A lean Christmas tale
FICTION – The pandemic is throwing curveballs to us all, including a certain bearded gentleman who lives in the North Pole – until a magic “time-bending” solution is presented to him, that is.
Words: Sharon Visser, lean author and CEO of Lean Institute Botswana
The “Christmas children’s smile” meter was showing sad faces, an alert. It felt like the sound of thousands of children crying filled the mailroom, the toy workshop, the packaging and delivery areas.
A meeting was called, and Beanie the counting elf walked in with his giant abacus to carry over the bad news to Santa himself.
According to his numbers, it would be impossible to make all the scheduled deliveries would. That just not enough time this year.
“Why is this year any different?” Santa asked. Beanie explained that due to Covid-19 restrictions, more families were staying at home over Christmas instead of going to visit and stay with extended family or friends. This had caused a 20 percent increase in the number of deliveries.
Santa organized an emergency meeting with Father Time, who every year – in the spirit of peace and joy and goodwill to all men – allows time to stop over every degree of latitude while presents are delivered for a whole 24 hours.
Father Time and Santa sat in the great hall discussing the problem they had to solve. Father Time explained to Santa that, to stop time, he had gathered 24 hours of time over the previous 365 days. He then added that extra time to Christmas Eve to make sure every child in the world could find presents under the tree.
Santa looked down and said: “I am afraid that is not going to be enough this year. There are just too many deliveries!”
But then Santa had an idea. He told Father Time about his delivery flights over recent years and how he remembered dropping off presents for the children of the Time Benders. Father Time nodded his head. He was aware of the increased presence of Time Benders among humans. He mentioned that, in fact, they have appeared to help their fellow man during times of crisis, since the 1400s in Venice. In those days, the city’s arsenal was a giant industrial complex where ships were built to support Venice’s commercial ambitions. Thousands of people worked there, following a clever system of flow production that ensured great efficiency and yield. More recently, the Time Benders had helped with lots of other activities, from the production of cars and other goods to the swift preparation and serving of dishes in restaurants or the provision of care to hospital patients (not least during the pandemic).
Eager to find a solution to the delivery predicament, Father Time and Santa decided to reach out to the Time Benders from the LGN – in the real, modern world, they call themselves the Lean Global Network (“time benders” is often not taken seriously). Perhaps, Santa thought, they could help make the most of those 24 hours Father Time had kindly set aside.
So, the elves sent a special envoy to each land to seek help in bending time. Within a couple of days, a large group of volunteer time benders converged on the North Pole, representing each continent in the world.
This was a top-secret mission, of course, so I am not allowed to mention their names as they now know how Santa delivers presents every year – a secret that evil forces could do a great deal of damage with if it was entrusted to them.
The Time Benders gathered in the great hall of the Toyshop, where all planning was done. Santa, Father Time and the elves looked very serious.
The leader of the Time Benders, who wore a cap and sported a white beard (albeit much shorter than Santa’s), asked Santa: “What problem are we here to solve?”
Santa and Father Time told the Time Benders that they didn’t have enough time to deliver presents to all the children, as currently they only had the capacity to deliver to 80% of the world. “Covid has changed people’s thinking and behaviors, you see, making large family gatherings a thing of the past. People are no longer spending time at Christmas with extended family, giving us more houses to deliver to,” Santa explained.
The Master Time Bender discussed the problem with the team, and asked for some sticky notes, markers, and brown paper. Santa and Father Time looked at each other, wondering what kind of magic could be done with sticky notes and markers.
The Master Time Bender then asked that his team be shown the delivery process. As they observed and gathered information on the process, the Time Benders drew maps and made symbols on paper. They then went back to the sticky notes.
They inspected the sleigh and the reindeer. They checked the harnesses and asked if more sleighs could be made available. The elves went into the storeroom to pull out all the old sleighs of the centuries.
They spoke to the loading elves and to Rudolph, Dasher, Prancer, Dancer, Vixen, Cupid, Comet, Dunder and Blitzen, the reindeer responsible for pulling the sleigh.
During their research, the reindeer mentioned that the loading of the sleigh was taking too long and that they had to spend a great deal of energy holding the sleigh down during loading.
The elves said that the loading of the big batches of gifts was difficult while the reindeer were in harness as when they were full of magic-potion they were very strong and restless. They kept lifting the sleigh up and down and moving it around.
After looking at the work and measuring, the Time Benders and a handful of elf team leaders went to Santa and said that they had a possible plan that would make up the time needed: instead of waiting for the sleigh to come back to load, they would suggest that three sleighs be used and that the harnesses for the reindeer be adjusted to an easy clip-on system.
The first and second sleighs were loaded and the first one was pushed onto the flight bay, the reindeer were attached to it and sent on their flight. The moment there was a space, the second sleigh was pushed into the gap while the third sleigh was being loaded. When the reindeer got back, they were clipped onto the second sleigh, rotating the loaded sleighs until all the deliveries were made.
Santa looked doubtful, but Father Time supported the change as he knew more about time than anyone else in the world.
So, they did a practice run of presents (if you got an early Christmas present, you might have been part of the experiment).
The elves had to practice some of their loading skills and adjust some of their equipment. The harnesses needed oiling for easy clipping. After three tries, the team saw that there was an improvement. The happiness meter in the workshop started to show smiley faces again, just like those of children opening their presents. This was a good indication that they had made up the time so every child in the world could get a present.
“Mission accomplished!” the Master Time Bender exclaimed. With that, he and his team of Time Benders left. And this is story of how Lean Thinking saved Christmas.
Want to get yourself a Christmas gift? Get Sharon's new book Lean Houses for Dragons, the account of an extraordinary lean transformation in a remote part of Africa.
The e-book can be purchased here.