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Season 01, Episode 06

How To Apply Lean Thinking At Work To Increase Productivity

With guest, Paul Akers, author of 2 Second Lean and Lean Health.

About the Episode

Paul Akers is the author of the ‘2 Second Lean,’ ‘Lean Health,’ and ‘Lean Travel.’ Paul is also the Founder and President of FastCap, a product development company with distribution in over 40 companies. He originally learned about lean thinking from Toyota when he toured their factory in Japan. Now people from all over the world tour his facilities at his business. He’s an Ironman, a pilot, a mountain climber, and probably a candidate for the world’s most interesting man. Above all, Paul is passionate about continuous development and spreading lean thinking to as many people around the world as possible.

In this episode, we talk about what lean thinking is, breaking the cycle of stagnant thinking, and applying lean thinking to your business and your life.

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Full Transcript


Chris: Hey everyone. I’m Chris Ronzio and this is Process Makes Perfect where we’re talking with experts in process creation, automation and delegation. And today we’re talking to Paul Akers, author of the two-second lean, lean health and lean travel. Paul is also the founder and president of FastCap, a product development company with distribution in over 40 countries. And Paul originally learned about lean thinking from Toyota touring their factory in Japan. And now people from all over the world tour his facilities at his business. He’s an Iron Man, a pilot, a mountain climber, probably a candidate for the world’s most interesting man. But above hall. Paul is passionate about continuous development and spreading lean thinking to as many people around the world. And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss today. So, Paul, I’m thrilled to have you here. Thank you.

Paul: Wow, Chris, great intro. I appreciate that very much. So I’m happy to be here as well.

Chris: So is there anything I left out that’s really important?

Paul: No, I’m a health maniac. You know, I take really good care of my health. I’m 58 years old and I’m like the physique of an 18-year-old. Really proud of that, that I finally figured it out.

Chris: It just as anyone can see, you’re in great shape if they’re watching the video. So a, another fun fact. We both have a wife named Leanne. But you have your wife has ‘lean’ built into her name? Did she change it or was that just?

Paul: No, no, no, no. That’s really quite a coincidence, isn’t it? That’s incredible.

Chris: That’s when I read that I thought this guy is very committed.

Paul: Yeah. And not only that, she’s really good at lean too. She works with me really hard on our home. Our home is, you know, like close to perfect and, we’re always asking things and improving everything and it’s really, it’s a great, great deal.

Chris: Fantastic. Okay, let’s dive into it. So like I mentioned to you earlier on, I was introduced to your book and to you through Ethan King, one of our customers at Trainual. He’s also the president of EO in Atlanta and owner of a closet business there. He said that his whole team follows your 2-second lean process. It’s how they start every day. So of course I downloaded the book, I couldn’t put it down for a half hour. I think I canceled a team meeting because I was just so into the book. I read it covered a cover on a flight to Asia last week. And so I’m very excited to talk about your story and what some of our customers and our audience can get from your book.

Paul: How cool Chris. That’s great.

Chris: Okay. So, let’s start early on in your story, you were first introduced to to lean thinking by a couple of consultants you brought into the business. I know everybody can, you know, feel like they don’t have the answers, and they bring in outsiders to help them piece things together. So where were you? What position were you in that you just felt like something had to change?

Paul: Well, I think that the context is, I’m a cabinet maker in a very small region in Bellingham, Washington. And all of a sudden, three years into building my company, FastCap started. I’m doing business with people all over the world. So the complexity that my company was engaged in was pretty intense. And I was the typical CEO with my hair on fire, running around trying to solve all the problems. And I was a little frustrated even though the company was doing very, very well, and I was making a lot of money. From the outside, everything looked good. The truth of the matter is Chris, I was struggling and you know, beating my head against the wall, trying to get people to do things and wondering, you know, I’m in business, there’s gotta be some benefit to being in business other than all of the firefighting that I was doing. So that’s kind of the context where I brought the consultants in to help me manage inventory. I was having big inventory problems cause I was importing things from around the world, raw materials and it was complex and I didn’t know how to deal with it. So I then let’s get an expert in here that knows what they’re doing and that’s how it all started.

