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How Lean Changed My Work: Lean Without Knowing It

by Jeremy Venable
April 27, 2017

How Lean Changed My Work: Lean Without Knowing It

by Jeremy Venable
April 27, 2017 | Comments (7)

Lean started changing the way I work from the day I first learned that it exists.

I am a nationally certified machinist/millwright by trade. One day I was working on a positive displacement pump at Shell Chemical in Geismar, Louisiana as a contractor. At this time I was not familiar with lean, but I have long had a way of working that resembles lean. It consists of laying white paper towels on a table and only taking out the tools I need to execute the job at hand. In addition, on this occasion, when I disassembled the pump due to multiple valve failures, I staged the parts right to left. That way, if anyone had to rebuild the disassembled pump they would be able to work in that same direction. 

On this particular day I was approached by a Shell employee, whom I had never met before and did not know he was the Site Focal Point for Lean. At this time the site was just being introduced to the lean way of life, and the Focal Point was out in the plant shadowing different people to understand different ways of working. Imagine my surprise when that Focal Point, a Shell leader, came up to a contractor like myself and asked, "Do you always work in an organized fashion?" I said, "My wife likes my checks so…yeah."  

Imagine the amount of empowerment I felt at this moment. “Wow, a Shell guy asking me, a contractor who feels faceless in the crowd, about MY style of work. I have an identity now.” SWEET!!!!  

When we stopped laughing he asked me to explain why I worked like I do. I told him that taking out only the tools I needed to build the pump helped me to fix the equipment faster because I do not have to dig through a toolbox. Also, my toolbox was organized in such a manner that certain tools went into certain trays and were always put back cleaned. By this way of working I ensure I can get the equipment back in running condition quickly so the downtime of the units is reduced. 

He also asked, "Do you do this at home?" I responded, "Yes, my wife calls it the 'Sleeping with the Enemy Disease.' My pantry has all of its canned goods arranged exactly three high, nine deep and all labels facing out.” 

It wasn’t long after this discussion that I was hired on to work at the plant full time in operations. Within five years I was promoted to join the Lean Specialists team at our site, which at that time only consisted of two other people. This type of work has allowed me to open the eyes of many more people and become more value added in their scopes of work. I also am known as the "STICKIE MAN" due to the fact that I have the best inventory of post-its of any office in the entire Gulf Coast. 

This way of working has matured me not only in a professional manner but also in a personal manner as well. I set this practice in front of my children and developed them into Mini Me’s. My wife, on the other hand, is not so crazy about the Mini Me part. But I’m sure she’ll come around.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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7 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin kobett April 27, 2017

Outstanding! There some threads in the forums asking how to start lean. The first step is to find those already practicing lean even if they do not know it. Who better to teach 5S than Jeremy? I was lean in companies that were not lean. It was not fun. Probably need an outside person to interview all employees.


Additionally, you are training your kids at the most opportune time. Well done, sir.

Reply »

Jessie Reyes April 27, 2017

What a great story! Lean is so natural for the organized person. Wish the rest of the world was like that. Congrats on your progress and sharing part of your journey.

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Jeremy Venable May 01, 2017
3 People AGREE with this reply

Thank you for reading my story.  5S is one of the most critical tools we can teach to anyone begining there LEAN journey.  At our site our LEAN Team has to live LEAN in order to be able to teach LEAN.  My kids are being "BRAINWASHED" as we speak with the LEAN methodology.  Even at your place of work it can be like herding cats to try to get people to change work habits.  Please do not give up even when you are faced with challenges.  People can and will use LEAN everyday, even though they do not even realize it.  Please keep me in the loop on how things are going where you are at.  I am very interested to have a sustainable community where us "LEAN OUTCAST"  haha can bounce things off each other.  Thank you again for reading my story.

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Peter Gardner May 01, 2017

Great story, reminds me of something I read some time ago, I think the book was "Switch or Made to Stick" ,the line that really caught my attention was "Bright spots, what's working and how do we make more?".


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Claire Everett May 01, 2017

Sounds like you've achieved a lot, but I'm concerned about the inventory problem in your pantry... "My pantry has all of its canned goods arranged exactly three high, nine deep and all labels facing out.”

That's 27 cans of everything (assuming I've understood that correctly), admittedly very nicely organized, but still that sounds like a large amount of excess inventory for less used products.  Surely it would make a FIFO system more difficult and it risks you having things go off, even canned goods expire eventually.

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Jeremy Venable May 02, 2017

I started laughing when i read your reply.  That is a great challenge.  Here is why we have some many canned goods. My wife and i have kids 4 of our own and we also foster 3 more.  So we stock up alot during the month.  If our pantry is not full the kids turn into a pack of wolves until we fill it back up.  These kids ages are 23, 18, 13, 13, 9, and the twins are 5.  i will never be able to retire!!!!HAHA

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Claire Everett May 04, 2017

Hi Jeremy

Knowing that there are 9 of you does put it into perspective a bit.  Congratulation on your children and your foster children, 7 is a lot and that's quite an age range you have going there!  Hat's off to you and your wife, the world needs more people willing and able to look after children in need of a stable and loving home.

I'm glad I could give you a laugh.  I had a mental picture of 27 cans of passionfruit pulp sitting next to 27 cans of crushed tomatoes in mind when I wrote it.  The tomatoes would make sense but the passionfruit? 

Here's hoping you have a good Kanban system :-)

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