Start by asking “why?” and then “why?” again


“Where do I start with lean?”

I am often asked. How do I eradicate waste from my processes? How do I reduce costs? How do I improve flow? Why not start by asking “why?”?

Yes, productivity is wealth. Yes, the key to prosperity is increased productivity. And, yes, in economics, there are three main factors of productivity:

  1. Labor: better organization yields more output per person
  2. Capital: innovation and better technologies yield more output per investment
  3. Human Capital: education enables you to leverage the two previous factors

Many economics studies converge to show that education is the key to prosperity.

How does this apply at your business of department level? Well, lean is first and foremost an on-the-job education method. The idea is that to make better products you first have to make better people:

  • more educated people will organize themselves better and have better productivity
  • more educated people will adopt new technologies smartly and leverage capital productivity
  • more educated people will be more engaged in outcomes rather than output

So, rather than start by better organizing any process or changing the technology why not ask yourself how to deepen the thinking in your department: look at issues, ask why? and then why?


Asking why repeatedly is the first step of lean thinking, by getting your team to think deeper about the issues they face. As a team, you can then explore the other levers of lean productivity:

  • How to flow better work and how to spot mistakes before they’re made?
  • How to improve technical processes to explore new techniques or technologies?

Lean thinking brings education in the day-to-day course of the work (and out of the off-site classroom). We work, we look at the outcome, we see problems, we ask why? we think, we improve. All in a day’s job.

Without the curiosity of “why?” both these changes will revert to taylorist impositions of new processes, and teams will resist what they haven’t invented. With the magic of “why?”, on the contrary, they will seek answers themselves and surprise you every time.

“Why?” because creativity is fun? Why? because that’s human nature. Why?…

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