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September 11, 2001

Today is the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the United States that set a path that will never be undone.  I am a 9-11 volunteer, just like everyone alive at the time we can recall in detail that morning and precisely what we were doing.  I was working a construction renovation job and at the time I was painting the interior of a person’s home.  I was a 23-year-old kid/man, and I was in the living room of a very large house, standing on a ladder and painting the ceiling.  When the towers were hit the owner came in and told me to come take a look at what was going on.  Just like everyone around the world we just sat there and watched in horror as the United States came under attack, thousands perished, and our Defense posture forever changed.  I had always been intrigued by the military, my older brother at the time was serving and now seeing my homeland suffer I had a strong calling to enlist. 

In December I raised my right hand and swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Christmas was right around the corner, so Uncle Sam decided to hold off until after the holidays to send me away to become a Soldier.  In January of 2002 I turned 24 and then 6 days later I was standing at Fort Benning Georgia in my jeans, black Army of One t-shirt, a small bag of personal items and my black binder full of paperwork.  Was I excited, most definitely.  Was I scared, beyond words or anything I had felt to this point.  I had nothing holding me back, it was my time to grow(up), transform, learn selfless-service and go serve my country.

The first week is called reception, this is where they take you in and process you into becoming property of the United States Army, sometimes affectionately called the Big Green Weenie.  First things first, your hair has to go.  I always kept my hair relatively short, so I wasn’t too traumatized when they take you to a barber who has a Flowbie (remember those) type device attached to the clippers.  No words exchanged, you don’t sit down and ask how he’s doing and say, “can I get a medium #1 trim and scissors on top?”  No sir, you sit down with the signs of fear all over your youthful face, emanating the intoxicating smell of fear and the barbers go to work.  With a few passes of the clippers you are bald, the hair sucked into the Flowbie and you get up and the next recruit sits down.

“Momma, momma, can’t you see

what the Army’s done to me

They put me in a barber’s chair

I turned around, I had no hair”

Now that you are bald and appeasing to the Army eye you are ready to get your uniforms.  There are hundreds of bald scared kids just like you standing in huge lines waiting for whatever they are going to receive next.  No talking, stand there and wait your turn.  I received physical fitness (PT) uniforms, running shoes, combat boots, uniforms, ruck sack and of course about one hundred pounds of tactical gear you will either carry or clean daily.  Don’t forget about all the immunizations, I have no idea what all I received in my arms but the one that stands out the most is the penicillin they shoot into your butt check.  You would swear it was a tablespoon of peanut butter.  For days all you saw was bald kids in grey sweats limping around from their shots!  In all the items given there is one called the “Smart Book” that teaches you military rank, phonetic alphabet and basic military customs and courtesies.  Very overwhelming to crack that open and try to decipher a whole new world.  The drill sergeants teach you how to stand in a formation, basic marching, and minimal soldiering skills.  My first personal lesson on military customs and courtesies was right after a meal (chow) and I left the dining facility (DFAC) to join my platoon.  I walked out the door and right past a Commissioned Officer, a Captain (CPT) and just smiled.  My drill sergeant quickly brought to my attention in a very aggressive manner what my infraction had been.  Then he asked the CPT to assist in teaching me a lesson.  He called the platoon to attention, standing with your heals together and arms down to your side.  He put me in front of the platoon and had me turn around and salute the CPT and render the greeting of the day.  Doesn’t sound bad, but he made me do it about a dozen times.  Mission accomplished, I learned to recognize the shiny object on the head gear, call those around to attention and render a salute and greeting.  To this day as I exit military service 20 years later, nothing irritates me more than a Soldier who refuses or doesn’t correctly salute and greet and Officer.

Reception is only a week and there is only so much they can teach you while also getting hundreds of people ready for the real Basic Training, or Boot Camp.  You exercise in the morning, it honestly isn’t too rigorous because they can’t risk you getting injured and of course there is lots of standing around, sitting around and three meals a day. One thing I remember that was very annoying is how the new sweaters we exercised in would leave lint and fuzz all over my head because the little hairs would pull it off every time I put the sweater on.  

