lean star wars

4 Lessons For The Lean Thinker: As Told By Jedi Master Yoda

Today is the fourth of May, or a day better known by Star Wars Fans as May the fourth… Say the date out loud and you will quickly catch on to the pun that sparked a worldwide phenomenon a long time ago. Every year millions of individuals around the world gather to take part in a daylong event celebrating everything Star Wars. As 24-hour movie marathons and celebration parades set to take place throughout the day, we figured we could join in on this year’s celebration by taking a few pointers from master Yoda himself.

Yoda has shared some great anecdotes throughout the history of the saga, many of which, can be applied directly to the lean manufacturing process. So we took some of the character’s most famous quotes and analyzed them through the perspective of a lean thinker. Along with the help of one of the industry’s leading thought provokers about lean, Mark Graban, we’re happy to present a list of four prophetic Star Wars quotes that can help guide lean thinkers on their quest to find True North.

“Always pass on what you have learned.”

 Lean is all about leading and engaging others in a thoughtful matter. At the heart of every successful lean program is a coach that can play both sides of the ball. “If you’re trying to establish a continuous improvement model into your workplace, you have to possess a sense of humility”; says Mark Graban, an author, speaker, and consultant and, most recently, the Author/Editor of Practicing Lean. “When you have years or even decades of experience under your belt, it can be really easy to lose sight of what’s important. A good leader isn’t afraid to admit they don’t know something and learn from the experience. Sure, you potentially could’ve handled a situation differently, but don’t beat yourself up over it. A good leader will learn from the experience and share with those who are just starting their lean journey.”

 “PATIENCE YOU MUST HAVE my young padawan”

If you’ve done your research on the lean approach, it’s likely you’ve come across a few naysayers that will tell you that lean doesn’t work. The number one cause of a failed lean implementation derives from the need for instant gratification—something that simply isn’t possible with lean. The virtue of patience has been synonymous with Toyota’s legendary management system since its inception, as long-term thinking has always taken precedent over short-term gratification.  If your entire team fails to understand this fundamental element of the process, it simply won’t work. Lean isn’t something that happens over night; the process itself takes time, requiring a need for ongoing evaluation and patience. So in a sense, experienced lean practitioners are the equivalent to the modern-day Jedi Master; they know the requirements of their craft from the inside out.

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future”

 Yoda’s characteristically vague response to Luke can be interpreted as a metaphor for the unpredictability that life often throws our way. Yoda’s prophecy for an ever-changing future can be directly applied to the lean methodology by taking a look at how we conduct our value stream mapping. Due to the highly variable nature of individual processes that require material flow, process maps should focus on both material and information flow. Adding a component of information flow ensures your maps always have a level of consistency and standardization to fall back upon.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

The heart of Kaizen—and to a larger extent the lean philosophy—is best described as a never-ending betterment of oneself. It is the focus of a team-based, continuous self-improvement platform that seeks to maximize organizational performance over the long term. Driving this focus into your workplace is a commitment, and it should be treated as such. You can’t afford to be lackadaisical when it comes to building your program. Implementing lean is truly an all or nothing commitment that can be easily botched if not given the proper treatment. As Yoda famously suggests, being mindful of what you are trying to accomplish with your actions (be it lean or something entirely different), is an essential part of success.


If you’d like to read more about Mark’s lean journey, and other firsthand encounters with the lean process visit practacinglean.com. Proceeds from the book will be donated to the non-profit Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation.

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