The Lean Builder



It’s hard to say who has taken the “a la carte” mentality to the most absurd level, the airlines or the rental car companies. Pay for food, pay for sodas, pay for bags, and one of the discount airlines is now charging for both checked bags and overhead storage.  This is beyond the pale. If you show up at the gate with your briefcase or backpack and a roll-a-board, you are paying $45 to take it on with you, but “only” $40 if you check it. Add that $80 - $90 round trip to the cheaper fare and the deal becomes no deal.

I just finished a day in Australia, working with suppliers and trades in one-hour Lean meetings. Guess what? If not for the accent, local terminology, and slang, you’d never know the Aussies from the 60 U.S. and Canadian homebuilders and their more than 1,500 suppliers and trades my team has worked with over the past four years. Their issues are the same: schedules, coordinating deliveries, sequencing trades, communication, PO processing, plans, specifications, etc. And virtually everything, just like back home, is eminently fixable given some good process and the will to change.

For more than 20 years, I have traveled the U.S. and Canada almost weekly. One-hundred nights or more in hotel rooms is not so much fun, but meeting the people and learning about the myriad of methods used to both build homes and manage companies is a continual challenge that more than compensates. Helping these same people become more profitable has paid the bills and put four kids through college, and I’ve made more friends in more places than anyone I know. (This became more important than I ever could have imagined when I need a new kidney awhile back.

Hoping for something provocative to read on a long trip, I picked up a book of short essays by Kurt Vonnegut. I have always felt an unwarranted kinship to him simply because I recall going to Vonnegut Hardware in Indianapolis as a kid with my dad, where Kurt worked summers growing up.

In his controversial novels of the ’70s and ’80s, Vonnegut had a talent for penetrating to the heart of an issue in irreverent ways — so poignant that you feel like laughing and crying at the same time. He is the closest thing to Mark Twain since, well, Mark Twain.

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