Paperless life is a Lean life

About a year ago I completely switched to a paperless lifestyle inspired by Evernote ambassador and writer, Jamie Rubin. What started as a personal productivity tool transformed many aspects of my business life as well.

In fact, I realized how anti-Lean paper based life is. At its core, paper is wasteful (recycling has waste also), and paper based processing has many anti-Lean characteristics: it requires several steps of re-processing (entering data captured on paper for electronic processing, sharing or storage), over processing required to find any information captured on paper or recovering any paper-based information lost. The more I have been without paper, the more I question any value (beyond aesthetics) paper can add to our life and our businesses.

It has been almost a year for me being completely paperless. No Moleskines, no notes everything goes into Evernote through Penultimate or IFTTT. I do not keep paper receipts, photos or anything that can be stored electronically. Todo lists are in Toodledo or Trello. Everything else is in Evernote, which in turn is backed up into Google Drive and Dropbox. All have 2-factor authentication for security. The best part is, everything I am looking for I can find in seconds. It would have taken me weeks sometimes to find an old document or receipt. Long live the end of paper waste. I highly recommend the paperless journey to everyone. The best primer, of course, is by Jamie here.


Lean In or Lean Out?

Most of the Lean literature is about heroic efforts to reduce waste and process inefficiencies at large (and small) complex operations. With the exception of the Lean Startup / Agile movement, much less is focused on building businesses and companies with Lean thinking.

Even in large corporations, once you leave the factories new innovations, product lines, sales approaches and market units get launched on top of old thinking and processes. Some of these initiatives fail for that very reason, the traditional operation or performance engine does not allow for a more agile business model and most initiatives are under-staffed and under-resourced so they cannot produce the wasteful staffing levels and process complexities the old model requires.

I’m a big fan of the ‘starving startup’ model in big companies and have run many of them. Customer facing initiatives in sales and services should start with a blank business model canvas (or Lean Canvas) and design/iterate a lean process.
The main advantage is that it is unlikely that complex, overburdened and wasteful processes and cost structures will result. The side benefit is that the company will create lean thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs that can tackle the harder challenges of leaning out the core. But now, they have organizational proof and credibility. Which in most corporate programs is the lion share of the battle.

Kaizen workshops may start resembling more of the pivot/sprint retrospectives of Agile and Kanban Method than traditional incremental improvements of an established process. Eventually in a big corporation the two approaches will meet in the middle as corporate startups and initiatives grow up, get overfunded, over-resourced and complacent. But by then our lean startup leaders, thinkers and builders in the team are ready…

(c) 2012 – Sacha Chua – (under Creative Commons Canada 2.5)

Lean Sales and High Growth Business Models

The recent business literature is awash with articles questioning the long term value add of Lean and Six Sigma initiatives. What started out as a checklist of success for Six Sigma and Lean projects, in the last few years turned into an all-out frontal attack on the approach; culminating in CBSNews calling Six Sigma the #1 stupidest management fad of all time.

Interestingly Lean focus brings a lot of speed to businesses partially because it eliminates waste and partially because of the enormous focus of customer driven activities. Six Sigma (not my expertise) had a strong focus on quality. The combination promised higher agility and higher quality. Many businesses (Kodak, 3M, Motorola, etc) that became world class Six Sigma shops were criticized by repeatedly missing business model innovation and be outrun by what should be ‘less agile’ competitors.

The main design principles for SCALE (our version of Lean Kanban) was to keep a balance between speed (Lean), business model innovation (our PSS method or BMG approach) and customer pull (Kanban).

In its ideal manifestation:

  • we innovate solutions that the customers get fired up about (pull),
  • we only work on activities that are customer facing and customer paid (by spending time, resources or money),
  • we limit all non-value added and waste activities (Lean/Kanban)
  • keep all of our work visible to everyone inside the firm (Lean/Kanban)
  • measure our baseline and keep changing our approach so we get better (Lean/Kanban)

We redefined our Lean principles to best suit our needs in 5 rules:

  1. Focus on customer value creation (PULL)
  2. Make the team’s work visible
  3. Limit the tasks you are juggling (WIP)
  4. Measure your effectiveness (not efficiency)
  5. Continuously strive to improve

The journey is now ON.

lean principles

Launching a Lean Sales Transformation


Despite 50 years of Lean in manufacturing and a decade or two in high tech, you still have to look far and wide to find great stories of sales-driven Lean programs.  Which is amazing considering Lean is all about sales and the customer. It should be all about Pull.

So in January 2013 we decided to take a successful strategic sales organization focused on complex enterprise technology sales at the board level – and turn it to Lean.

We have a year. We will do it faster. And learn along the way.
Only a week into the effort we already connected with several Lean Sensei at various auto (of course), tech and industrial manufacturing firms and started gathering their learning as well.

– double the revenues per headcount in our group
– respond to customer requests in half the time

It will be a fantastic journey combining the best of 3 philosophies:
LEAN (especially the LEI variety), Kanban Method by Dave Anderson and our own business model innovation process called P/S/S (more on that later…)

We are looking forward to fascinating learning, great collaboration and fun times ahead. And most importantly – very happy customers spending twice as much in half the time.