New version of the Kaizen Plugin for MadCap Flare

New version of the Kaizen Plugin for MadCap Flare with three cool new features:

  • File tag tools. Quick display of all file tags applied to a topic. Quickly remove all file tags from a topic. File tag macros – apply all the tags you need with a single click!
  • Quick Review. One click to send a topic for review as PDF.
  • Backup tool. If the Kaizen Plugin changes a topic, a backup file is created.

See more at

New version of the Kaizen Plugin for MadCap Flare

The latest version is available for download at

In addition to a few bug fixes, there are two new features:


You can now save up to 1,000,000 hours by generating your topics from a CSV file instead of creating them manually.

See the video demo!


With the click of a button you can remove all non-breaking spaces from a topic.


Lets you write sequentially and then generate the topics, TOC, and even target you need. No more fiddling with topic structures up front. With this plugin you can jam your topic collections into life in an agile way!

See the video demo!


Need to change the CSS of multiple targets? No problem! With a few clicks you can change the CSS of all your Flare targets, saving precious time!

See the video demo!

The Kaizen Plugin for MadCap Flare,

I’ve set up a separate site for the Kaizen plugin. Check out where you can download the free plugin for MadCap Flare.

So far, there are two plugins available:

  • The topic splitter, that lets you write sequentially, and then generate the topics, TOC, and target you need
  • The CSS multi-editor that let’s you change the CSS of multiple targets in one go.

If you have ideas for new features, or found a bug – send me an e-mail at


Change the CSS of multiple Flare targets at once with the Kaizen Plugin

Joel Wilhelm over at Digi had this great idea that it would be very useful to edit multiple targets at once, saving a ton of time updating, for example, stylesheets across targets… so I made an update to the Kaizen Plugin that lets you do just that – change the stylesheet for several targets at once. Have a look at the video:

Click here to download the plugin.

For installation instructions, see Kaizen Plugin for MadCap Flare.

Improve your productivity with the Kaizen Plugin for MadCap Flare

(If you would like to test the plugin for free, send me an e-mail at mattias [at] )

In MadCap Flare you usually have one .htm file per topic you write. When you are starting out a new project, say a user manual or something like that, a lot of time is spent just creating the individual files, and TOC, and the Target file. More often than not, you have to delete topics, and add new ones – the content specification is not set in stone, especially not in an agile environment – where you sometimes change the content spec on a daily basis.

To help me keep up with the changes, I created a plugin for MadCap Flare that splits a topic file into several topic files based on the <h1> elements.  The plugin also creates the related TOC and PDF target for you. This allows you to bootstrap the topic creation process, saving you a ton of time.

Because software development can be very volatile, the Lean approach is to delay decisions as much as possible until they can be made based on facts. The more complex a system, the more flexibility you need in the process. An iterative approach is needed – you need to have the ability to adapt to changes and fix mistakes, which might be costly if discovered after the release. The same applies to documentation, and especially software documentation. The Kaizen plugin let’s you decide as late as possible, minimizing the time you need to spend managing topic files, TOC files, and Target files in MadCap Flare.

Keep it Lean – Become more productive and motivated

This article was originally published in ISTC Communicator, Summer 2016.

Lean started in the automotive industry with Toyota’s Production System, but the ideas and principles are universal, and can be applied to any industry. The idea of Lean is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste, thus creating more value for customers with fewer resources. Essentially, there are three steps to get started with Lean:

  1. Define value from your customer’s perspective.
  2. Find waste.
  3. Eliminate waste by making improvements.

This article gives you an introduction to Lean ideas, methods, and principles. Hopefully, you will be inspired to start your own Lean journey, and become a practical scientific thinker!

Define value from your customer’s perspective

The most important step in Lean is to define value from your customer’s perspective. This is no small task. First you must know who your customer is, and then you need to figure out what that customer values. It’s a process of user experience research.


Find waste

Once you have defined value from your customer’s perspective, start looking for waste. What is waste? Waste is any type of work that does not directly add to the customer-defined value of the product you are creating. In the world of industrial manufacturing, waste is separated into eight categories to make it easier to find:

  • Over production is the waste of producing more product or work-items than needed. This is the mother of all wastes. By creating another product, that product is processed and transported, creating extra motion, waiting and inventory.
  • Waiting is waste of not adding value to a product. Any time where value is not added is waiting time.
  • Inventory is the waste of accumulating more product parts or work-items than needed.
  • Transportation is the waste of moving a product or work-item more than needed.
  • Motion is the waste of movement around a product or work-item, for example, reaching too far to grab a tool.
  • Over processing is the waste of doing more than is necessary to a product or work item. For example, tightening a bolt too hard.
  • Defective work is the waste of creating products that do not fulfil the requirements or customer values.
  • Unused skill is the waste of failing to use all the skills and knowledge available.