Chris: So when you hear the idea of lean and maybe when those consultants first introduced it to you, most people think of lean, and they think of, you know, cutting corners and shoestring budgets and not investing in the business. So was that your initial reaction?

Paul: No, it wasn’t because they just basically told me that it was about process, you know, and your show is about process. I didn’t think it was about cutting corners at all. They just, they basically told me I sucked at everything I did. It was just a whole bunch of bad processes that I had strung together, thinking I knew what I was doing and I didn’t. And well at least I didn’t, I understood it really well for the average business. But for a lean thinking business, I had absolutely no clue. And so, they said, basically, your processes suck, and we’re going to help you get those processes really working well for you. And that’s what happened.

Chris: So they dialed in a couple of workflows for you and they helped you with some just in time production instead of inventory. Right? But you had bought into this idea of really investing in lean and continuous improvement. So why don’t you, how would you define lean thinking and in your words?

Paul: Well, I smile a little bit when I think it, because you know you’re,  I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I, and I just had the biggest grin on my face when I think of lean. It’s like, my life is incredible. How do I describe lean? How about an incredible life? How about a life where things work? How about a life where you have great days almost every day because the processes that you have developed and are continuing to develop, that you’re surrounded by, just keep getting better. I mean, gosh, yeah. I’ve got a smile on my face when I think about lean. I go, this is like heaven. That’s how I describe lean, you know, it’s just like everything keeps getting better.

Chris: Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where everything just keeps getting better? Yeah.

Paul: I know. I’m like, I’m working with my landscaping crew up here. You know, they’re full-time employees for me at my home and every day we start with lean. Every day we three s everything. We have all these, you know, maintenance facilities and garden areas and all this machinery and equipment and all this stuff. And before they ever work, they spend an hour and a half, just three s’ing, fixing everything. We pairing things, making sure processes are better. And then when we go to work, the rest of the six hours, everything just happened so fast because we get so much that well, we spent an hour and a half every day to do with lean before we ever work with what everybody else. Everybody it comes to work. It works. No, we come to work and work on how we work, and then we work.

Chris: I love that. So one of your explanations in the book was that being lean is constantly recognizing the things that bug you and then setting out to fix them. So when I was consulting, so when I, back when I was consulting for other companies one of the phrases I heard the most that bugged me was, this is the way we’ve always done it. How do you break that cycle? 

Paul: Start using your brain. You’re not really the stupid argue. Sometimes there’s another side to it. Yes, let’s go guys. You have to be a block with people like, come on, get a clue, man. That’s one way. The second way is you deliberately, and this is the way you should start. You deliberately teach people

Paul: How to improve, so then they feel the benefit of the improvements, and then they go, oh, this makes sense. Then after a week of working with my guy, let’s say I get new people, right, and after a week of every day working with them and everything getting better and then when they go to reach for that red, so is exactly what’s supposed to be when they go to get that plumbing part is exactly where it needs to be. Right, right. It’s not like shoveled to a box and look for 20 minutes where one fitting, so it’s exactly in the Finmark happens PVC, you know what I’m saying? So you said you work with them with the process, and then they start to feel the benefit and then you say, this is the way you need to start every day. This is the way it’s mandatory at FastCap we start every day. This is not an option.

Paul: This is not if you want to do it. This isn’t if you feel like, this is what we do. But first, you have to teach them what it looks like, and then they need to feel that the benefit of it. And then you need to say, this is the way we work. And then guess what? They start doing it. And occasionally you have to pull out the stick and go right. So they don’t let up. They don’t wake up. Then you get them the hell off the bus. I’m being honest with you. Life’s too short. We’re not dragging anybody do this. We’re not gonna push this on anyone. We’re going to teach them and if they get it, we’re going to work with them. If they don’t get it, get out. I’m being honest.

Chris: So let’s take a step back and you’ve talked about the three s’s a couple of times, which I think wasn’t it the five s’s and then you even made that lean, leaner into the three s’s?