Perhaps some of the most lean environments in the Army or military are the ones where hundreds of people are processed to achieve an objective, such as Basic Training.  The one week at reception accomplished a huge initiative by taking hundreds of civilians and getting them vaccinated, processed, clothed, gear issued and made ready for their arduous 9 week training.  This is no small task, I’m sure if at the time 20 years ago I was thinking about lean I would have been able to see some muda, but retrospection seems like they had their stuff together.

It was a very long week full of stress only because it is new and overwhelming, and you don’t know what lies in wait only a short bus ride away.

180 Degrees

I haven’t written in almost two years to this blog, my original intent was to journal the attempt to move my current Army organization to a more lean environment. At first it looked very challenging but somewhat promising. But like I said it’s been two years and no entries. Why?

One glaring reason is Covid, this basically sent everyone home to telecommute so there was no personal interaction for well over a year. Lean could still be learned and attempted together via remote possibilities – but it wasn’t.

Finally the real reason, which is why the title of this entry is 180 degrees is because the Army isn’t interested. I want to write about this failure and turn it into a success by documenting my Army life over the last almost 20 years. I’m in the middle of retiring from active duty and what I want to do is shift focus to capture more of my journey and efforts over the years and try as hard as I can to find the lean relevance along the way.

I hope you will stay tuned in and check back often because this might be relatable and possibly interesting to many. I know my journey has been my own, unique to my introspection and subjectivity but by letting the world gain insight to me I think it will prove to be not so unique. I hope that the following entries will seem like you wrote them, I want people to share in the commonality, laughter, tears, failures and triumphs as if they are yours.

Idiosyncrasy Credits

Idiosyncrasy Credits –

This is a theory that was recently introduced to me and hindsight tells me I should have learned and studied this years ago.  Basically this concept says that when you belong to something, a family, social circle, team or professional organization you have a clean slate.  One author, Bo Twerdowsky describes it as an empty virtual bag and when you do something positive you get a chip added to your bag.  Conversely when you do something negative and depending on size of infraction and mood of the group you lose chips.  Sounds simple right, do positive things and stay in high regard and do something bad and lose face.  The importance of this concept when it comes to implementing lean improvements is you have to have a high balance or credit.

When I arrived I knew better than to make changes just because I was the new guy and had new ideas.  But I guess I believe in lean so much that I didn’t see my zero balance of credit and thought what I was doing was so beneficial it didn’t seem like I was making abrupt changes hastily.  Fast forward over a year that I’ve been trying to implement lean and I am still no closer than I was on day one.  It is actually worse, I feel cast aside and also like everyone is very apprehensive of my actions and intent.  Couple this with bureaucratic policies prohibiting change and cohesion and this is the bitter cocktail I have to consume on a daily basis.

I’m not exactly sure where to go and what to do going forward but at least I understand a little clearer what I did wrong and why I have a zero balance.  I’m basically bouncing checks every day at work and am also paying the fee for doing so.  Two years to go, let’s see what happens.



What is LEAN – I have “some” idea –

When I started learning about organizational improvement through lean operations I thought it was clear, practice common sense and don’t think that it is common.  While working here and learning the processes I’ve been muddled by daily routine and not my vision of lean.  This week I re-read a book where I began my journey, “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and realized that I’ve been going about my goal in the exact opposite way than what is illustrated in his novel.

I read the book and subsequent others and thought I had a basic knowledge of lean, how efficiencies are bad and the norms for accounting are not accurate.  The novel I reference talks about robots and how the plant manager thinks the robots gave them an increase in production.  No spoiler here but…..

I’ve been thinking about “robots” and now after reading the novel again understand that my approach is simply adding technology to a problem that is dragging the corporation under water.

Technology is NEVER the answer, simply a tool that can benefit or demise your efforts.

I’ve been working to develop an infrastructure that supports an information technology effort where work is automated when it is repetitive.  I have been thinking that the people here do the same thing day after day and the environment is growing, so automation is the key.  Sounds semi-logical but if I introduce automation I will definitely improve efficiencies and then what?  I will create bottle necks and do the exact opposite of lean production.