Knowledge work is not industrial manufacturing, and some of the eight wastes can be hard to translate to office work, but it is a starting point. For example:

  • Task switching could be considered to be Motion. Some estimates say that you lose 40% of your time because of task switching.
  • Searching for information is also a form of Motion.
  • Having a large backlog of e-mails, or topics in progress could be considered to be Inventory.
  • Conversion between formats, or other communication barriers could be considered to be a form of Transportation.
  • Handing over documents or knowledge is another form of Transportation. Often it is like a game of Chinese whispers, where errors accumulate with every player in the game.

Ultimately, you need to figure out what your customer values. Everything that does not add to that is waste, and you should strive to eliminate it by making improvements.

Eliminate waste by making improvements

Lean is a mindset where you focus on customer value and the elimination of waste. A word of warning: once you start looking for waste you will find it everywhere. There is no going back.

To get into the Lean mindset, you should start small. Try to spend no more than 30 minutes to make a two-second improvement every day. Come up with and perform an experiment that has the potential to cut the time of something you do by two seconds. This could be as simple as learning a keyboard shortcut or setting up an Outlook rule to handle e-mail more efficiently. By doing two-second improvements every day you will quickly get into the mindset of finding and eliminating waste. The concept of continuous improvement in Lean is called Kaizen.

Assuming that you improve something that you normally do at least five times per day, you will have made up for the 30 minute investment within a year. Within a year, your two-second improvement will have saved you 40 minutes, and a return-of-investment (ROI) of around 33 per cent.

What happens when you come up with an improvement you can share with your colleagues? The ROI goes up. It may have taken you 30 minutes to come up with the improvement but sharing it with someone else is almost instant. The ROI increases from 33% to around 167% just by sharing an improvement with a single person. Share it with two colleagues and the ROI goes up to 300%.

What if all your colleagues start making their own improvements and share them with everyone on your team? There will of course be some overlapping ideas, and a few failed experiments, but that’s OK. The potential is limitless. This is where the magic happens in terms of creating a Lean culture, and in terms of generating a massive ROI.

To learn more about the concept of 2-second improvements, I recommend reading Paul Aker’s book 2 Second Lean.

To get started with making daily improvements, it’s a good idea to study some of the existing Lean tools and methods, such as A3 problem solving, 5S, 5 Whys, or Kanban.


Study Lean tools and methods

Your implementation of Lean depends on your context. Copying Toyota’s methods does not work as well as creating your own methods based on Lean principles. But, studying existing methods will help you understand the Lean mindset. Let’s look at some general Lean methods you can use in most contexts.

The A3 problem-solving method

The A3 problem-solving method makes use of an A3 size piece of paper and a five-step process:

  1. Problem: What happened? Describe what happened, and why it is a problem.
  2. Goal: What should have happened? Describe the ideal outcome.
  3. Cause: Why did it happen?
  4. Improve: How do we keep it from happening? Come up with some ideas on how to improve the situation.
  5. Check: How do we know if it worked? Create a test to determine whether the improvements you made actually solved the problem.

The idea is to use an A3 size piece of paper, and keep the problem-solving group small enough to fit around it. Limiting the size of the paper and the number of people brings out people’s creativity. The alternative, arranging a 10-person meeting and using a spreadsheet, does not.

A3 Problem solving

5S a place for everything (you need), and everything (you need) in its place

The 5S method has the following components:

  • Sort. Separate the tools you need from the tools you don’t.
  • Straighten. Make the tools you need easily accessible.
  • Shine. Clean up regularly.
  • Standardize. Make checklists for daily, weekly, monthly routines.
  • Sustain. Make sure you keep everything in order. Make regular improvements.

The 5S method is a systematic method for arranging your workplace and tools to maximize value creation. In a manufacturing setting, this relates to what tools you use, and how to arrange

them. In the office, there is little benefit of using a shadow board for your highlighters and coffee mugs. But, you can use 5S to arrange your software and information in the best possible way. What applications should be available from your desktop? Which ones should you pin to the taskbar? Can you reduce the number of steps required to reach specific information?