Paul: I take no credit. I take no credit for anything that I espouse in my book. I’ve learned it from other people who are way smarter than me. I learned that from Hawks. The president of Hawks taught me, why do we need to have sustain it self-discipline, what we’re doing in every day. It’s automatic. We’re already sustaining and there’s already self-discipline. We built it into the process. Rip those two out because they’re not even relevant anymore because it’s who we are. It was just going to have sleep. Certain standards every day, sweep, sort and standardize, repeat, sweep, sort, and standardize.

Chris: So a sweep would be cleaning up your workspace and making sure everything’s where it should be. Sorting, just getting organized so you’re ready to work, and then standardize is just the process of doing things the same way every time. Right?

Speaker 3: Right. We’ll show you right now. If the listeners are watching things, you see my home, everything just buttoned down. I’ll go over to my drawer, check this out. I’m going to open my drawer. There’s a clear standard, all my tools, right? So I know where my scissors are, I know where my markers are, I know where my counters are. I know. Or I can even say no of x group, no an or not. You know what I mean? I’m not struggling. I want batteries. Oh, the batteries are right there, and they’re all organized, ready to go the shape.

Chris: So, that’s all I’ve got to. I’ve got to ask. When you get new things, do you have to reorganize everything else to make room for the new things?

Paul: Yeah, a little bit. A little bit, but you know, I spent a fair amount of time getting things dialed in and I have the essential, sure I have to do it occasionally, but I’m happy to do that because I know I’m going to receive the benefit. That word benefit. I’m going to receive the benefit for the rest of my life. So I don’t care if I spend another hour to keep things organized. No big deal. 

Chris: That’s a great point.

Chris: You know, so I was working at a Panera bread cafe yesterday and there was a woman going by that was tidying up, and she was putting the chairs where they should be and pulling the windows down. And I said, oh, it looks great. And she said, you know, the more I do now, the less I’ll have to do when we’re closing. And just that simple thought of the more I do now, the less I’ll have to do later is what I think more people need to take to heart. 

Paul: You know, Chris, everything we’re doing is so simple. This is like everybody wants to make lean so complex. They might read the turn away, which is great. Well look, Jeffrey liker is my friend. You know, it’s a great book, but oh my gosh. Who in the world in their right mind can get bite that off? This is just a tsunami of common sense. And there are certain group of people that embrace common sense, and there are a large group of people where common sense is not so common. So the key is just like we talked about three s’ing we need 3s those people out of our life that don’t want to embrace common sense, and we need to embrace those people that want to embrace common sense. Like that lady you just talked about.

Chris: Okay, so in practically speaking at a company, if you’ve gotten the people off the bus that don’t want to embrace it, don’t want to be a part of that culture, then the people that are left are constantly looking for the things that bug them are constantly trying to find waste in their organization. So you mentioned the eight areas of waste in the book and I would you like to call out a few of those are maybe the more popular ones people could look for in their own lives.

Paul: Yeah, I’ll make it really simple so everybody gets it instantly. The number one waste in the waste where everything comes from is called overproduction. Okay. And here’s the way you remember the eight ways. You have four people for dinner, you make a salad, you make a salad enough for five people, six people, seven people. But you only have four people. So you overproduce. Okay? That’s how it all starts. We just make too much. I just went to the hardware store, I bought a bunch of plumbing fittings. I didn’t buy exactly what I wanted. I bought more than I wanted. So I overproduce. Now what do I have to do? I have to sort through and manage all that stuff and put it in inventory. Right? I have to transport it to my shed. I then have to put the inventory right and then I go to retrieve it. And the next thing you know, I’ve got a deep back. The parts either damaged or muddy or whatever. It’s the wrong one. So then I got to overprocess run back to the store and get more of it. Waste motion, come back. Meanwhile, my guys are waiting, right? And I wasted their potential kids instead of using their brain, they’re sitting around, caught up in the side clone of wakes that I created because I overproduce.

Chris: So overproduction is a ripple effect.

Speaker 3: Oh, it’s incredible. So with the salad, you make some salad, you transport back to the kitchen that you put inventory in the fridge, maybe, you got a bigger refrigerator. In Japan, that little tiny fridge. In America, we have sub-zero. There were this big to put all the fluid in. That’s gonna Rot. Then you’re going to retrieve it five days later. The sound so good are you more than you dump it, you over-processed dump it in the trashcan. Then you got to take it out to the trash and then a guy’s got to come pick it up in a trash truck and then you got to take it to a landfill. And the guy in the [inaudible], that’s a $500,000 machines go over the top, and then we put a methane pipes to manage it for the next 40 years.

