How to SimplyLook ™

Dan Helps to Make Work Better
The Second in a two part post. The first explains why, this one how.

Part of my job as a Chef was to stand at the front of the kitchen near the doors to the dining room during a banquet and inspect the plates as they left the kitchen. The waiters would line up with their trays after picking up the plates, pass by where I was standing, on an elevated platform to be able to see the plates go buy. 

I had been taught a few tricks to relax, and from the Gurdjieff work, that in the most vivid moments of our lives we say "it took our breath away." One technique to see things as if for the first time was to hold your breath for a short period of time, to change gears as it were. I will share the technique below. It works.

If they passed my inspection the plates would be covered with silver domes to keep them warm and then quickly delivered to the diners.

Some of the banquets were 100's of people. On weekends, we would regularly have a few banquets adding up to an average of 200 to 250 people served, sometimes as much as 1000.

No one taught you what to do, and some people were better at seeing than others. But in addition to being a Chef at that time, I was also interested in meditation, and things mystical, as were many of my generation.

Relaxed, with a quiet mind, I applied another technique I had learned to help overcome habitual thinking, using a wide focus instead of focusing in. I don't know why, but as long as I tried not to look at each dish, but at the whole field of vision, I would more easily see the plates that were missing a garnish, or the edges weren't cleaned, etc.

It was is as if by taking in the whole visual, and not thinking, some faster, smarter part of my mind would jump in and show me the way. It is not all that different than when an athlete enters the "zone."​

Dan's Head Dan Strongin
From Personal Experience

No spreadsheet ever designed, built or sold a product or delivered a service, so why do we turn so religiously to them to find and solve problems? Some of the time spent in the office pouring over them, is better spent on the workfloor observing what really is going on, talking with the people who do the work. 

Observing before making a theory, is what good scientists do, and you are more likely to see what is really going on. Things will surface while you are watching, and you can see them in the moment, as they happen. By the time it shows up in a spreadsheet it is often too late to do anything about it. 

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.

Portrait of John Le Carré
John Le Carré
Photo of Mr. Carré By Krimidoedel (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons​

So, what to do if you place too much weight on what you think you know? Since, the best of us are right only about how much, half the time, (of course, in your case, a little more, this is where humility kicks in, and SimplyLooking™.

How do you DO SimplyLooking™?​

man meditating

Step 1

Quiet your Mind 

Step 2


Step 3

Ask Yourself...

How do I Quiet My Mind in the Middle of Work?

How do I Observe?

So What Questions Should I Ask?

The Ten Wastes to Ask Yourself About When Doing SimplyLooking™: Do You See...?

  • Producing ahead of demand
  • Waiting for the next or the previous step in the process
  • Too much Inventory, both in process and finished goods
  • Unnecessary transport, as in having to move or carry things too far
  • Overworking due to poor equipment or design
  • Unnecessary movement and time spent looking for things
  • Rework caused by not doing it right the first time
  • Too Much Complexity
  • Too Much Bureaucracy
  • Underutilizing people's natural abilities, as in using them as if they were automatons with only arms and legs, rather than fully developed people with brains and abilities.

Master Your Simply Looking

Coming Soon, and places are filling fast! Don't miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity! Take the 5 day SimplyLooking Challenge for only $99. Once released the price will be $249! Learn directly from Dan to master the skill of seeing for yourself how to make things better, step by step, over 5 consecutive days. Put yourself on the waiting list now to reserve the special price. You will be notified when the challenge begins! Successfully complete the challenge and get a certificate.

Some REAL life examples

From my book REAL....

Victory on the Gallon Line—and Beyond

The subject of speeding up the line, which the managers favored, was brought up. Logically, if you want more production, you speed up the line, right?

The team’s observations of the work floor led to a wholly different conclusion. Simplylooking™, the team noticed a bottleneck where one employee appeared to be working frantically. Why? They asked. She explained she was trying to keep up with the filling machine, catching the spillovers to put them back into the jar. Seeing with “new” eyes and no preconceptions, they noticed sliced pickles everywhere: in the machine, on the machine, and around it.

The consultant asked them to think about pacing and flow, what is called Takt time,—that is, optimizing the overall speed of the system, as opposed to just its parts. It became obvious that management’s proposed solution—to speed up—would only make matters worse. This led to the idea of slowing down the conveyor and filling machine so the employee catching the overflow could keep up.

In keeping with the PDSA cycle, a process behavior chart was prepared. What is a process behavior chart (Xmr chart)? It is a simple, reliable tool to know when and whether to react to variation and to better predict outcomes when processes are stable. It represents the voice of the process, it’s capability, letting you know the limits of natural variation. It can stop you from mucking things up by overreacting.

The chart showed the system was “stable,” but out of specification. The Voice of the Process, the variation built in by how the process was designed, did not match the Voice of the Customer, what the customer wanted and needed, their specifications.

Since it was stable, producing predictable outcomes, the only way to improve the outcome was to improve the system. Tweaking and reacting would only make things worse.

A test was done of matching the speed of the rest of the machinery to the worker filling the jars. With the slower pace, not only were willing workers able to fill the jars more accurately, with less product wasted, they eliminated the need to stop every few hours to unjam pickle or pepper clogged equipment. Counterintuitively, by slowing things down, the rate of output increased, along with accuracy of fill.

The company eliminated $130,000 a year in hidden losses by eliminating an more than one pound of overfill per jar, on average, freeing up 240 staff-hours per week for other work; huge savings that will keep on giving for an investment of less than an hour of work.

Process behavior charts are easy to do when one knows how. They were done again to test whether the solution was stable. The result: the company now gets 12.2 cases from each 100 kilograms of product processed, versus only 10.57 cases before.