5S does not mean you should chain yourself to a pointless standard. 5S is about changing your environment so that you can find things and information faster. This makes abnormalities and waste stand out, making it easier to find and fix problems.

For ideas and best practices on how to arrange your environment, tasks, and projects for maximum productivity, I highly recommend reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity.

The 5 Whys method

5 Whys is a method you can use to find the root cause of a problem. The idea is to keep asking “Why”, and let every question form the basis for the next question.

Let’s say your car won’t start.

  1. Why won’t the car start? Because the battery is dead.
  2. Why is the battery dead? Because the alternator doesn’t work.
  3. Why doesn’t the alternator work? Because the alternator belt is broken.
  4. Why is the alternator belt broken? Because it is old.
  5. Why is it old? Because the car wasn’t serviced according to schedule.

So, with five questions we reached a plausible root cause of the problem. We forgot to service the car as regularly as we should have. If we had stopped after the first “why”, we would have just replaced the battery, which eventually would have drained, and we would be back to square one.

Often we stop asking ourselves “why” as soon as we reach the first reason for a problem. The 5 Whys method helps us get past that point, and get to the real root cause of the problem, to help us solve it once and for all. The number 5 is not important, it could just as well be 3 or 15. The important thing is that you challenge yourself to go one step further. Eventually you will reach a root cause that says “Because of Big Bang”, and at that point it is probably a good idea to go a few steps back, and pick a root cause you can actually do something about. It’s a balancing act.



Kanban is a method for factories to manage inventory and production pace. You may have seen Kanban cards at your supermarket without even knowing it. At the back of every shelf is a card with information about where to order the product, and how much to order. When the product is sold out, or close to being sold out, a member of staff picks up the Kanban card and places the order. That way supermarkets don’t have to carry more inventory than they need. By adjusting the placement of the Kanban card they can adjust for changing demands. The concept is the same for factories. You decide on a Kanban level of inventory, and once you reach that level, you reorder the product or source material. At the very end of a factory value chain is the point of sale, where customers buy your product. There, you may decide on a Kanban level of six finished products. When you have six products or fewer left you need to make new ones. That way, you can use Kanban to control an entire production process. The Kanban method controls both inventory and production pace. It promotes clear communication because it’s a visual method, where anyone can see what needs to be done at any point in the production process.


An interesting example of how to use a Kanban in the office is to put a sheet of pink paper close to the bottom of the stack of papers in the printer’s input tray. When the pink page appears in your printout, you know that it is time to refill the printer. This helps you avoid those annoying situations where the printer is out of paper, and you have to run back and forth between the printer room and your computer to fix it.

In knowledge work we don’t really have inventory of things, we have work in progress. The more we have, the slower we produce because of the task switching. We can use the Kanban method to reduce our work in progress, and to help us keep track of what we need to produce. In essence, all our work goes through three stages:

  1. Backlog”. This is where the work-to-be-done sits until you start doing it.
  2. Doing”. This is where you do the actual work.
  3. Done”. The work is done.

You might have a few more categories between “Backlog” and “Done” for any given process, but the concept is the same. To avoid task switching, we want as few items as possible in any “Doing” category at any given time.

Where I work, we deliver a set of features with every new version of our software. Every new feature requires me to create any number of:

  • Release notes
  • Task topics
  • Concept topics
  • Reference topics
  • Context-sensitive online help topics.

To keep track of my work in MadCap Flare, I have set up a special table of contents (TOC) to hold all my work items. It looks something like Figure 1 where each feature links to a set of topics related to the feature. To move a topic collection forward in the process, you just click and drag topics from Backlog to Doing to Done:

To avoid too much task switching, I never work on more than three features at any step of the process.

Using a Kanban TOC helps me keep track of what I am doing, what I have done, and what remains to do. Because it is integrated with my help authoring tool, I don’t have to spend time keeping track of my plans in another tool, such as Excel or Outlook. This reduces the risk of getting out of sync or making errors.

For more information about the power of Kanban, read Jim Benson’s book Personal Kanban. To learn how to design your own Lean methods and tool, you need to learn more about some of the Lean principles.

