The Simplicity of Lean

I think about Lean in three distinctively different ways:

  1. Tools: Documentation, problem-solving, development, design
  2. Structure: Creating a workflow to traverse between one to the other in a natural progression.
  3. Behavior: The way we practice to achieve specific outcomes in an efficient manner.

By doing this, it allows me to move from micro to macro thinking while still applying Lean Practices. My litmus test for applying Lean Thinking across this wide of a context is unchanged, it stays consistent no matter the level. Can your Lean Thinking pass the 3 C Test?

Standard Work (SDCA):Cycles of Lean

  • Commitment – Level of commitment is expected from the individual
  • Connection – A path for support through conversation is provided (Andon)
  • Clarification – Minimum standard is explicit

Continuous Improvement (PDCA)

  • Concern: Locate the point of concern or cause through Who, What, Where, When
  • Cause: Identify root cause verifying with data
  • Countermeasure: · Develop countermeasures utilizing user stories and place on visual board, prioritize

Innovation/Exploration (EDCA)

  • Creativity: Envision past ideas to structure, adapting to changes, learning new ideas
  • Conviction: A deep sense of purpose with the ability to sustain interest and effort in a long-term goal
  • Challenge: Offers unique perspectives from customer’s viewpoint based on their value and economic drivers

I believe you need portions of all three Lean Practices to be successful. Some companies will be a little more innovative others a little more standard. But what will make Lean successful is the deliberate practice of all three.

I was taught Lean is simple: Find a problem, Solve a problem.

It really is that simple to get started. Using my interpretation of Lean thinking, we start by:

  1. Capture what you are doing (CAP-Do)
  2. Create your Standard Practice (SDCA)
  3. Take one of those practices improve on it (PDCA)
  4. Try something new explore (EDCA)

The percentage of each depends on your present business model and maturity. The biggest hurdles to get over are the first two. You may not have a standard, or your standard was created without any feedback from customers. That is the reason you start with CAP-Do, or as I call it the Reflection Cycle. It makes more sense when you think about what Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

I base my Lean Thinking on these 3 principles. Standardization, Improvement, and Exploration. PDCA is the glue. Without that mindset- it is difficult to traverse between the 3, and I think all successful companies have a mixture of all three. Some may be more innovative, some may be more standard, but having a process in place for each, even the innovation side is what makes Lean successful.

The number of cycles below was determined by me for demonstration purposes. In actuality, there can be single or multiple cycles within each group and at times there may be none at all in a single group.

One of the biggest obstacles to effective performance is the lack of a clear vision of the responsibilities within the team. Understanding how the team operates helps clarifies the individual team member roles to each other and more importantly externally and specifically to management. That is why at the beginning it as important to scope the team as it is the project, maybe even more so. Understanding how the team operates helps clarifies the individual team member roles to each other and more importantly externally and specifically to management. The SALES acronym is what I use to develop the outline. Each Team can be working on multiple projects, and each person can be on multiple teams. It is not limiting.


Many have argued Lean is about incremental improvement. It does not allow for breakthrough thinking. I agree that SDCA and PDCA and even the continuous mindset may not deliver breakthrough by themselves. However, like most things you start one step at a time. The culture of Innovation starts with the culture of continuous improvement. To start with breakthrough thinking is very difficult and typically not successful. You cannot just turn it on. So starting with PDCA and a continuous improvement can be a successful way, to create the little “i” culture. Ramping it up and truly doing breakthrough innovation, the big ‘I” is when you must engage and understand your customer/market extremely well.

When taking a Product Development focus, maybe even Lean 3P, Lean Startup, or a chapter from IDEO. I will break-down processes, products/services, and frame them with CAP-Do. Then what we think we can use from what we already know I will encapsulate in SDCA. Then use EDCA as the exploration, that Design Thinking style for innovation.

The cycle of EDCA is basically similar to a Lean Startup, and that is where your resources are until you prove product/market fit. PDCA, as I said before is the glue it is what everything passes through. We don’t jump between SDCA and EDCA; there is always a systematic PDCA cycle that we go through to standardize or to Explore. It is purposeful experimentation.  It is the culture of Lean.

I considered creating an App but instead decided just to post it on Slideshare so everyone could use an existing app that will be updated. I will also update these cards occasionally.

Download a mobile 15 piece Lean is Simple Card Deck

Slideshare Document:

Slideshare APP:

LinkedIn Article Link:

You can Download the PDF – I recommend the 2-up view in Adobe (

I will go over the use of an expanded version of these cards as A3s in an upcoming webinar.

P.S. I am very pleased so far with the Slideshare App on my phone. I downloaded the cards to the phone and treat the cards like they were a native app.