A Different Kind of LEAN

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It’s funny how lessons learned in different stages of our lives can come back and be applied again under a different name.

I’m a motorcycle rider, I ride and enjoy all styles of street motorcycles from Harleys to sportbikes. In my late 20’s I decided that riding sportbikes on the street was just getting too dangerous, so I hung up my street gear and began Roadracing at the club level, go figure . When I mean Club Roadracing I am referring to motorcycle competition on professional race courses such as Sears Point, Willow Springs, Thunderhill, Miller Motorsports and so on. I raced all over the west coast in the AFM series, and made guest appearances in other organizations, including WERA National rounds in Florida and Utah. To throw humility out the window for a minute, I was pretty darn successful. I held the class lap records at a number of tracks, won more races telbow1hen I can remember, brought home a number of championships and earned top-10 plates 2 years in a row in the longest running Motorcycle Roadracing Club in the US. If all this sounds like gibberish, I will paraphrase. I was pretty damn good. Ok, humble mode back on.

If you are unfamiliar with club-level roadracing I will give you the nickel tour. The object is to race around a professional race course of 15-20 turns for 6-10 laps with 74 other idiots that are all competing for a plastic trophy and maybe a little contingency money. The slowest turns are maybe 30 MPH, and the straightaway speeds are in excess of 140 (middleweight bike class). You would drag your knees in every corner, trying not to crash while rubbing elbows with your competitors. Sometimes you did crash, and it hurt. All in all, this is about one of the most exciting (and dumb) things on the planet to do…. but not really.

This is where it gets strange.

If you ever go to the races, or happen to catch a race on TV you most likely think these guys are nuts, completely nuts. On the contrary, I found that in order to be successful and race at that level your actions on the track were really quite dull after a while. How can that be? Quite simply, everything a good top-running racer did on the track was calculated and consistent, I mean really consistent.  Sure you are going a bazillion miles an hour but the key is consistency. Here are a few numbers to ponder:  2 mile track, 15 turns to the left and right, which means 15 braking and acceleration points. Low speed turn is 30, top speed is 140, the track is essentially 3 lanes wide with elevation changes, blind corners and chicanes. The focus was not to go fast, but to be consistent. Lap times were in the 1:59 range, and a good set of 6 laps would only vary by about .2 of a second, from 1:59.6 to 1:59.8. Think about that! With all the variation of speeds, the track and the conditions, a good racer would stay on the same line, brake at the same point, accelerate at the same moment and rate, and turn at the same inch of track every lap; lap after lap to pull off that consistency.

The Key to success was to be ultra-consistent, therefore any adjustments could be measured for effectiveness. The focus was not to force quickness, that came as a byproduct of the process, measurement, adjust and evaluate loop.


Fast forward a couple years when I got old and wise enough to quit racing.  My career began to expand beyond engineering and product design and started interfacing more with Operations. When I participated in my first value stream event I was introduced to LEAN, and it just made sense. It wasn’t exactly like tearing down a straightaway with your hair on fire, but a lot of the same concepts were in play. Create and publish a process to standardize work. Measure that work with emphasis on consistency, resisting the urge to fix every problem every day. Once the flow is consistent, identify pint or waste points and make adjustments. Evaluate the outcome, then rinse and repeat. Just like my racing days, consistency is key. Even if you are doing the activity wrong, do it consistently wrong so it can be corrected systematically and sustainably.

Crashing happens from time to time, in life and in the workplace. Evaluate the failure and get back on the horse.

What do you think? A fair comparison? Let me know your thoughts.


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