The results were so dramatic that the owner lost any fears he may have had about having to spend more money to improve. He had saved over a hundred thousand dollars in less than an hour of management time. Real management had given them real knowledge.⁠ Managing from knowledge was to be the way to go!

At all levels of the company, people came to understand the fundamental principle that someone from every function touched by a process needs to have a voice in discussions to improve that process.

Barriers between management, supervisors and willing workers that had been in place since the beginning began to break down. The owner realized through direct experience the value of investing in the process of improvement, and the employees clearly saw that improving operations would not cost them their jobs. Quite the opposite, it would make their jobs more rewarding.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The SimplyLooking™ technique helped in studying the office and forklift use, as well. A manager and some workers, with a clear mind and no preconceptions, drew a fast simple layout of the office on paper, then traced where people went, for 20 minutes. A big black blotch appeared on everyone’s drawings, in front of the combination scanner and printer. All of these black lines converged where people stood waiting their turn to use the scanner/copier/printer. The need for stand alone scanner, copier and a faster printer was made obvious.

They drew, then looked at what you drew, and found the traffic jam and asked, “why?” They analyzed and added up that four hours per week of paid time was spent for each office worker to use the scanner was spent in waiting, accomplishing nothing. Collectively it added up.

Hours p Week Employees Total p Week Total Per Year
4 6 24 1248

More than the cost of a half time employee year-round, wasted on waiting. In addition, they found four boxes of equipment that had not been used in over a year: so long they no longer noticed in the flow of daily work and were just sitting there taking up space. Uncovered and brought to the surface once they spent time with a clear mind, SimplyLooking™. The equipment was stored or sold.

Based on an analysis of the overall traffic patterns, the office was redesigned to increase flow. The walls of the manager’s office and the cubicles were removed creating an open office, breaking down physical and mental barriers between workers.

The Forklifts

The third team observed the forklifts for 30 minutes at the height of the day, creating a traffic flow chart for the whole plant. People positioned themselves at key locations, observing and drawing maps. Big visible numbers were taped to the forklifts so the numbers could easily be seen and noted on the charts. Afterwards, a timeline was created for each forklift to help turn the data into usable information.

After digesting, employees saw clearly how to optimize the use of the equipment, eliminating over $10,000 a year in maintenance costs. They were able to create a better flow.

All these changes, just in the first day of practical application, illustrating the power of managing by knowledge, not results!

Symbolic Acts Matter!

The next day, I sent out the same teams to simpylook™ for the most common faults in working systems. The owner had devised a system of loading pickles and peppers into fiberglass tanks about 20 feet long and 8 feet wide. They were loaded with their brine. The tanks were forklifted onto a flatbed then pulled by tractor across the length of the yard to the side of the processing building. Employees would then put on waders, climb into the tanks, and fill the conveyor that led to the slicing machine using what looks a bit like a butterfly net.

It was a hot day, close to 98 degrees. I encouraged the owner to put on waders and jump into one of the tanks to experience first-hand the work he was asking the employees to do. Though well into his sixties, he suited up in the rubber waders, carefully climbed into the brine filled tanks and pitched pickles. Standing there, dressed in wet, hot waders, scorching in the sun, with the scent of salt and acid biting at his lungs, the owner got the full impact of what he had been asking his workers to do every day.



By the next day, the tanks were mothballed. They were replaced with smaller steel bins that were designed to be lifted and poured by machine.

Two years later, when I asked the plant’s operations manager what was the moment when he realized the owner was serious about change, he recalled when the owner climbed into the tanks. He had put his money where his mouth is.

That day was a revelation for the willing workers too. For the first time in their life, they had witnessed an owner doing their work. If that was not enough, he acknowledged his mistake, apologized for what he had put them through, and ditched the system for a better one, on the spot.

Unleash the Willing Workers!

Visibly moved by the owners symbolic act in the pickle tanks, the willing workers began to organize their work areas using a guideline called 5S. An important battle had been won. The plant began a slow deliberate process of transforming. From blaming others and covering tracks, to problems actively uncovered rather than hidden; a place where pride of workmanship could flourish

For example, working in teams and simplylooking™, management and supervisors found excess in process peppers; cured with a simple Kanban, a visual cue to initiate a process. They replaced the old system of forklifts making the rounds all day, every day, trying to deliver enough goods to ensure no one ran out, with a red or a green milk carton attached to a thin rope and over a pipe on the ceiling of the loading dock, in plain view of the brine yard. When an operator sees he is down to only a few minutes’ worth of supply, he raises the red or the green, depending on the color of peppers needed. When the brine-yard workers notice, they load up on the right color peppers and deliver them.

This simple solution eliminated wear and tear on the forklifts, saving even more money in maintenance costs. There is far less loss of product in transit, and far less degradation of the product no longer held in less than ideal conditions, waiting to be processed. The less a product is handled, the better.

Eventually it was replaced with a walkie talkie when changes to the layout of the plant blocked the view.

Each win led the plant to think of new ones, creating a sense of control over their lives, enriching their work, building pride, improving production and its quality, joy in work and considerably enhancing the bottom line.

Master Your Simply Looking

Coming Soon, and places are filling fast! Don't miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity! Take the 5 day SimplyLooking Challenge for only $99. Once released the price will be $249! Learn directly from Dan to master the skill of seeing for yourself how to make things better, step by step, over 5 consecutive days. Put yourself on the waiting list now to reserve the special price. You will be notified when the challenge begins! Successfully complete the challenge and get a certificate.

About the Author

Dan Strongin works with medium to small companies, helping them master the art and science of managing.

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