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Steve Crate

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Current Focus

I re-read Ken Miller’s book ” We don’t Make widgets” recently and rediscovered a wonderful resourse for our current times. Now more than ever this is the work that needs to be done.

State of Maine – CI-Ps Visit Lonza

On Monday June 1, 2009 Continuous Improvement Practitioners (CI-P), from the State of Maine “Bend the Curve” initiative, led by Walter Lowell, conducted a study mission at Lonza in Rockland Maine. To quote from the Lonza web site, “Lonza is one of the world’s leading suppliers to the pharmaceutical, healthcare and life science industries. Its…

Management by Brutality is MUDA

I can not help but wonder if there is a Six Sigma tool for managers to use before they decide to administer discipline or impose a behavior intervention to a poorly performing employee. Management style is one of the key factors affecting high employee morale, optimum functioning and low turnover. When high morale is present,…


Johnny the Bagger

This was sent to me by a friend and I thought about how important it is that we view Continuous Improvement as so much more than measurement. ON Ward!  

Lean Federal Contract Process

Saw an article this week in the Federal Computer Week emagazine about our new President making federal contracting more efficient. This is great news and about time. This looks very promising for the Lean Government Champions. Sounds like a job for a Continuous Improvement Practitioner. Are there any CI-Ps in the federal government yet?

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Continuous Improvement is More Than Measurement

Andrew’s recent reflections about the relevance of continuous improvement practitioners in these times mirror my thoughts with an added perspective. If lean thinking and continuous improvement were only about measuring production and process I would wholly agree. However, continuous improvement, in my mind, is more about positive change and moving toward perfection than it is…


Christmas Lights – A Lean Challenge

I got this from a friend and decided to share it with my friends at Six Sigma. I thought this might represent the process many use when they don’t plan. Just get the job done. Don’t worry about process or structure or planning. Just do it. Hm…. You think a value stream map would help?…


Lean Banking

I can’t help but wonder if banking and finance has an administrative concept equal or similar to lean process strategic planning. As accounting goes I suspect that efficiency, correct mathematical computation and balanced accounts all are considered important and of value to the banking customer. But what is the value added to high or irresponsible…


Creativity and Lean Process Analysis

This morning as I read Sue Kozlowski’s blog about her husband and the “common sense” factor of lean six-sigma process analysis, I decided to apply this thinking to a recent experience at work. Are there work environments where process analysis should not be applied? Where common sense is the standard? Here is my thought process….

Leadership: Right tools, Centered source

Tools are wonderful. Have you ever tried to unscrew a Phillips head screw with a wrench? Of course not. The right tool is critical to the job. Six Sigma tools are a wonderful technological advance that can transform an organization when used in the correct context. This is undisputable. Resistance is futile. But the ability…


Do the Public Policy Guru’s get it?

Lean government is making public sector inroads through out the US. It is exciting to see this. But I am worried. Some managers seem to see it as a weapon, rather than a tool. The legislature is making us more accountable so we have to do something or else? Do more with less? Cut staff so we can…


More Henry Ford

My Lean Thinking colleagues in Maine State Government have also been looking for quotes in Henry Fords writing that would speak to our movement toward more efficient and productive work as individuals, companies and communities.  The one that was chosen for their monthly newsletter speaks to the people side of Lean. It speaks of the…


Revisiting Henry Ford

I have been re-reading Henry Fords book My Life and Work. I got the idea to re-read this from Walter Lowell, the Lean Initiative Director at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. It is available as an e-book from The Project Gutenberg (see below). In this wonderful book Ford talks about how he…


Voice of the Customer in Government

Voice of the Customer (VOC) is a driving value that determines the amount of waste and what adjustments need to be made to the service or manufacturing process to achieve more efficiency and thus more value to the customer. To the extent that a service satisfies the customer the service is valued. A satisfied customer…

Professional Value Stream?

