Give Me 60 Minutes and I’ll Give You a Lean Transformation

That’s 60 minutes from everyone in supervisory position and above, at least once every three weeks, forever. If that’s too much to ask, save yourself two minutes and stop reading now.


There’s something called “stand in the circle” and although it might be known by other names, it is said to have started with Taiichi Ohno telling managers “Draw a circle and stand in it!” in order to teach them to see waste.


You’ll need a piece of paper with 30 or more lines on it. You’ll need something to write with. You might need something to put the paper on and write against. This exercise starts with picking a spot in your gemba and standing in that one place for 30 minutes.


Find 30 things to improve in 30 minutes. Write them down.


Take the next 30 minutes and make at least one of the improvements you wrote down. The other improvements you can spend the next three weeks working on bit by bit, delegating to the appropriate people, or asking people “why” until you find the actionable root cause.


You’ve got 58 minutes left. Go stand in the circle.


  1. I remember the first time I heard this story… it was one of those moments where I just sat back with my little Six Sigma hat on and thought… now that is a cool idea. Thanks for sharing Jon. Cheers whereever you are in the world. I am actually home for once!

  2. I think that really works well in a manufacturing environment. But how about in the office environment where employees sit at their desks and work with the PC? Processes and many types of waste as such are not so transparent and hence more difficult to observe.

  3. That’s a great point Oliver. The stand in the circle exercise works well in the office, but as you say it can be harder at first to see waste. One of the problems that you write down in 30 minutes may be “I can’t see waste” or “I don’t really know what people are working on” or “Problems aren’t visible” and these could become breakthrough improvements in visual management.
    You can always start by identifying safety, quality, environment, and energy losses if the 7 wastes are hard to find. For example you can turn off lights in empty rooms, clean up the insides of a filing cabinet, or identify work positions with bad posture, etc. You can make a short-term fix and plan and/or implement long-term root cause countermeasures for at least one of them.
    The purpose of the stand in the circle is 80% building awareness and rewiring your brain so that you see many small problem, and 20% to make actual improvements. So if waste is hard to see, this is all the more reason to do it.

  4. 60 minutes, I wish! I had the opportunity to work with Yoshi Natsume who was Toyota’s head of Quality Engineering for North America, now retired. We were at a tier 1 supplier working to help them improve. He pointed to 4 tiles on the floor which made a 2’ square. His instructions were simple, stand here and observe till I come back. Four hours later, he came back. Amazing how the simplest things can resonate the strongest. The exercise also helps you to appreciate that God gave you two eyes, two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should do a lot more looking and listening and when you do talk, it should be to ask a question.

  5. Brilliant, and yes, from a software development perspective, getting the developers out and just watching people attempt to use their solutions should do wonders for their appreciation of problems they would never see, being too close to the software themselves.
    Observation is a wonderful tool, in many instances. Some great techniques have cropped up in recent years (ok, decades) from the Usability field, combine with Agile Development, and continuous software improvement is distinct possibility!

  6. I have been working for kodak for 23 years. We have also started the lean process. Standing in a circle is one of my favorite lessons, I teach to managers. Eyes for waste is my slogan!

  7. I like the idea. I’m going to use this in my lean journey. I think this is very helpful to let managers discover wastes with in their surroundings.
    Thank you so much.

  8. Starting yet another Journey and a new Lean Sigma transformation, this time with a very large Flexo Company.
    Any ideas for Printing transformation, not everything can be applied from lean do I have to tailor Lean Sigma for printing it almost seems we need a book just for that.

  9. Great idea, the Ohno’s cicle
    I am a lean consultant at the garment factory, I think this is very helpful for me to discover wastes at the stitching line such as overproduction,motion,transportion …
    Thank you very much

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