Learning about the Lean principles

To be able to design your own Lean processes it’s important to understand some of the Lean principles:

  • Resource efficiency versus Flow efficiency
  • Single-piece flow
  • Pulling versus Pushing

Resource efficiency versus Flow efficiency

Resource efficiency is defined as the time a resource adds value compared to the time that resource is available.

Flow efficiency is defined as the time that a product has value added to it compared to the total time it takes to create that product.

Resource efficiency means that you focus on the resource, and flow efficiency means that you focus on the product or customer value. Generally, as consumers we appreciate flow efficiency, but as producers we appreciate resource efficiency.

Ideally, we want processes that are both resource-efficient and have high flow efficiency.

If you are running a hospital, hiring a doctor costs a lot of money, and you want to get your money’s worth. If the patients have to wait a little, so be it. In a resource-efficient environment, the doctor is busy, but the patients have to wait.

REsource efficiency

In a flow-oriented hospital, all processes are designed with the patient in mind. It is a priority to make a speedy diagnosis and start treatment as soon as possible. Your doctor would be less busy, and you might even have to hire an extra one. But patients don’t have to wait. With the extra time your doctor now have, they can start making improvements to the process. By continuously improving, and eliminating waste, both costs and waiting times are reduced. In a flow-efficient environment, focus is on not letting patients wait.

Flow efficiency

In 2004, a breast cancer clinic in Sweden switched focus from resource efficiency to flow efficiency. Waiting times were drastically reduced. The waiting time from the first visit to the clinic until they got their diagnosis was reduced from 42 days to just two hours.

For an in-depth analysis of the concepts of flow and resource efficiency, I recommend reading This is Lean by Niklas Modig and Pär Åhlström.

The power of single-piece flow

The lead time of a process depends on the work items in progress and the cycle time. To reduce the cycle time, we need to either reduce the cycle time for each work item, or limit the work-
in-progress, or both.

The merits of working on a single product from start to finish, as opposed to creating batches of work are:

  • You will detect errors early on, and don’t risk making the same error on 50 work items, having to go back and fix them on all 50 items.
  • You will have fewer tasks to switch between, reducing the time lost to context switching.
  • The first work item is finished faster because it doesn’t have to wait for the 49 other work items to finish.

Is single-piece flow always better than batch work? The somewhat disappointing answer to that question is “it depends”. If batch work doesn’t stop the flow, or create any form of waste, then go for it. But generally, it’s a good idea to challenge the status quo by redesigning a batch flow process to a single-piece process.

Pull instead of Push

The key is to produce work only when the downstream process asks for it. That way we avoid building queues and unevenness in the process. Of course, only producing help content when a customer asks for it may prove difficult. To some extent, we need to predict and estimate what our customers need. This relates to doing user research, and creating integrated feedback loops to stay in touch with your customers.

Does Lean thinking make you happier?

Some criticism of Lean is that it tries to make people into productive robots, just doing more work in less time. But, implemented correctly, Lean has the potential to make you not only more productive, but also happier. Author Daniel Pink examines workplace motivation in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He found that there are three main components of workplace motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

  • Autonomy means that you have control over the work you do. With Lean you have the mandate to experiment and improve your processes, and that will definitely give you a sense of autonomy.
  • Mastery means that you get better at doing things. With Lean improvements, you get a sense of progress, both in your work and in your capabilities to do that work.
  • Purpose means that you connect to a larger cause. By focusing on improving customer values, Lean will give you a sense of purpose.

Because it fulfils all components of the motivation trifecta, Lean has the potential to make you happier at work. Of course, a poor implementation of Lean can work in the opposite direction.

For information about how to successfully implement Lean, I suggest reading Lonnie Wilson’s book: How to implement Lean manufacturing.

Become a practical scientific thinker

Lean thinking is not about becoming an expert in a specific work area or process. It is about developing capabilities to develop capabilities, and to become an expert problem-solver.

Engineer and researcher Mike Rother has done research in the area of becoming a practical scientific thinker, and how this concept is actually at the core of Lean. He calls the concept Improvement Kata. A Kata is a structured pattern to help you form a long-term habit. By practicing the Improvement Kata, you learn how to apply practical scientific thinking to both your work, and your personal life.