I have recently been transferred back to a professional service position as a Rehabilitation Counselor in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. This is a long standing federal program that helps individuals with severe disabilities train for, maintain and obtain gainful employment within their functional capacities. The program was initially started for injured military personnel…

Public Deployment of Lean Strategies

The Lean government paradigm promotes the analysis and implementation of efficient administrative and customer service process in order to reduce the cost of government while maintaining quality customer citizen service. Some have characterized this with the phrase “do more with less.” While this reflects a public policy that would shrink the size of government just…

Resistance is Futile

“Resistance is futile.” That is the warning statement from the Borg Collective, an arch enemy of the Federation of Planets in the Star Trek television series. Any trekkies out there? The first time I heard that phrase I thought; boy are they over-confident, they have not dealt with Captain Jean Luc Picard yet. And of…

Transformation is the New Operating System in Maine

I have been contemplating organizational transformation over the last few months. Jim Womak at the Lean Institute has started a new research project that is collecting organizational development results from various lean projects in the public sector. He has encouraged all who have thoughts to contact him. The driving question is: “What is the best…

Balancing Production and Planning in a Lean Environment

Now we have the tools. Supervisors are watching the process, identifying muda, re-work and redundant processes. Front line staff are meeting production goals within acceptable standards. Our work-in-progress is flowing with less wait time, a focus on pull of resources and just-in-time customer service. We are sustaining production within dictated standards. What is next? A…

We Don’t Make Widgets

Recently a colleague suggested Ken Miller’s book , ” We Don’t Make Widgets”as a strategy base for dealing with resistence from employees in the public sector. Abrief overview is available at: It looks like a good read. Thanks to all the comments on my last blog. It is clear performance and philosophy can be…

Is Lean Thinking Another Name for Prudence?

Recently I had a call from a well known training company in Englandwho were planning a Six Sigma Lean Government workshop in February of 2007. He did not ask about successes, or best practices, he wanted to know the major difficulties with our Lean initiative in Maine. Thinking about it, I reached the conclusion that…


IT Looking to LEAN for Programming

October 2, 2006 – Eweek published an interesting article by Peter Coffee titled “What it means to be Lean”.  He correlates computer programming with lean thinking and describes a new book related to lean software. “I just received a new book with a copyright date of 2007, “Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash,” by…

Historical Perspective of Lean

This note from Jim Womack at the Lean Institute provides an excellent historical perspective of lean manufacturing. It is reprinted here with permission.   Stephen,   I’ve been reflecting on today’s remarkable headlines about the latest retreat by the Ford Motor Company as part of its “Way Forward”? campaign. While reflecting, I have found it…


Lean and other Six Sigma Certification

I recently began to research Six Sigma Belt Certification Programs on the Internet. I have been thinking that I might like to obtain some credential in additionto my Masters Degree. I became concerned because there appeared to be multiple opportunities with no clear standard. Each one I discovered had a different number of hours of…


The People Side of Lean

In the beginning… there is some valid concern expressed about the people side of lean and how individuals are affected by Lean initiatives in the public sector. There is a common, prima facie response when lean thinking is first introduced in the public sector. “We are about serving people not making cars”, they say. This…

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Six Sigma Lean Government Conference

Just a brief note of a great conference coming up on May 18 & 19, 2006 in Alexandra, Virginia. Sponsored by The Performance Institute, The Lean Six Sigma for Government Conference will provide first hand case studies about government agencies where Lean Six Sigma tools are being successfully used. You can review the details at:…

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Lean Government Resource

This blog entry is brief. This week I met and communicated with a new Lean Practitioner, Jon Miller, at He has a great blog site at: that is tracking Lean government initiatives around the world. This week he tracked activity in Scotland. There is documentation of initiatives in Iowa, US Dept of Commerce…

Maine Department of Labor Lean Initiative

Applying the Principles of Lean and Public Value to Reshape a Government Agency In the fall of 2003, the Maine Department of Labor began a tailored change initiative to fundamentally alter the culture and work of the agency. Combining time-tested “lean” principles from the manufacturing sector with the emerging public sector strategy of “public value,”*…

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Six Steps to Lean Government

This blog is not for the experienced six sigma practitioners, but rather for those government managers trying to get an overview of howa lean initiative might fit with their current strategic planning. I came up with a basic 6 step process that can be easily committed to memory and turned into a mantra of sorts….

Introduction to Lean Government

Current budget constraints in the public sector require an innovative response from executives, legislators, public administrators and government employees. Legislators must set the course with directive policy, administrators must develop the management plan and government employees must remain flexible and committed to the personal transformation required to do public business in a new leaner way….