Planet Lean: The Official online magazine of the Lean Global Network
Operation Sunflower: saving Christmas

Operation Sunflower: saving Christmas

Sharon Visser
December 16, 2022

FICTION – Santa is struggling to locate the many children who are hiding from war to deliver them gifts, until the lean Time Benders come to the rescue and help him understand the problem.

Words: Sharon Visser

It was Friday at the North Pole, the big day when Santa goes through the operation plans for Christmas to make sure the right gifts are delivered to the right child on time every time.

The CDE (Chief Department Elf) of Production reported that the team was struggling to keep up with demand this year, as the gift list kept changing and children were submitting requests for very different items than they usually did. The Special Production department was now out of balance. What’s more, there were more and more children asking for miracles than there had been for many years.

The CDE of Child Location and Transport reported that he was having problems locating a higher-than-usual number of children, as they were constantly on the move.

Santa thought for a bit and then said, “I think that this problem will require some human help. Send invites to the Time Benders at the Lean Global Network and tell them that there is a problem to solve, and that Rudolf and the team will be stopping by to pick them up for our next Friday meet-up.”

The CDE of the North Pole Postal Services sent out the invitations using the magic express service. They were marked “Top secret” and disappeared the moment the receiver finished reading them.

Since this is a top-secret mission, I am not allowed to disclose the names of the recipients. They know how Santa delivers presents every year, a secret that evil forces could do a great deal of damage with if they ever found out.

When Friday came, the Time Benders gathered in the great hall of the Toyshop, where all the planning was done. Santa and the elves looked very serious.

One of the senior Time Benders rubbed his beard and asked Santa, “What problem are we trying to solve?” After Santa told him about the twofold problem, he said the team would need to draw a value stream map once again. He then asked for brown paper, pens, and sticky notes.

The Time Benders asked the elves why there was such a difference between last year and this year. The CDE of Child Location and Transport said that Ukraine has always been something of a special case (Santa – or Saint Nicholas, as people call him there – delivers presents to many Ukrainian children on December 19th), but that this year, due to the war, an extra 4.3 million of the world’s children had become displaced. “Around 1.8 million were moved to safety in other countries, with the rest bring brought to safe houses all over Ukraine. With such a volatile safety situation in the country, parents had to keep moving them,” the CDE explained.

The CDE of Production said that, because of the war and the unthinkable predicament their families were thrown in, Ukrainian children were no longer asking for toys. Instead, they asked for warm coats, boots, hot meals, and a safe warm bed. “These needs continue to change,” the CDE said, “which means that will only really know what they will need at the very last minute.” Besides, this kind of gifts didn’t really fall under the responsibility of the Gift Production Center.

The Time Benders discussed the situation and decided to call on their friend, the Ayethree spirit, to help. Within seconds, he was there, leading the conversation. This time he looked very serious: children were involved, the very hope of our world.

First, he asked his usual opening question: “What problem are we trying to solve?”

“The supply of the right gift to the right child on time every time,” said two CDEs in unison. They knew the gist, as this wasn’t the first time they dealt with the Time Benders.

Ayethree then helped the team flesh out their Ideal Situation: that each and every child of the world that celebrates Christmas gets the gift they asked Santa for on time.

The team then described their Current Situation in detail. For brevity’s sake, I will give it to you in a nutshell: current processes were coping with demand, but war-torn Ukraine was the exception. The team was struggling to figure out the right gift for Ukrainian children due to their changing needs and to sketch out a delivery plan, because they kept changing locations.

“What’s our Gap then? How do we get from Current to Ideal?”, asked Ayethree.

“We must track and locate every displaced child in Ukraine and handle their Christmas request to Santa,” said the CDE of Child Location and Transport.

The Time Benders and Santa looked at Ayethree as he wrote up the problem to solve.

Santa looked pensive. He said, more brusquely than you’d expect from a jolly old man like him, that he and his elves run a Toy Factory. “When children are looking for things like warm clothes and footwear and shelter, we have got to rely on the good hearts of humans,” he explained.

One of the Time Benders grunted and exclaimed: “Humankind?! Lately, humankind has been behaving more human than kind.”

But Santa, who had seen the best in humankind, wasn’t worried. He smiled and said he’d to call in the Christmas angels to help this year. He then offered milk and cookies to everyone, as they waited for the angels to arrive.

When the angels showed up, they were quite a sight for the Time Benders. Together with the elves, they had the chief of the angels, Gabriel, sit down with Ayethree, who explained the twofold problem. “First, these children no longer have an address, so they need to be found. Secondly, Santa’s toy shop could not provide all the gifts and mankind has to assist,” he said.

One of the Time Benders mentioned that Santa would need to be able to quickly identify displaced Ukrainian children, no matter where they hide or shelter, even when they are in a building. “We need to be able to see them, wherever they are,” she said.

Gabriel said that he could help with that. His team of angels would place a magical glowing sunflower that would float over the heads of displaced Ukrainian children when they are outside and over on the roof of their temporary home when they are inside. Two of the angels even offered to travel with Santa on his sleigh to show him where each child was.

A junior elf asked: “A sunflower?”

One of the Time Benders, himself a Ukrainian, chimed in: “The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. Besides, since the beginning of the way it has become a symbol of peace, which people are planting to show their support for our country.”

Another Time Bender, eager to get on with the problem, then asked: “That solves one problem. But how will we motivate the hearts of men to open up and meet the physical needs of these children?”

Santa smiled again and said that this was where he could help. The moment people start to see the Christmas lights and hear the Christmas music, the spirit of Christmas will work its magic and start to tug on their hearts. This will convince them to put their human cares to one side and become kind. “It works every year,” Santa said nonchalantly.


Sharon Visser photo
Sharon Visser is a lean coach and author of Lean Houses for Dragons

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