The general Improvement Kata process has four steps:

  1. Define a successful outcome with a set of target conditions.
  2. Map out the current conditions.
  3. Set up a time-limited goal somewhere between the current conditions and the target conditions.
  4. Perform experiments to get from the current conditions to the next set of target conditions. Some experiments will fail, but they are not failed experiments as long as you learn from them.

I have used this method for everything from producing help topics faster to getting in better physical shape. It is a powerful method.

To learn more about it, I suggest reading Mike Rother’s book Toyota Kata.

Lean starts at home

If you don’t have the time, energy, or mandate to start making improvements at work, I suggest you start at home. My first two-second improvement was to move the bathrobe closer to the shower. It meant I saved two seconds and the bathroom got less wet. Something as small as that may indeed sound trivial, but it led me on the path to make more significant improvements at work. For example:

  • Introduce a Kanban TOC in Flare to help manage our work.
  • Integrate information from our ERP system directly into Flare to save precious time when researching new features.
  • Introduce a feedback link in our online help to help us connect with users to better understand their values.
  • Help automate our build processes to save time and reduce the chance of errors.

All in all, these improvements save 100s of hours yearly. And it all started with some two-second improvements at home.

If you start making improvements at home, there is a chance that your family will not approve. At one point, I had filled our refrigerator with 75 Kanban cards to manage the inventory of groceries. It drove my wife crazy, and eventually I had to drop the experiment. I learned that it is important to make sure all stakeholders are informed, and see the value of an improvement before I start. What eventually happened was that my wife came up with some improvements to the system, which is the basis of the system we use today.

Get started today!

Find waste, and start making a two-second improvement every day! Learn the Lean principles and become a better problem solver!

Oh, and have fun!

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have.



  • Niklas Modig, 2012. This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox. Rheologica Publishing.
  • Mike Rother, 2009. Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. 1st Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Daniel H. Pink, 2011. Drive. Canongate Books Ltd.
  • Paul A. Akers, 2013. 2 Second Lean – 2nd Edition: How to Grow People and Build a Fun Lean Culture. 2 Edition. FastCap Press.
  • Daniel Markovitz, 2012. A Factory of One. Productivity Press.
  • James P. Womack, 2007. The Machine That Changed the World: The Story of Lean Production– Toyota’s Secret Weapon in the Global Car Wars That Is Now Revolutionizing World Industry. Reprint Edition. Free Press.
  • Jim Benson, 2011. Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Lonnie Wilson, 2015. How To Implement Lean Manufacturing, Second Edition. 2 Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • David Allen, 2015. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Revised ed. Penguin Books.
  • 5 Whys – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. 2016. 5 Whys – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 06 April 2016].

4 signs you are wasting your time as a technical communicator

wasteAre you creating content your users don’t want?
Are you creating content your users can’t use?
Are you creating content your users can’t find?
Are you creating content your users can’t understand?
That’s waste!


Want to eliminate waste and focus on value? Keep reading!

You could be spending your days creating nothing but garbage without ever knowing. When did you last make an effort to figure out what your users really want and need? You probably need to learn how to implement something called “Lean Thinking” in your life. Lean Thinking is a way of thinking and working that will help you define real value, and then create products that fulfill that value, all while relentlessly eliminating waste.
 By learning “Lean” you can become a lean mean value-maximizing topic creating machine! (Tweet this!)

How to get started with Lean Thinking

  1. Define value from your customer’s perspective. Ask yourself (or your customer!) what customers are willing to pay for, both in terms of the product you deliver, and the process steps required to make that product. Do your expert users really need step-by-step instructions, or would they rather just have the reference information up-front? Do your users really (indirectly) want to pay for the time you spent looking for e-mails this morning? Spend time thinking about and research your what your customers value! This is what you should deliver. Everything else is waste.
  2. Map out the steps you take to create that value. What happens first? Do you do research? Some writing? Do you have the content reviewed by an SME? Edited by someone? Map out all the steps you take. Use a whiteboard, or a just a piece of paper.
  3. Challenge all the steps that are non-value adding. Do you really need two reviews, or is there a way to get away with only one? Can you do parallel reviews instead of sequential to save time? Perhaps run a review meeting instead of sending e-mails?
  4. Make your work flow effortlessly. To help you spot problems in your workflow, and to ensure that you deliver value faster, you should implement one-piece flow and stop doing batch work. With batch work you’re constantly doing context switching, losing valuable time in the process. With single-piece flow you get more done in less time, and at the same time you deliver value faster. An added bonus is that you get a great sense of accomplishment, because instead of finishing 30 items at once after 14 days you might finish two items a day – providing daily motivation!
  5. Strive towards perfection. Never stop thinking of ways to improve your product or process. Your main job is of course to deliver value, but another part of your work is to improve your work, to ensure that you can deliver more value with less effort.

