Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper...in that Order

Lean is deep. It's multi-faceted. Heck, even the "simple" stuff is profound.

These characteristics, along with (or should I say, in spite of) my own denseness, are why my lean learning never plateaus. Here's a very recent example of two experiences that refined my kaizen appreciation.

Experience 1. This week I attended and spoke at the Sixth Annual Northeast Shingo Prize conference. It was a wonderful experience. (See below for a picture of the "four bloggers.") The conference title was, "Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper." Great title and great theme right? Like motherhood and apple pie. Who could ever argue with it?

Well, as many of us know, the title was derived from a Shigeo Shingo quote:

There are four purposes of improvement: easier, better, faster and cheaper.

Cool, right? Except, there's another sentence that immediately follows - a sentence that should alter the mindset of most American allegedly "lean thinkers."

These four goals appear in the order of priority.

Do you think that most executives would agree with that priority? I sincerely doubt it.

If we surveyed senior leaders, I would be quite confident that the order would be reversed. Unfortunately, such a hierarchy (no pun intended) does little to gain buy-in from the workforce and it is often inconsistent with the notion of respect for people. Which leads to my next recent experience.

Experience 2. (Actually this experience happened BEFORE the conference, but it works better explaining it in this order.) I was reading through the paper, "Transforming Kaizen at Toyota," written by Koichi Shimizu from Okoyama University. This 29 page paper is undated, but I would guess it's circa 2000. Shimizu presents a lot of information and analysis around volunteer and organized kaizen activities at Toyota.

Some take-aways:

  • Workers drive about 10% of the realized improvement and team leaders, production supervisors, engineers, etc. drive 90%. Here "realized improvement" is ostensibly around cost reduction through productivity and quality gains.
  • Workers principally engage in "voluntary kaizen" - kaizen circle activities and suggestions.
  • The purpose and effects of the voluntary kaizen, especially within Toyota's US and European plants, are mainly around:
    • developing the (worker's) kaizen mind and problem solving ability,
    • paying attention to quality and productivity,
    • perceiving the work-place as one's own, and
    • developing self for promotion.

Occasionally, the worker generates a great idea around quality or working process improvement. But, the primary focus for the worker is typically around the "humanization of work." In other words, it starts with making the work EASIER. Just like Mr. Shingo said!


Here's a picture of the four bloggers at the NE Shingo Prize conference. From left to right, yours truly (the old guy in the group), Tim MacMahon of A Lean Journey, Dave Kasprzak of My Flexible Pencil, and Mike Wroblewski of Got Boondoggle? It was great meeting these very talented folks!

There are 6 Comments

David M. Kasprzak's picture


The conference was a great experience (and thanks for posting the pic, BTW!). I have been contemplating nearly every aspect of the conference this past week, and your emphasis on easier, better, faster, cheaper falls right in line with what has been on my mind the most: The concepts of Muri (overburdening the system) and Mura (unevenness of flow).

As you say, most lean implementations look at the situation in reverse: focusing on cutting costs rather than on improving work conditions. What has yet to be grasped, in the minds of many, is that implementing the cost-cutting techniques are not something that you can buy, or hire. The cost reductions come out of an environment where people are looking to make work simpler, and of higher quality. Once you establish that, increasing speed and reducing costs are just natural outgrowths of constantly looking for easier and better ways of doing things.

As Womack indicated (http://www.lean.org/common/display/?JimsEmailId=63) the initial focus of Lean on Muda was a little off target. Focusing on Mura, and then Muri, as the root causes of Muda, is where it's at.

markrhamel's picture

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the comment and the link to Womack's email! The conference was pretty darn good.

Yes, sometimes we do have the muda blinders on and miss the impact/implications of mura and muri. Often, unaddressed muda drives mura and muri. Sometimes, it's the other way around. And many times, unevenness and strain are self-inflicted (for example, offering steep sales discounts at the end of the month or quarter, having a performance appraisal system that requires all appraisals (for EVERYONE) completed within the same one week window, etc.). Lean is holistic in nature, we should attack the three M's with a holistic headset.

Best regards,

markrhamel's picture

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the comment! I'm sorry that we didn't get to meet (didn't see anybody who looked like your Gravatar :)).

I certainly don't have the all the greats' quotes memorized either, but what you say sounds just right. "Show me the money," shouldn't be the first and last thing folks hear...otherwise, they stop listening and never get really engaged.

BTW, I'd rather work with a "sloppy scholar" who gets his hands dirty any day than a book smart scholar who never gets beyond the plan stage of PDCA.

Best regards,

Andrew Bishop's picture

It was a great meeting, wasn't it?!
I'm always getting caught misquoting (learning by doing means sloppy scholarship, I'm afraid!) but my understanding is that Ohno said: "Why don't we make work easier, so our people don't have to sweat" - consistent with the Shingo quote that was the catch phrase last week.

When we started our journey and the consultant came in to cut cost, we alienated people and disabled processes. When we figured out that "make work easier" was the place to start, the questions of buy-in and disruption of key processes went away. And when work is easier, better and faster are more accessible, and by the time you get to cheaper a lot of it may already be taken care of.

Lean's picture


[...]Easier, Better, Faster, Cheaper...in that Order | Gemba Tales[...]...

Ramadhani's picture

Mapping is such a powerful tool but so unedlvarued. It seems like so many people see mapping as too elementary and almost a waste of time. Mark, I like what you say about the shared understanding. Even with doing a gemba walk, the interpretation of what each team member sees may be different. Mapping requires that the different interpretation need to be worked through so that there is a common understanding. Once something is in writing, it is so much easier to see where what you thought you saw and what was actually happening could be different.Thanks for the post.