Paul: You follow what I’m saying? Yeah, because we make all, because we make too much.

Chris: So, so for everyone listening, that’s I, I’d say that’s where to start, right? As you know, what are you making too much of consider in your business, what are you making too much of and how can you start there and fix that?

Paul: Yeah, this is what Toyota’s done. They basically make a car when a car is sold, right? They make based on demand, based on pull, not push. That’s all it is. See, that’s when you really understand what lean is. It’s like the simplest thing

Paul: Based on pull the demand of the customer instead of pushing.

Chris: Awesome. Okay, so I know the answer to this because in the book you did such a great job of answering all your FAQ is at the end of the book, but I’m going to ask it anyway for the audience. So do you ever incentivize people on your team looking for these improvements and trying to improve the organization

Paul: That was the worst mistake I ever made in my life, oh my gosh, I used to have an incentive program. So we, when we hire you to work for us, we are not hiring you to make woodworking tools. We’re making it. We’re hiring you to improve the way we make woodworking tools. This is your job. This is why you get a paycheck, right? So I’m not going to pay you extra to do that. This is what I’m paying you to do. Number one. Number two, I created an incentive program. Who has to manage that? Me. Am I adding any value for the customer? No, I’m just running myself around the circle trying to figure out is that worth $5 is that one worth $10 Mary got that one bombed. Didn’t get that. Bob pissed it at Mary. Mary’s pissed at Bob. Everyone’s pissed at me because they don’t think I’m fair.

Paul: No, no, no, no. Your job is to improve. Now get after it. Now our people make minimum 30% more than industry standards, minimum, most 50% hundred percent more because we can afford it. Cause our company’s so lean. We can afford to pay people a lot more than at a normal company because they get so much done. So the incentives already built in. You’re working in an awesome environment, you’re working in a place where you never struggle. You’re working in a place where everyone values your creativity. Well, you’re allowed to express yourself, right? I mean you’re the rewards there. It’s automatic.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. Okay, so the standardizing part of lean, you know, the third s to create standardized processes that are repeatable and you do them over and over again, it feels like a big undertaking. And you know, that’s what people use our software for. But even with our tool that’s something that, that is daunting. So how do you recommend that people divide and conquer and, and collaborate to actually make some progress there?

Paul: Well, you have to start with the smallest thing. Start with your top desk drawer. You know what I mean? Start and don’t and don’t do the whole desk drawer. Just do one or two things and the top desk drawer and then the next day, do one or two things more. You just got to, you’ve got to start really, really slow and you just got to get into this whole thing and then once you do it, you just go, oh my gosh, this is like heaven. You know?

Chris: So your process and the title of the book 2-Second Lean is a great approach to just taking a little bit of time to make a 2 second improvement, right?

Paul: Yes. Five minutes. It’s five minutes. You take five minutes to straighten up something straight and organize something and then do that every day. And when you start linking those together, your whole life just goes into the greatest upward spiral you’ve ever heard of.

Chris: This morning? As I was brushing my teeth and then I had to walk over and then there was a hand towel that was too many steps away. I was thinking of you knowing that we were going to talk today and I thought there’s, there’s my 2-second improvement. I need to put the towel over on this wall instead of on that one.

Paul: You’re a lean thinker. That’s all the thinking is, is right there. Remember what I said, you’re thinking the problem is people are not thinking, you’re not using their brains. That’s why I say start thinking,

Chris: Can you share the example of you had a Splenda and cinnamon and…because I thought this was hilarious.

Paul: So yeah. You know, I would never touch Splenda in a million years. I never do it. But back when I was ignorant about my health, I used to use a lot of Splenda and I’d have to, I like cinnamon in my coffee and I like Splenda in my coffee and I like heavy whipping cream in my coffee and I would take the Splenda, put, open it up, then I put the cinnamon, put it in, then I put the, and I was going to, why don’t I just put the Splenda and the cinnamon together, so I just take one little shape, boom, everything’s there. And it saved me a few seconds. And most importantly that the satisfaction I got because it was simpler, it was easier, it was just more predictable. That was more consistent and it’s just what’s magic. 