How to get started with Lean Thinking in Techcomm

Do you want to know more about lean ideas, and how you can start implementing them using your favorite authoring tool? Keep reading!

Lean principles

These are some of the main principles in lean thinking:

  • Define value from your customers’ perspective
  • Map the value stream for each product that provides that value, and challenge all non-value-adding activities. Focus on eliminating waste.
    • Visualize your work to help find waste and problems.
  • Make the product flow continuously through the value stream, reducing ques and batch work. Focus on flow efficiency over resource efficiency.
  • Pull work through the value chain, don’t push it.
  • Continuously improve – striving for perfection, never reaching it. Reduce the number of steps and amount of time and information that’s needed to create the customer value. It’s a mindset!
  • Problems are opportunities to improve. Use the “5 Whys” method to get to the root cause of a problem, and use “A3 thinking” to find and test countermeasures to the problem.

Does this really work?

It seems to work just fine for successful companies like Toyota, Nike, Caterpillar, Intel, John Deere, Ford, and the Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle.

In Malmö, Sweden – an experiment with lean healthcare brought down the time a breast cancer patient had to wait for a diagnosis from 42 days to 2 hours. That’s a 500-time reduction in lead time.

Resource efficiency versus Flow efficiency

Lean thinking means focusing on flow efficiency over resource efficiency. So what’s the difference between the two?

Resource efficiency

Focusing on resource efficiency means that if we’re running a hospital, we’d want to keep our doctors busy 100% of the time, because we pay them a lot of money – and we want our money’s worth. To ensure that they are always busy, there will be a queue of work: patients in the waiting room.

REsource efficiency

Flow efficiency

Focusing on flow efficiency means that we want as much value-adding time as possible for the patient, even if that means the doctor is only busy 60% of the time. This approach costs more, but adds significantly more value to the patient. The excess capacity means that the doctors can focus on finding problems and making improvements to the process, making it flow even better, or even become more resource efficient at the same time.

Flow efficiency

Can’t we have both?

The desired state is of course to have a high degree of resource efficiency AND a high degree of flow efficiency. It’s very hard to attain, and there is almost always a trade-off between flow and resource efficiency. The more variation there is in a process, or in the input, the harder it becomes to combine high resource efficiency with high flow efficiency. This means that a factory making a million units of the same widget will have an easier time combining resource and flow efficiency than, for example, a hospital – where the process inevitably has more variation. Usually, whenever people enter the equation, the variation goes up – and we can’t control and standardize people the way we standardize products. In the diagram below, the effective front is somewhere along the red line, and variation “pushes” the line down, creating more and more of an “either or” situation, where a high flow efficiency comes at a higher cost to resources efficiency. Standardization of processes and of inputs is a key factor in reducing variation.

Effektiv front

Can we have some more science please? Sure – let’s bring on the math!

To model and explain why lean principles work, we can apply some queueing theory.

Kingman’s formula connects resource efficiency to waiting times

Kingman’s approximation states:

\mathbb E(W_q) \approx \left( \frac{\rho}{1-\rho} \right) \left( \frac{c_a^2+c_s^2}{2}\right) \tau

where τ is the mean service time (i.e. μ = 1/τ is the service rate), λ is the mean arrival rate, ρ = λ/μ is the utilization, ca is the coefficient of variation for arrivals (that is the standard deviation of arrival times divided by the mean arrival time) and cs is the coefficient of variation for service times. (

The formula tells us that the lead time increases when process or input variation increases:

Expected Waiting time

It also tells us that  increased resource efficiency leads to a higher sensitivity to variation. If resource efficiency is high, variation has a higher impact on waiting times:

Process variation

Lean thinking focuses on flow efficiency over resource efficiency, reducing waiting time in the process. Lean thinking also focuses on creating standards to reduce variation, thus also reducing waiting times.

