A Summary of Paul Akers' 2 Second Lean

A Summary of 2 Second Lean

2 Second Lean Book Summary

When Paul Akers first published his book 2 Second Lean he began reminding the world to a side of lean manufacturing that is very often lost in the piles of books, commentaries, and reviews of the subject.

Traditional lean as taught in industry tends to be very technical and complex. Hundreds of books have been authored on the subject and thousands of consultants pitch their own angle on “implementing lean” successfully.

Even so, many if not most companies attempting to become lean fail to make the transition.

Paul takes another angle in 2 Second Lean. In our opinion, it’s the perfect solution for companies looking for a simple and fun way to become lean and grow people.

Instead of complicated jargon, flowcharts, and teachings, Paul made lean simple.

  • He makes everything about waste–muda (and the 8 wastes), muri, and mura–as simple as “fix what bugs you.”
  • He took 5S–a workplace organization and efficiency strategy–and reduced it down to just 3S’s.
  • He ditched “kaizen events” and taught his people to make a 2-second improvement every day (hence 2 Second Lean).
  • He made it all sustainable and easy with an engaging daily morning meeting.
  • And on top of all that, he discovered the surprising effectiveness of using video to empower employees and massively accelerate results.

If you’re familiar with traditional lean, you know that this is quite different. 2 Second Lean could easily be frowned upon by engineers and operational excellence coaches, consultants, and managers.


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But at the same time, he made lean so radically fun and simple that everyone can do it every day.

We think that deserves recognition. The whole idea of lean fails and has zero power to transform an organization when the front line operator is denied empowerment. But Paul found a way to do it.

And for the small- to mid-sized organization with a DIY (do-it-yourself) attitude, we think 2 Second Lean is wickedly awesome.

2 Second Lean perhaps the best thing that ever happened for the small business owner or leader that just wants to grow people and run a healthy and profitable organization.

In this article our goal is to survey and review the lean operating system practiced at Paul’s company FastCap and preached in his book 2 Second Lean.

The 2 Second Lean Path To Success

  1. Start Daily Meetings To Grow People and Build Culture
  2. Perform 3S Everyday
  3. Teach Everyone To See Waste
  4. Make Before & After Videos Of Improvements
  5. Give Tours and Practice Generosity Towards Others

It All Starts With A Daily Meeting

FastCap Morning Meeting

Sustaining lean is the most challenging part according to lean experts. Most companies get excited and start off strong only to fizzle out in the long run. Paul cuts off the risk of failure by essentially teaching,

“Just start a daily meeting.”

At FastCap every employee attends the morning meeting every day of the week. Today the meeting is quite grown-up and mature (just check out their daily meeting checklist to see what we mean). But when Paul first started the meeting was pretty simple.

The entire purpose of the daily meeting is to grow people. Everything else follows after this principle.

When Paul drew a line in the sand to dedicate time to his people and team every day the organization began to transform from the inside out. A lean culture took root and found a life of its own.

Instead of focusing every lean tool and consultant on creating lean processes (which he had already tried, and it didn’t create a lean culture), Paul created an operating system that creates world-class problem solvers.

By growing his people every day in the daily meeting he creates a workforce that is fully engaged and alive. To this day Fastcap does millions of dollars more in business with a similar size crew. And they never work overtime.

It’s all because Paul put his people first–not just in words, but in action. He scheduled time for a daily meeting that is never missed and always attended, and they’ve been doing it for now for years on end.

Doing The Daily 3S

After being inspired by a trip to Japan to see lean in action, Paul returned to the United States with a simple vision: 3S.

Traditional lean teaches the original 5S, which stands for five Japanese words that when translated into English mean: sort, sweep, straighten, standardize, and sustain.

5S is essentially a workplace organization and productivity strategy. It gets junk out of the way, makes problems more visible, and keeps every needed tool nicely organized and within reach. The only problem is that it can be hard to practice (hence the commandment to “sustain” it all with the 5th S).

In wonderful 2 Second Lean fashion, Paul makes 5S simple by reducing it to just three: sort, sweep, and standardize.

By setting the bar low, everyone can succeed.

Every day at FastCap begins with an hour-long 3S period to improve their workplace and “fix what bugs them.”