Chris: So lean thinking is not just for the office, it’s for everywhere in your life to make life easier, to make business easier, you just need to do things in fewer steps so that they take less time.

Paul: It’s for my next book is Lean Life. It’s how you apply lean thinking to your relationships, to the way you work with people, to everything. It touches every element of your life.

Chris: Absolutely. So just to wrap up the last couple of points here, one of the other things you did that I thought was really interesting was you started to create videos about each of these processes that you’ve made more lean, I guess. How do you do that in a lean way or how do you get started with videos?

Paul: Well, you’ve got the most powerful tool in the whole world, right? The phone. I mean, you’ve got it. You don’t need any video cameras. You don’t need any film crew. You don’t need a videographer. You don’t need nothing. You got it all. You pull out your phone and you hold it horizontal, but you never take a video like this ever, ever, ever. It’s the curse of the world. Do not do it. Hold it like this. You hold it on four corners and you point with your finger and you say, Hey, this is my problem and now I’m going to fix it. That’s clip one. Then you go and fix it and this is my solution. 60-second videos, 30-second videos, whatever it is, it takes nothing. Then you simply splice that together and, iMovie or video shop. If you’re an Android user and you’ve got a before and an after, now you can effectively and efficiently communicate at an infinitely higher level than document it with paper, creating a binder, it’s nonsense, right? This is the video and so now you have a tool that you can share with your team or you can inspire other people around the world and that’s all I did. I had like 2000 videos. I just started showing people what I was doing. I didn’t tell them to subscribe. I didn’t tell them to, click on a light button, I didn’t do anything. I just said, hey, if this helps you Chris, Great. And that’s all I did. And my book’s in 14 languages. I can’t keep up with it anymore.

Chris: So simple. So I use the whole Google suite, and they released a feature where you can block out an entire day that you’re out of the office and it will automatically decline meeting invites for that. And it was something I had never seen before. So same thing, recorded the screen, sent it out to my team and now we just have to build a library of these things. And of course, for anyone that’s using Trainual the software, you can just embed the videos in and train your team that way. So as a segue, how do you teach your people about the lean philosophy about your culture? How do they, when they’re first introduced to your business, how long does it take them to really get it?

Paul: Well I think at the end of the first week they’re like so blown away. They can’t even see straight, right? But within two weeks, two or three weeks, they’re completely immersed in it. Every day, we have a morning meeting that lasts a half-hour, 45 minutes. So we’re training nonstop, FastCap University. And so there’s no orientation. Everybody’s orientated every day with zero ambiguity on what we’re doing as a team, what the goals are, what’s transpired, what’s changed, and what’s improved. And that all happens in our morning meeting.

Chris: Amazing. If that doesn’t say continuous improvement, I don’t know what else does. So for anybody that’s watching and wants to learn more about lean thinking or Paul be sure to check out his book 2-Second Lean and also his other books that lean health and lean travel. And it sounds like you’re coming out with another book. So if, if, if people would like to follow along with you with it, where can they find you and learn more? Paul?

Paul: Just paulakers.net is my website. And then if you’re really smart, I would subscribe to all my weekly e-blasts where we send out videos for lean thinking on our new products, on my travels around the world. And you know, it’s very benign and just we send it out and it’s a really great teaching tool and people subscribe like crazy to that. And that’s a good way to stay abreast of what I’m doing.

Chris: Fantastic. So check out paulakers.net and in the spirit of lean consider Paul’s newsletter, one thing that you’ll add to your life that will subtract so many other things. So this is a good investment. So Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to chat about process here today. Anything else you’d like to add?

Paul: Thank you for being passionate. Thank you for getting it. Thank you for understanding how powerful this is. This is pure joy in your life. So thank you for being a great advocate for good thinking.

Chris: Absolutely. And if you’re watching this, thank you for also putting these philosophies into place and living Paul’s vision of getting lean thinking out to as many people in the world. So check him out, check, Trainual out, and we hope your life and your business improves as a result. So thank you everybody, and thank you, Paul.

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