity is the key. I’m a big fan of a simple A4 Before and After report. Another great example is the FastCap video method. They have created hundreds of videos that document their extraordinary lean journey. Super simple, super effective.

However you choose to record improvement, a key part of the process is displaying waste elimination examples so that everyone in the company can benefit from seeing improvement happening and learning from real examples.

5. Build confidence & celebrate success

One of my favourite things is watching people have success with improvement and grow in confidence and skill. Team members get a great deal of pride and satisfaction from having a positive effect on their own work area. To me, this is one of the key benefits of a waste elimination culture and a major contributor to a successful process. Encourage team members to present their own improvement examples to their peer group or at company gatherings. Regular practice at this builds team member confidence and embeds a process of celebrating success as a group. While you can choose to incentivise this process as well it’s not entirely necessary as the process itself is its own reward.

6. Everybody joins in, especially you

If you’ve been under the impression that you can succeed in building a waste elimination culture by standing on the sidelines yelling encouragement then you’ve got a bit of work to do. There is no delegation when it comes to building culture. Get in there, find your own five second improvements, do the reporting and present your successes. Simple, effective and powerful.

There is only one exception to this step. In every implementation, you come across team members who are extremely reluctant to get on board with change. In this post I’m not going to go into all the reasons behind why people resist change, they just do and you have to manage it. My approach to this has always been that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. What you can do is continue to develop the culture with the other 98% of the team that are willing to try. Inevitably, over time culture grows and anyone who is not participating will begin to feel left out. Often, this resolves the issue as peer pressure takes effect and they slowly begin to join in. If not, they will either leave the business or performance issues will develop that may lead to having to make some difficult choices.

7. Drive the program, focus on culture not results

Like any lean process, you will need to put in some kind of way of measuring progress. Whatever system you develop must be simple, easily understood and drive culture. Steer away from systems that use a dollar measurement as the key focus. Rather, emphasise the number of improvements and set a minimum requirement so that all teams are working on improvement all the time.

Then drive it, drive it, drive it. Your team will take this process as seriously as you do. At first, they will struggle to find examples of improvements. They will use excuses around how reporting is non value adding. They will show up at sessions without improvements. Push through. Keep delivering the message from Step 1. Make the targets clear to everyone and then follow through. If the particular method you are using starts to feel too complicated or clunky, review the process with your team and move forwards. Then just keep at it.


Cultural change is a long term commitment. Over time you will find that you won’t be the first one to mention improvement. People will start bringing their examples to you randomly instead of at a set time. You will start to hear team members talking in terms of ‘before and after’ and showing you their waste elimination activities at every turn. They will start to teach these things to new team members and you will hear them discussing improvement with their colleagues.

At this point you’ve got it made. All you have to do from here on will be sit back, relax….. just kidding. At this point you will know your team is firmly on the path and that you have years ahead of keeping them on that path, making your own improvements and watching your waste elimination culture grow.



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