Inspiration & AdviceWhat the BLEEP is Lean? Highlights from our June PubTalk

Post contributed by Clifton Chestnut

Entrepreneurs are wired to create value when resources are thin. At our June PubTalk, a panel of local business owners explained how thinking around this concept – popularly known as “lean” – has helped them build stronger companies.

Moderator Kjell van Zoen, a lean business consultant who adopted the method while running Portland-based maker business Plywerk, offered an introduction to lean. In simple terms, lean pushes companies to figure out what adds value by subtracting the things that don’t. The concept has its origins in auto manufacturing, where companies are always striving to add value by highlighting inefficiencies and eliminating waste.

Small batches, continuous improvement and attention to details of every process characterize the concept. “Let’s figure out a way to make your product much faster, so that we can make it on demand as needed,” Kjell told attendees. “By trying to push for that, you’re exposing waste.”

June 2016 PubTalk on Lean - Highlights
Photos by Justin Chi. See more photos from evening on Facebook.

Some highlights from the panel:

Components shop simplifies tools

Alvin Elbert, president of precision components maker A.R.E. Manufacturing, Inc., has used lean since 2005. Parts production is a repetitive process by nature. Alvin said the company was able to use lean to set up machines more efficiently by applying a numbering system to the tools that crank out the 1,000 parts the company makes each year. As an added benefit, teams have been able to learn equipment more quickly. While that previously took about four years, “now it takes us less than a year,” Alvin said. “We made it paint by numbers.”

New ground for sustainable farming

Yesenia Gallardo, co-founder of Poda Foods, said lean has helped her company refine its systems for raising and processing crickets into protein powder for food entrepreneurs and restaurants. The concept has truly helped her company become lean by focusing on small, manageable batches that fit the company’s labor and equipment needs. “Every single minute becomes a bottom-line issue,” Yesenia said. “I truly believe lean is a competitive advantage.”

Data-driven methodology

John Grant, founder of the Agile Attorney Network, has used tools including Agile, Lean and Design Thinking to help lawyers improve their work flows. When applied correctly, lean helps companies better understand their service levels and more accurately pinpoint delivery of products and services. “It’s a data-driven methodology. It’s scientific at its core,” John said. “You have a hypothesis. You test that hypothesis, in small batches to get to the minimal viable product. Then you make continuous improvements.”

“Lean saved our company”

Ken Tomita, co-founder of wood accessories maker Grovemade, has been using lean for about seven years and pointed to inefficiencies and a dip in morale as motivation to test the method. The vertically integrated company has used lean thinking to more effectively deal with spikes in orders, forecast for inventory and more efficiently deploy teams to meet needs in real-time, according to Ken. In earlier times, “you ended up with a lot of unhappy workers,” Ken said. “Fast-forward to now. There’s no stacks of things lying around. Generally speaking, people are a lot happier.”

A selected list of lean terms


  • Value added work: only what the customer is willing to pay for
  • Single-piece flow: one piece at a time


  • Kaizen: continuous incremental improvements
  • No blame – only opportunity


  • Kanban: inventory control sans headache
  • Rework tracking: the gauge of your quality

Want more insight into lean? Listen to this podcast from This American Life about a car plant in California that implemented the lean process.

About the author:

Clifton ChestnutClifton Chestnut is a bilingual professional with 18 years of experience in journalism, startup management and strategic communications. He previously worked as a journalist at The Oregonian and as an entrepreneur in Spain before joining the strategic communications firm 30 Point Strategies. Clifton is based in Portland.

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