I believe now what I have to do is understand the steps, the value stream and where progress towards our “goal” is stifled.


Value Stream Mapping through Immersion –

The Army organization to which I belong offers daily complex and dynamic problems, and I cannot lie they lead me to firefighting and heroics more than it does to team building and lean operations.  This is the exact stigma and bureaucratic chasm that I intend to alter and banish.

Let me try to help you visualize my gemba, the steps that will lead me to lean.

I was in an office with six other individuals and we were outside of the operations floor, the place where value is created and delivered.  My predecessor sat in my seat so naturally I put my belongings and self in his habitat to absorb his presence, perspective and duties.  I believe this is human nature when you replace someone or something and immediately fall in-line with the past.  I will spare you the details but fast-forward to present day and let me tell you I’ve never felt so disconnected with what is going on around me than I did sitting in that office.

Brash decisions often reflect your instinct and mine was telling me I needed to be in the middle of the value creation and delivery.  I moved my desk out of the office and created a space where everyone can see me and I can see them.  My first day of sitting on the operations floor was multifaceted awkward, I looked out among everyone doing their part and caught the eye of a few.  We exchanged glances then theirs hurried back to their keyboard with what I’m sure was nothing but confusion.  “Why is he sitting out here, what did we do wrong?”

After the newness wore off people got used to me being in their domain and started to approach me, sometimes more than I expected.  I welcome this exchange with open arms because this is the exact message I want to send, that I am here and you can come talk to me.  I am in a leadership position so this is what makes the move so monumental and significant.

What has transpired is what I believe is more trust, of course transparency, support and possibly hope?  As I sit in the middle of what makes our organization exist I believe heroics will settle and I can focus on how to eliminate muda and deliver the expeditious, exceptional and predictable service our customers ultimately deserve.

Put yourself out there and see what happens.

Continuing to build the team –

This week was focused on delivering the message of lean and improving our processes at work.  I had the opportunity to talk to two different groups.  The first was our internal staff and senior personnel.  I brought everyone into the conference room and discussed what lean meant to me and how I need their support in order to improve our organization.  I made sure to stress that this is only a team effort, it is an all or nothing scenario.  We can’t sort of improve, we have to have buy in and go head first.  With lean and improving how we improve our value delivery I was able to incorporate DevOps a little more.  I talked about focusing on our individual processes, finding the constraints and removing the waste.  This lead into talking about automation.  We have begun experimenting with automation software to see how we can leverage our already virtualized infrastructure.  (More on this later).

The second group was actually our Commanding General and more of our internal staff.  The General spent two hours with our group and literally sat at our conference table and said, “What do you want to talk about?”  I had his undivided attention for about 30 minutes while I highlighted the one major constraint we have which is the divide in our workforce.  I ask for his assistance in removing that barrier because until it is gone we will never have a true team.  We need everyone participating in our lean effort.  I also had the chance to talk about our DevOps and how we can shorten lead time to product delivery to accommodate the direction the United States Army says they want to go.  Being a Commander I know he understands our message and supports our effort to deliver the best capability to the Soldiers that rely on the service we provide.  At the end of the discussion I feel he was very receptive and supportive, I am grateful we had the chance to talk lean and DevOps with our Senior Officer in the organization.

Now from the most junior to the most senior have heard our message.  The momentum is exhilarating!

Defining DevOps –

I’m going to start this long overdue post by saying I lost my way for a while.  I came upon some hurdles at work that derailed (in my mind only) the effort I was pursuing to learn, teach and practice lean.  There are still hurdles in place but as much as I despise status quo I’ve decided to buckle down once again and hopefully influence a movement and change the things I can.

So what am I talking about exactly?  In my organization there is a very clear divide in how processes are completed in order to provide value to our customers.  I tried to dissolve this divide to no avail but recently found my spark and motivation.  I have a team at work that is as desperate, eager and willing to learn and implement lean as I so I will focus my energy with them.  We collectively decided to re-map our value stream and implement kaizen in order to identify our muda and constraints.

