3 Lean Tools To Put Out Those Fires… For Good

We all have days where we feel like all we did was jump from one fire to the next; reacting to what was coming as opposed to doing anything we we’re planning to do. Unfortunately this kind of work environment can more often be the norm as opposed to the exception.

Before my old business Plywerk went lean I had come to the false conclusion that being a business owner with employees meant that I was forever confined to a life of putting out fires. I was wrong.


Here’s three lean tools that can help you save money and time by putting out those fires… for good! They aren’t complicated. In fact, they are really simple. Lean is actually a plethora of really simple ideas and concepts. Like getting in shape, lean just require dedication to exercising these ideas every day.

Ok, here goes. Imagine the next time a fire comes your way. Instead of just putting it out ask yourself “Why did this happen?”. Have an answer? Ok, take that answer and ask again “Why did THIS happen?”. Another answer? Ok, keep asking: “But why?”. Eventually you get to the root cause. When you do, you talk to the people involved and figure out what steps are required in the future to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Then document those steps and communicate them with all parties involved. Simple, right?

No Blame In The 5 Why’s?

Here’s an idea? When you trace the cause of a fire to a co-worker and go talk to them to ask them “Why?” be very careful. First explain that you feel you have uncovered an opportunity to fix an issue with a process and that they hold the some of the key information you’ll both need to fix it. Then ask them why they did such and such this way. Just remember that there is no blame in the 5 Why’s, only opportunity.

Don’t Expect Overnight Miracles

Finding and fixing root-causes is not always fast and easy, nor is it an ironclad guarantee it won’t happen again. But guess what? You don’t have to get it right the first time. Each time you fix (or tweak an existing solution to) an issue it’s less likely to occur again. And if it does, it will be an easier fix as you’re more intimate with the inner workings of the issue at hand due to having studied it before. Over time you’ll not only become a master in putting out fires, you’ll become a master of seeing them before they happen.

The Three Lean Tools At Work

In practicing the above you’ll have successfully navigated three concepts central to lean thinking:

  1. kaizen a.k.a. continuous incremental improvements
  2. the 5 why’s a.k.a. root cause analysis
  3. documenting a standard operating procedure

So the next time you face a fire take you time to look at it for 10 minutes before putting it out. Gather some data. See how it moved through the company and existing processes. Encourage yourself and your co-workers to see it as an opportunity to expose a neglected process. Then keep tweaking, day in day out. Nothing more, nothing less.