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(Sneak peak at next months article)

Lean Keys
October, 2017

How do you know if you're a 'lean thinker'? Is it important to be a lean thinker? In this world of six sigma certification, lean certification, LSS certification (as if there even IS such a thing), Agile certification, Design certification, etc..., etc..., etc...

Yes, it's important to be a lean thinker. Not for the reasons you might think. You want to be a lean thinker because lean thinkers get things done faster. You want to work with lean thinkers because they will get things done, faster. You want to be on teams with lean thinkers, because you'll accomplish your tasks more rapidly. Faster and more rapidly than who, you might ask. Faster and more rapidly than EVERYONE.

Not only do you want to be a lean thinker, but you want to HIRE lean thinkers. Why? For the same reasons - You will ALWAYS want to get things done faster, and more rapidly (these are different, by the way...).

Bill Kluck
The Northwest Lean Networks

The trouble is, the multi-verse now has a plethora of 'lean talkers'. Those who talk about lean, but really have never done anything with it. They aren't lean thinkers, and they certainly aren't lean do-ers. You need to avoid these people, at all costs!!

But how can you truly know who talks the talk from those who can really walk the walk? About 100 years ago, a hiring manager confided in me that he used a simple technique to find out how organized someone is. Everyone has heard of this technique, so I'm not giving anything away at this point: He asked the person to show him his wallet. He could tell a plethora of things by how a persons wallet looked. (Quick, check yours - would you be embarrassed to show your wallet to a prospective employer?)

Well, wallets are so 20th century, are they not? The test for lean thinkers is now...


Think about the modern key chain. It really isn't for just keys anymore, is it? We keep:

  • Keys
  • Fobs
  • Charms
  • Tags
  • Other rings
  • USBs
  • Tracking devices
  • Bottle openers
  • Whistles
  • And more….

There used to be a time when the person with the most keys was the most important. That time passed just before the meteor crashed and killed all of the DOS machines. Today, people yearn for a smaller, gentler, more evolved set of keys. Let's take a look at the keys in your pocket, right now.

First, some metrics:

  • How many keys are on your key chain?
  • How many 'non-keys' are on your key chain?
  • What does your key chain weigh?
  • What is the total circumference of your key chain?

I'm sure you've never looked at your keys this way before. Let's ask some (leading) questions:

  • How many of these keys are you going to use in the next hour?
  • How many of these keys are you going to use today?
  • How many of these keys are you going to use this week? This month?
  • What about all the 'other stuff'? How much of that do you really use?

OK, if you're an IT nerd, you may use the USB. But on your key chain? Bring out the pocket protector, the digital watch, and the Clark Kent glasses. This is NOT lean thinking.

"How many 'non-keys' are on your key chain?"

Quick Quiz: What is the optimal amount of keys? (I really wish I had an upside-down font...) There are several possible answers (posted in order, from least lean to most lean):

  • As many keys as I can get on the ring. When you need a key, you need a key!
  • The amount I have now is perfect, and the other stuff doesn't get in my way, so why care?
  • Only the number of keys I'll likely use this week.
  • Only the number of keys I'll likely use today.
  • Zero.

If you guessed the 3rd answer, you're a lean novice. If the 4th, you're a solid lean thinker. The 5th? You're a lean master, pushing systems to the limit, and beyond.

Let's be honest - you don't need all those freakin' keys. Do you need to bring your work keys out to dinner with you? Do you need to carry ANY keys when you're traveling? Lean thinkers tend to think lean in every aspect of their lives. They get good at it. It becomes second nature.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't about waste. Focusing on waste is only a means of becoming lean. Actually getting lean means you are looking to streamline flow at every opportunity. When you get to your car, you have the one key you need. When you get home, you have the front door key. Better yet, for either purpose, you don't need a key at all (check out the August lock if you're curious!).

"Let's be honest - you don't need
all those freakin' keys."

I need a key for my car, and one for my mailbox (so I can check the mail each day). So my keyring only has 2 keys. When I'm riding my motorcycle, I only need the key for the bike I'm riding. When I travel, I don't need any keys, so I leave them at home. (The August lock is THAT cool!). I never have to fumble thru a bunch of keys to find the one I want. NEVER. For 'the collection' of keys that we all have, I have a key box. I keep the key to the key box hidden, but near the box. If I ever need another key, or keys, I get them then. I put together an impromptu key ring. Then I return it when I'm finished.

There are those that will say, "You're wasting time, and money. This 'thinking' doesn't result in any savings, so how can it be lean?". They're partially right. It doesn't result in any savings. In fact, it has some cost associated with it. But lean isn't about cost, it's about flow. My flow on this (and many other) topics, keeps getting better and better. And I tend to associate with other lean thinkers, and we tend to share how we improve personal, and corporate, flows.

Do you want to share a personal victory with flow? Post one here, or email me at I'd love to hear from you!


no_photo.gifBill Kluck is the Founder and Director of Operations for The Northwest Lean Networks, a professional society which connects the community of lean professionals worldwide.

Bill has over 20 years of experience implementing lean in a wide variety of industries, both public and private. He has trained thousands of leaders & associates in various lean strategies and techniques, and has facilitated billions of dollars in impact. Bill's main focus is building transformational change and evolving business culture.

Bill earned his Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Washington, an MBA from Seattle University, and holds several continuous improvement certifications (including a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and a Master’s Certification in Lean Methods). He currently works as Assistance Vice President for Genpact, LLC.

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