The beginning of me finding my motivation again came through an implementation of a training program that is geared for new people and ones that want additional training.  This program is a six week plan with as much hands on practice as we can apply, and of course some theoretical discussions and didactic.  During this course I taught for two weeks, during the whole time I discussed lean and connected the dots on how lean can improve their environment and how it will help them do their job better, thus increasing our capability to provide value to customers.  The entire time I maintained the lean theme so this will become an involuntary thought while they are working.  I started with the new people, I instilled a sense of pride that what we do as an organization is just as reliant on each and every one of them and their individual duties as it is to the leadership and their duties.  I made sure they know that they are responsible for removing waste and helping strive for perfection.  I believe they understand and are willing to join the lean team.  I emphasized that lean is only achievable if everyone is on board, that there is no lean department or lean leader.

I believe this is how we collectively define DevOps, being diligent students of lean principles and delivering the best value to our customer through kaizen.  Our operations are going to become lean and always chase the constraints, while our development will lean the processes required to deliver.

This is a long journey but we cannot get there without taking the steps.  There is no moving sidewalk where I work.

Azimuth Check – Am I still going the right direction?

Change has taken hold in the form of responsibility and recognizing roles that are necessary for forward progression, ultimately lean principles.  I came into my organization as we all do, the new guy or gal.  The outside person that doesn’t know how things are done here.  But if you are the new person with lean vision it is a blessing in disguise for those opposed to your unproven acceptance.  This was a little more than I anticipated, bringing emotions and attitudes to a boil perhaps at the necessary time, but also should it have been necessary at all?

My last post was about the covert operations taking place and the isolated silos of effort that were leading us to nowhere, definitely not success.  I personally started to withdraw from rejection and ignorance and just a lack of persistence in the face of oblivion.  But one senior leader faced me and challenged me to draw on these perceptions and emotions and provide candid feedback.  This opportunity proved to be more rewarding than I could have imagined.  The one drawing me in to this match showed immense maturity and foresight in building solid teams.  We discussed the problems that were both real and one-sided and came out a much better team, one with mutual understanding and acceptance.

During this tumultuous event I reached out to my friend and mentor, Nick.  He always has great advice and insight and had me read a short story about toxic culture and reality by Russ White.  The theme in this article is about recognizing what you can truly influence, in spite of the influence you think you command.  Mr. White also talks about looking at small incremental influences, if you can talk to even one person and make positive change then it is a success.  Basically some things will always be out of your control and others you can chip away at if you have the persistence to continue in the advancement of lean and positive change.

What both of these events did for me was help me realize that I need to be forthright and candid with those around, and also accept what I can and cannot change.  Exactly what the Serenity Prayer outlines.

I feel like I’m on the right path and have the right level of support in my challenge and endeavor to learn lean and practice in my organization.  There will surely be more challenges that appear to derail any lean principle but also revelation that there are those willing to listen and also lean right next to you. 



White, R. (2017). Toxic Cultures and Reality. Retrieved October 22, 2018 from:

Swimming with cinder blocks around your legs.

A few posts back I hastily wrote about demolishing the silo walls that prohibited others from adding their value and seeing what everyone is doing.  I took steps to start this progress but it has quickly been pulled back and built even higher than before.  This blog is about lean and trying to learn and implement in the United States Army.  However I am learning that all the reading I’ve been doing doesn’t discuss the organizational norms and challenges that can derail lean progress.  Most lean books talk about challenges in defining VSM, getting buy-in, creating flow, removing muda and striving for perfection.  One thing sorely lacking is the story of the change agent trying desperately to implement lean for the betterment of the organization, team and customer while constantly being backstabbed, derailed, left-out, hijacked and simply ignored.  This is my story

Walking the gemba is the prime tool for defining value and identifying muda, and it also shows the lean thinker the personalities and roles that they will encounter along their journey.  So far I’ve encountered mostly highly skilled professionals, thus the reasoning for breaking silos and establishing collaboration to involve everyone in defining and creating value.  With this comes the personalities, I’ve withheld these observations from my writing because I didn’t want to portray my subjective view.  In the organization (definitely not a team) we have a lot of silos with some of the following characteristics.  We have superman, the wicked witch, characters from the Mean Girls (lots of gossip and whispers when you walk by), Hulk and without popular culture identity we have people that have no vision, local optima superstars, legacy minded anti-change saboteurs and an overall theme of self-gratification and personal highlights.

