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#29 Exploring Quantum Lean Thinking with Sean Fields and Michael Sanders

proudly Brought to you in association with SA Partners.


Welcome to episode 29 of the Enterprise Excellence Podcast. I am pleased to have with us today Sean Fields and Michael Sanders, co-authors of "Quantum Lean: Taking Lean Systems to the Next Level." They are a network member and the co-founder, respectively, of BeehiveFund. Quantum Lean offers a new approach to operational excellence, and I look forward to exploring this with Sean and Michael today.

Let's get into the episode.

Episode Summary

Sean Fields and Michael Sanders have developed a new, more simple way of achieving operational excellence using Lean. Sean and Michael have both spent many years studying operational excellence and applying it to production operations.

With quite different backgrounds, each found themselves in Western Texas. They worked together within a challenging culture that demanded proof and wanted answers to why they should agree to an improvement journey. Traditional Lean approaches to training and improvement didn't work effectively: they confused people and resulted in poor adoption.

For many years, Sean and Michael experimented to find a more simple approach to driving greater adoption rates and results for employees, customers, and the organisation. They looked at two main ideas. The first involved the fulfilment of the product. The second assumes that time applies to the product only—from when a customer places an order (the purchase order, known as a PO) through scheduling and production to delivery.

An example in Quantum Lean thinking: a worker takes ten minutes to find the relevant tools for the job. In usual Lean terms, the worker is committing motion and travel waste. In Quantum Lean, the product is spending ten minutes waiting for the available tools.

What does a product need, and what does it take to get it out of here?

They found that saving time for the product rather than traditional techniques that save time within the people shifted engagement and adoption rates. Front line employees do not feel threatened (by saving time themselves) and naturally accelerate the process. They know that the output of a quality product for customers is supreme for everyone. It is essential that this approach begins with the sales process and flows right through production to dispatch.

An analogy for using 'time' to remove waste: In World War Two, bombing raids occurred all over Germany, and one of the big targets was ball-bearing facilities. If you don't have ball bearings, you don't have aeroplanes, tanks, or radio. So, in Quantum Lean, time is the ball bearing of waste. If you drain time out of the system, waste has nowhere to hide and will drain away with time. The argument over identifying which of the eight wastes dissolves. And pointing the finger at people for wasting time also dissolves.

This total lead time reduction approach eliminates waste naturally, makes things easier for employees and ultimately helps customers. Companies struggling with lead times and keeping up with production are prime for this approach. Quantum lean saves time and creates capacity for more sales.

When you have everything in hand and have the PO in place, it is speedy to produce the product. Traditional lead times of 14 weeks can be reduced to two weeks or less using Quantum Lean thinking.

When beginning a journey into Quantum Lean, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is my business situation right where Lean can address my immediate issues? Do I have sufficient demand, and production cannot keep up with demand? Or I need a price reduction. Not relevant if you are experiencing plummeting demand.

  2. Will management buy-in and follow up with the program? All types of leaders can work with Quantum Lean thinking, but follow-up and buy-in are essential.

  3. What metrics and incentives do we place on our people? Wrong measures can lead to behaviour that harms an excellence journey.

Sean and Michael co-founded BeehiveFund ( This non-profit organisation helps small to medium-sized manufacturing and service businesses in production scheduling, inventory control, and quality management systems. They are more than happy to help any business in their Lean journey and have resources available right now for complimentary assessments.



Michael -

Sean -


Key Takeaways

1. Keep things simple

2. Focus on the product flow and time

3. Measures drive behaviour

  1. Keep things simple and focus on the outcomes you are genuinely looking to achieve: greater organisational performance for people and customers and a better working environment. Sean and Michael have developed a simple way to accomplish this.

  2. Focus on product flow and time. The power in that is taking the focus away from employees, their time and efforts and what they're doing—and putting it onto what is most important for the customer. I can see that this approach, starting from sales, right the way through production to delivery, and just focussing on total lead time reduction, and saving time and helping things flow for the product, that you'll achieve everything. That's the biggest takeaway for me from this episode.

  3. Measures drive behaviour. I see it so often in what I do, in my working career, and it is true. And taking the time actually to consider how are we measuring people? How are we recognising people? And what behaviours do these measures and recognition approaches drive? Well, actually, it would be pretty shocking for many organisations, and again, a simple tweak in that approach can create excellent outcomes and improvement in the future.

Thank you so much for stretching our brains today, Sean and Michael, and for simplifying Lean practices in your book "Quantum Lean".


08:40min with Quantum Lean, the fundamental idea we go at is that we bypass the waste idea and we go right to the issue of a product's time and fulfilment. Because number one, everybody can relate to time, and everybody can relate to the idea that time is money.

15:00min the idea is to put a timer, a clock, on a product from the moment it is incepted in terms of accepting the PO from the customer until it is delivered.

22:58min we go there, we talk to them and say, "You know guys, you see that item right there? By the end of the line, you want to make sure it's not going to be stopped; it's going to be flowing as much as possible". Because every stop means that the product is in delay more, once it is in delay, it incurs time, and you don't want that.

43:06min But the point we bring up is, we say, "What does the product need?" Most of the time, it shows scheduling is the problem because it creates all kinds of overproduction throughout a system.

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