Don’t be fooled: they do no other work during this time. They don’t make widgets or take orders. They improve their processes and EVERYONE pitches in, and not just the engineers!

What about the other two S’s: straighten and sustain?

Well, in our observation there’s really no need. It’s impossible not to sustain these basic lean principles because the entire organization meets every day in the daily meeting to review metrics, improvements, and everything else.

It’s not necessary to add “sustain” to 3S at a 2 Second Lean company, because sustainment is built into the very frabric of the lean operating system.

And “straighten” is also not necessary to require in the daily 3S process because of the next element of this lean operating system: teaching everyone to see waste.

Teach Everyone To See Waste

Traditional lean teaches waste in the form of three Japanese words: muri, mura, and muda. Muda then breaks down into the “eight wastes of lean” that you may already be familiar with.

  1. Over-production
  2. Over-processing
  3. Transportation
  4. Motion
  5. Inventory
  6. Defects
  7. Waiting
  8. Unused employee genius

FastCap reviews and reinforces each of the eight wastes every day in the daily meeting. There’s not a single employee in the company that doesn’t know each of the wastes by heart.

Paul teaches that learning to see waste is so important because you can’t eliminate waste if you can’t see it.

So everyone learns and understands the eight wastes. Employees even take turns in each daily meeting to tell a story incorporating the wastes.

However, when Paul teaches people about waste he doesn’t immediately approach it from the list of eight terms. Instead, he boils it down into one pithy statement:

“Fix what bugs you!”

Indeed, it’s the things that bug us every day that are actually the eight wastes of lean in disguise. For FastCap employees, process improvement is as simple as squashing the bugs and making life a little bit better.

Making Lean Go Viral

This part of the FastCap lean operating system takes us by surprise the most. In such a technical industry it’s surprising to find a world-class lean company with employees whipping out iPhones and filming their 2 second improvements.

And it’s not just the millennials who do this.

2 Second Lean Video

According to Paul, using video in this way is like “putting gasoline on a fire.” It takes the process improvements of employees, puts them in 60 seconds of video, and makes it immediately (and visually) available to every employee in the organization.

This takes kaizen (i.e. continuous improvement), standardization, and training to a whole new level. It makes lean go viral.

We should also mention that small companies are not the only organizations leveraging lean videos in this way. There are multi-site organizations with thousands of employees who are making 2 Second Lean videos, uploading them to the cloud, making simple improvements accessible to everyone in the company.

The extensive benefits of video are pretty amazing:

  • Creating a video eliminates the constraints of time and space in showing other employees an improvement.
  • It makes documenting and standardizing an improvement extremely easy and fast.
  • It allows for easy recognition.
  • It makes training and standardization a breeze.

It’s no wonder Paul says that video is like gasoline.

Tours, Generosity, and Paying It Forward

This last part of Paul’s lean model is extremely important. It can’t be overlooked.

Gratitude and generosity are core values of the community Paul has created with 2 Second Lean. FastCap has never charge anyone anything for sharing what they’ve learned with others.

Paul’s book is available online for free in pdf, audiobook, and multiple languages. Even the Global Lean Leadership Summit–a lean conference Paul started in 2014–is free admission.

Generosity is central to the 2 Second Lean wordview and philosophy and these organizations take the principle very seriously: giving is truly better than receiving.

The implementation guidance that Paul offers in his book includes instruction to open the doors after practicing lean for a year and give lean tours to anyone in the community.

In this way the entire community benefits and the company itself learns to take pride in what they’ve accomplished.

On page 63 of the 3rd edition of the book Paul discloses that “My personal BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is to change the world.”

We think that he could very well be doing it.

How to Get Started with 2 Second Lean

In that same spirit of generosity there are tons of resources freely available to companies interested in learning more about 2 Second Lean. You can find many of them by visiting the FastCap website or PaulAkers.net. You can also contact Paul with any lean questions you have at paul@fastcap.com or on Voxer/WhatsApp at 360-941-3748 (he prefers Voxer or WhatsApp).

But if you’re looking for a clear and simple step-by-step method for implementing lean at your organization, we’ve actually compiled many of the best 2 Second Lean videos and resources into a free course. It’s not limited to just Paul and FastCap but also includes examples from other organizations practicing 2SL.

Check out the Getting Started with 2 Second Lean free course here!