Little’s law connects lead times to Work-In-Progress

Little’s Law tells us that the average number of customers in the store L, is the effective arrival rate λ, times the average time that a customer spends in the store W, or simply: Assume customers arrive at the rate of 10 per hour and stay an average of 0.5 hour. (

This means that the lead time increases when the number of flow units increase, or when the cycle time increases. This is why it’s so hard to pick the right line at the supermarket or at the airport security check. Even if there are just two people in the queue, input variation (someone forgot to leave their nail clippers at home) will increase the cycle time , whereas the other queue with 10 people could very well move faster because those 10 people are all efficient business travelers – and the process variation is less significant.

Lean thinking focuses on reducing the work in progress (WIP), thus reducing the lead time given that the cycle time stays the same. Reducing the work in progress also has a psychological effect – giving you space to think about improvements, ideally giving to room to find and eliminate waste to reduce the cycle time – creating an ever lower lead time.

How do I get started?

If you’re a techwriter, a great entry point to get started with lean thinking is to start using a Kanban TOC to manage your writing projects.

A Kanban Table-of-Contents is a TOC where you have mapped your process/value stream and added your work items to a backlog:


In this case, the work item is a set of documentation for a new feature in the product. The work item in turn is a separate TOC, containing all the topics you need to write or update for the given feature:


As work progresses, you move the work item TOC to the next node in the Kanban TOC, keeping track of where in the process the work is.

At the same time you make sure to limit the Work-In-Progress at any given node to three items. This means that if something is stuck, you see it immediately, and you can swiftly address the problem, figure out the root cause, and try out some form of countermeasure to get the work items moving again.

Questions or comments? Let me know! 🙂

Interested in knowing more? Come see my presentation at TCUK in Glasgow next week.

Getting Started with Lean Manufacturing Principles

Here’s a collection of videos, articles, books, and courses to help you learn more about lean manufacturing, and help you come up with some great ideas on how to implement lean in the field of technical communication.

Enjoy! 🙂

PS. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn how to use a Kanban TOC  at my TCUK presentation in Glasgow in September DS.


Less than 5 minutes

Four Princples of Lean Management:

How to Make a Lean Burrito:

Applying Lean Principles to Content Strategy:

Less than 15 minutes

Lean at home:

Less than 30 minutes

Lean starts in the bathroom:

Lean on yourself:

Less than 45 minutes

Lean is simple:

60 minutes or more

Toyta Kata:



Open Courses

How to memorize numbers to make online shopping easier

Isn’t it annoying when you’re about to buy something online, only to realize that your credit card is in the other room, and wouldn’t it be nice if you could just remember your card number?

Here’s how you can commit a sequence of numbers to memory:

  1. Make a list of objects that each represent a number from 1 to 9.
  2. Create a story based on the numbers (and thus items) you want to remember.

Developing a list of objects

Think of objects that physically look like the numbers. For example:

Zero (0) – A ball
One (1) – A flagpole
Two (2) – A swan
Three (3) – A pregnant woman
Four (4) – A sailboat
Five (5) – A fish hook
Six (6) – A golf club
Seven (7) – A boomerang
Eight (8) – An hourglass
Nine (9) – A tadpole

Creating a story based on the numbers

Let’s assume you want to remember a phone number: 034 643 352 987.

First, translate the numbers into items: Ball, Pregnant woman, Sailboat, Golf club, Sailboat, Pregnant woman, Pregnant woman, Sailboat, Swan, Tadpole, Hourglass, Boomerang.

Then crate a storyline based on the items, preferably taking place at a location or route you know (perhaps the way you take to work):

A giant red ball bounces down the street, chased by a  naked pregnant woman on a sailboat carrying a cargo of golden golf clubs. The golden golf clubs have a logo etched into the club heads: a black pirate ship (sail boat) in the middle, flanked by two pregnant one-eyed pirates. One of the pirates has a tattoo of a fish hook piercing the neck of an angry black swan about to eat a glowing green (and radioactive) tadpole. Sand starts dripping from the sky, getting in your eyes – it turns out that the whole story takes place inside an hour glass that sits on top of a boomerang flying through outer space..

Read and envision the story a few times, move away from the computer for a few minutes (get a cup of coffee), and then try to recall the story, writing the numbers down as you go along. How many digits did you recall?

This method is a bit slow but it really helps you commit the numbers to your long term memory, which means that as time goes by, you’ll still be able to recall the story, and thus the numbers.

Have fun! 🙂

Looking for more info?

See Joshua Foer’s interesting TED-talk about “feats of memory anyone can do”,