Lean for the Holidays

Over the past few days, I’ve received a number of  clever holiday and Lean-themed videos, maps, and stories that I thought I’d share. I’m sure there are many more out there, so please feel free to share in the comments area. Enjoy!

Will Farrell, Quality Inspector?

This is a funny scene from the movie Elf where Will Ferrell performs quality control for jack-in-the-boxes:

Santa’s Value Stream

Here’s a clever value stream map, created by Jordan Kempler at TMAC:

Santa Workshop Christmas VSM

Santa Believes in Kaizen!

And who knew that Santa was so Lean-savvy? Enjoy this story written by one of our subscribers, Tom Gardzinski, Continuous Improvement Officer at Georgian College in Ontario, Canada.

With the total days of the year fixed and global population skyrocketing over the past 150 years, Santa had to figure out how to do more within the same time period. So Santa turned to continuous improvement. Santa and his elves learned about the eight operational wastes and the problem-solving methodology, Plan, Do, Study and Adjust (PDSA).

One problem they wanted to avoid was the toy shortage that they had experienced in 2011. Retailers were holding less inventory as a precautionary measure to avoid the losses they experienced a year earlier due to the recession and a slower-than-normal shopping season. But what Santa and the elves discovered was that could be traced back to excessive lead times at the largest toy manufacturing on the planet, Santa’s own workshop. With customers dissatisfied because they were not receiving product or had to settle for cheap knock-offs, Santa couldn’t ignore this problem. So he organized a Kaizen Event with a team of elves to discover how to reduce lead time through the elimination of non-value-added activities. The team discovered that they spent 50% of the overall lead time just getting the Christmas list orders to the production floor.

First, they eliminated excessive approvals, which shortened lead time by a few days. Then, by removing the outdated mailroom and upgrading to a sophisticated mail scanning system, Santa’s Workshop was able to transfer the mailroom staff onto the toy production floor to help wrap the toys as they came off the production line. The team started to realize how removing non-value added waste is critical in fulfilling children’s wish lists. This new mail scanning system helped reduce 5 of the 8 wastes; overproduction, over-processing, waiting, inventory, motion, and under-utilization (lost creativity) of people. (Images used by permission by Jerome Holst, Enchanted America and Candice Russell, Pitney Bowes.)

Santa mail room improvements

Santa mail room improvements 2

Another waste that the team discovered was the amount of batch processing that was in place. Children had been sending their Christmas wish lists only three weeks before Santa had to saddle up! To level external demand, Santa offered incentives to all children who sent their wish lists by November 15 of each year. Spreading the work out over a longer time period allowed for less overtime which meant happier and healthier elves! The children were also thrilled because they received bonus gifts on Christmas morning as a reward for sending in their wish list early.

The above are just two CI events that have been highlighted from the last five years at Santa’s Workshop, and they’re still working on improvements to keep up with growing toy demands!


I hope you’ve enjoyed a little Lean humor and holiday cheer! May you and your family have a joyful Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, or whatever you celebrate.

And may 2016 bring you:

  • Outstanding health, happiness, and prosperity
  • Intellectual, emotional and spiritual fulfillment at work
  • Deepening humility, curiosity, and respect for humankind
  • Continued  success in developing proficiency in leading improvement

And may we all experience greater peace on earth and an end to senseless violence.

by Carlos M. Garcia reply

Karen, I wish you, your family and all the members of your outstanding team the same for the Holidays and for 2016. You personally and your firm are doing unparalleled work to create a Lean culture, and I congratulate you all. I look forwar to your webinars with acticipation,,,and what else can be said about your helpful and insightful publications!

In 2016, may your firnm and your efforts continue to grow and guide us!


    by Karen Martin reply

    Thank you, Carlos! Wonderful holidays to you as well and much continued success in 2016! Thank you for being such a strong improvement advocate and supporter of our work!

by Siobhain Danaher reply

Many happy returns Karen, wishing you and your family a safe, happy and Lean Christmas! May 2016 be your best year ever ☺

    by Karen Martin reply

    And you as well, Siobhain! Merry Christmas and a 2016 filled with joy and Lean progress!

by Jonas Gustavsson reply

Merry X-mas and all. :)
And thanks for all the knowledge you share!

The VSM looks really nice but I have trouble reading…. :P

Keep it up. :)


    by Karen Martin reply

    Hello Jonas – Good catch! The map is now linked so that you can see it better. Happy holidays!


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