If All You Have is a Hammer…The Importance of Having a Full Improvement Toolkit

1. A Message from the President: If All You Have is a Hammer…The Importance of Having a Full Improvement Toolkit

2. Network Events

  • Nov. 5
Knowledge Forum: Everything I Always Wanted to Know About Customer Make-or-Break Moments (SE MN)
Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), Rochester MN
  • Nov. 7
Knowledge Forum: Minneapolis
Minneapolis Community and Technical College, Minneapolis MN
  • Nov.12
Fall Conference: Tools to Achieve Process/Operational Excellence
Crowne Plaza Hotel and Suites, Bloomington MN
  • Dec 4
Proven Ways to Enhance Strategic Thinking in Yourself and Others
Rochester Community and Technical College, Rochester Minnesota
  • Dec 5
Wake Me Up When the Data Is Over: Making an Impact Through Stories
Twin Cities, tbd MN

A Messge from the President:  If All You Have is a Hammer…the Importance of Having a Full Improvement Toolkit

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” so the saying goes.  In other words, each tool – be it for carpentry, cooking, or process improvement – has a distinct purpose, and tools are sub-optimized if they are used for anything other than that distinct purpose. Which is why I get a bit frustrated when leaders tell me sometimes: “we can’t use Baldrige because we’re already using Lean.”  That’s like saying “I don’t need to exercise, because I’m already dieting.”  Well, if the goal is weight loss or improved health, you need both!

In a couple of weeks (November 12), we will host our fall conference: “Tools for Process/Operational Excellence.”  We will focus on foundational, intermediate, and sophisticated tools for reducing waste, improving quality, increasing productivity, and/or adding value for customers.  (Some seats are available and the Early Bird deadline is November 1; for more information, visit here.)

Our conference and its focus on tools reminded me of an old fable about the importance of understanding the strengths and limitations of tools.  It goes something like this:

Hammer served as the chairman of the tool belt – the leader of the group.  But the other members of the tool belt informed him that he must leave, because he was too noisy…
But Hammer said, “If I have to leave this carpenter’s shop, then Gimlet must go too: he’s insignificant and makes a very small impression” (a gimlet is a small tool for boring holes).  The little Gimlet arose and said, “All right, but Screwdriver must go also: you have to turn him around and around to get anywhere with him.” 
Screwdriver turned to the other tools in the belt and said, “If you wish, I will go, but Plane must leave too: all of his work is on the surface – there’s no depth to what he does.”  To this, Plane leveled his terse reply, “Well, then, Saw will have to depart too: the changes he proposes always cut too deep.”  Saw complained, saying, “Ruler will have to withdraw if I leave, for he’s always measuring other folks as though he were the only one who is right.”  Ruler then surveyed the group and said, “Sandpaper doesn’t belong here either: he’s rougher than he ought to be, and is always rubbing people the wrong way.”
In the midst of the discussion, the carpenter walked in.  He had come to perform his day’s work.  He put on his tool belt and went to the workbench.  He employed the ruler, the saw, the plane, the hammer, the gimlet, the screwdriver, the sandpaper, and all the other tools.  When the day’s work was over, the project was finished, and the carpenter went home.  All the accusations against each of these tools were absolutely true, yet the carpenter used every one of them.  No matter which tool the carpenter used, no other tool could have done the work better.


Process improvement tools are only effective if they are used in the right way.  And organizations often try to force a particular tool on a problem for which it was not designed.  Square peg; round hole.  In fact, I contend that many failed process improvement projects have very little to do with the improvement tool(s) itself, and much to do about selecting the right tool(s) and then managing the change in implementing them.

So I invite you to come to our November conference to learn more about over a dozen simple and sophisticated process/operational improvement tools.  Hear from businesses (like Seagate, IBM, 3M, Loram, Ecolab), public sector and nonprofit organizations (like Hennepin County, UCare, Lakeville Public Schools, and the State of Minnesota), and healthcare organizations (like Mankato Clinic and Winona Health), as well as many consultant experts in their field.  For a full agenda and registration information, visit here.

Click here for a list of those tools we’ll be examining that day, as well as a link to find more information on each of them.  Consider this a handy primer on process improvement tools.