What a mouth full, isn’t it?  I put that there because daily I learn lean and work to implement but equally I am pushed to the side like a lunatic that doesn’t understand the way things are here.  Secret meetings, blatant lying, cloaked discussions to pollute and plain avoidance are all I’ve learned from everyone that could help in making positive change.  In a room full of leaders I proposed these changes about two months ago, with some grumbling but I did have the senior leaders in the local organization to at least publicly agree it is a necessary change and offer their support.  Fast forward two months, no progress and I publicly bring the idea to the spotlight in front of the same audience and they acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about and we need to begin these discussions.  Absolute lip service

Then secret meetings are held to discuss their agenda and their vision of change without any awareness on my part.  To be honest this is some serious gut check right now.  Learning lean and trying to implement is difficult but being stifled by those that should support you is even more demoralizing.  I obviously can’t resign or change jobs so I am stuck in this position.  A chance that could be exciting and very rewarding but there are serious challenges that make me feel like I’m scaling Mt. Everest with no Sherpas.  Or like I’m doing laps in a pool with 25 pound cinder blocks tied to each leg.  Nonetheless there is no support to change the incredible toxic and broken environment that I unfortunately find myself a part.

I leave you with a story from Eddie Obeng that he delivered with his TED talk “Smart failure for a fast-changing world.”  Enjoy

“An experimenter puts 5 monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.

The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all 5 sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.”

Does Lean have the potential to do harm?

We are all students, the final element of lean is to achieve perfection.  As my middle child always says, “there is no such thing as perfect.”  The point of perfection is to continually practice kaizen and always improve the way we deliver whatever it is we deliver to our customer.  This has been the premise of my journey, map the value stream and eliminate muda and chase perfection.

When you encounter a place with local optima so prevalent that everything is unraveling and falling apart but nobody wants to do anything about it you know there is plenty of room for lean.  I’ve been observing through my gemba and discussions with everyone that works here.  There are many different areas to focus lean and I’ve been focusing on many areas at once.  Delivering the product to our customer is my main priority.  In doing this I’ve revealed a devastating effect we caused ourselves, allowing a strict silo of work to keep others from contributing their expertise to the value production.

I’ve been pushing, and will continue to push to break down the silo and allow everyone to participate in the value creation (see last week’s post about demolition).  This effort is becoming more formalized with leadership getting involved and giving their input and buy-in.  A large discussion occurred this week to get a smart way ahead to break down the silos and integrate everyone in doing the jobs that create the products our customers need.  This is a good news bad news story because this meeting was very fruitful and gave us a clear way ahead, one that will phase in the personnel and ultimately get us to our goal.  The bad news…

The personnel currently in the silo have a metric applied to their work to quantify what they do, how much work they do and how well they do it.  The big concern right now is if we break their silo and allow others to do what they do then their quantity of what they do decreases because more people are doing the work and therefore scrutiny will ensue as to why they actually are required.  Basically, everyone is scared I’m trying to eliminate their jobs.

Of course I don’t want any job to go away, I never would be ok with taking away someone’s livelihood and capability to support their family.  I want everyone contributing to the value that we provide and make our organization a smooth operating machine that can function when work is predictable and variable.  But this got me thinking about my journey, in the world in which I live there are certain functions outside my influence and control.  If we hire people based on metrics that say “how much work you do depends on if we keep you” and I lower the amount of work they do, they could ultimately be let go.

Now I have so many areas to focus lean and process improvement which leads to value creation, but I have to do this all with the real measure of what is important – OUR PEOPLE.  I think my true goal is improving the organization to create better value to customers while never letting anyone go from the staff.