Lessons In Lean Management From The Sopranos

Rebecca Mayville

Get Lean, Soprano Style! The last time I watched an episode of The Sopranos was on June 10, 2007 when the series finale aired. Everyone’s …

Get Lean, Soprano Style!

Lessons in Lean MgmtThe last time I watched an episode of The Sopranos was on June 10, 2007 when the series finale aired. Everyone’s expectations were high for what could possibly happen. How would the writers, who had stunned, stumped and surprised us viewers for eight years, end it all? Suddenly the hour was almost up and tensions were especially taunt – Meadow was trying to park the car, the shifty guy at the bar kept shifting, and Tony kept looking over his shoulder every time the bell above the door rang. And then…black. What the? Did the cable go out? Did some other technological interference happen? Or was that really it? Were we, as long and loyal customers, really left with just the image of this last restaurant scene as our final reminder of a show that had brought us into the world of strip clubs, shoot outs and familial betrayals to beat all familial betrayals? In the Lean world of business efficiencies, this sort of massive disappointment is described as “the customer not receiving full value”. But in 2007 I didn’t yet know about Lean; all I knew was that that final episode just felt like a waste.

Lean and Waste Management

Fast forward to today and I now understand that waste management, not the fictitious waste management job of Tony Soprano, but the main tenant of the Lean philosophy, seeks to maximize customer value, while minimizing any negative effects on the customer in terms of value. In other words, Lean ensures that every mobster daughter parking her car, or shifty guy squirming in his seat, or mob boss practicing his Pavlovian response to the door chime, is a part of a process that actually provides value rather than taking it away. When a business or television show is running according to Lean, the phrase “well that was a waste”, is akin to hearing that your mother has turned you into the Feds.

In his blog post, Lean Marketing & Sales, Time to Lose the Waste, CornerStone Dynamics Vice-President, Mike Girdler laid out the 7 traditionally identified forms of waste.


The 7 Wastes of Lean are:

  1. Over-production: Creating more than is needed now.
  1. Waiting: Too much time spent waiting for the next step in the process.
  1. Transportation: Unnecessary movement of products and materials.
  1. Over-processing: Too much work or quality spent than is required by the customer.
  1. Inventory: Excess products and materials not being processed.
  1. Motion: Unnecessary movements by people.
  1. Defects: Efforts caused by rework, scrap and incorrect information.


The 8th Waste

While all 7 of these traditional forms of waste have one thing in common – the concept of ‘too much’ – the recently added 8th waste, goes to the other end of the spectrum. The waste of human talent, creativity and potential, the 8th waste of the Lean methodology, has quickly moved to the forefront of many businesses as employee talents now rank as the most valuable resource a company possesses. Wasting the innovation, involvement and intellect of each member of your organization, not only those deemed as high performers, can often prevent a company from reaching great heights. It’s no longer just the brawn of a company that makes it successful, but rather the combined brains of the whole company. Or as Taiichi Ohno, one of the key architects of the Toyota Production System said, “You don’t come to Toyota to work; you come to Toyota to think.”

But are there actual results to prove this? You can bet your cannoli there are. But since resting our case on a delicious Italian dessert may not work, how about these results from the Gallup’s 2012 State of the American Workplace, landmark research that examined 49,928 work units with 1.4 million employees across 49 industries. The study showed that organizations in the top half regarding employee engagement have double the odds of success in their marketplace when compared to those in the bottom half. Further, those in the 99th percentile have four times the success rate when compared to those in the first percentile.

Nothing Wasted

A couple of years after the final episode of The Sopranos aired, the director, David Chase, said: “If you look at the final episode really carefully, it’s all there.” Without spoiling it for those that haven’t yet caught up on all the series on their must watch list, the “all” Chase is speaking of is the fate of Tony Soprano. There are countless rundowns, screen shots, and descriptions of each minute detail of the final scene, of the final episode, of the final season of The Soprano and each one points to the precision that Chase and his team used to give the viewers, their customers, the fullest value they deserved. And that is ultimately what Lean and the concept of waste management strives to do. So take it from the boss of waste management, Tony Soprano himself, and GET LEAN.

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to share/tweet/like our blog just underneath this paragraph And don’t forget, we’re always here to help with your business efficiency needs.


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Rebecca Mayville was an associate at CornerStone Dynamics Inc.

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