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Singles Win Games: Lean 101 at BART is on track to generate big savings over time

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Today’s post is from Jessie Rubin, Senior Manager of Performance & Innovation for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). The in-house Lean 101 that she and her team are running is reaping some exciting results!

These are just a few of the common challenges that staff have told me they face since I started working for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART). I was hired in March 2022 to reboot the work of BART’s Performance & Innovation shop, and, since then, my small-but-mighty team and I have made it our mission to support employee efforts to overcome challenges just like these.


How do we do it? Well, a few ways, but one has proven particularly successful thus far – and that is Lean 101.

Lean 101 is an introductory training on Lean process improvement and problem solving that was first developed by me and my former colleagues (PPI’s Ryan Hunter included!) during our time on the City Performance team at the Controller’s Office of the City and County of San Francisco. It was very well received. When I started at BART, I decided to try out the training on BART employees and see where that led.


Since then, my team and I have trained 125 BART employees in Lean 101. Survey results indicate that 89% enjoy the class and are likely to recommend it to colleagues. While it is nice to know that people like the class, that is not the most exciting part. Here’s what is:


Employees are applying what they learn in the training and, as a result, solving problems and saving BART time and money.


How do we know that? Here’s how…


In May 2023, we started requiring trainees to complete a Just Do It (JDI) – a low-effort, low-impact innovation – after the course to receive full passing credit in BART’s learning management system. We asked each trainee to tell us about their JDI by filling out the following 1-page form:


We verify the metrics section with the trainee and use it to quantify the expected savings associated with their innovation.


The result?


Only 27 employees (30% of trainees since May) have completed JDIs thus far. While that may not seem impressive, the big news is how much staff time just these few small improvements are estimated to save – approximately $270,000 and 4,475 hours annually!


Here are some examples of the JDIs implemented by trainees:


  • Juan Matta is BART’s Manager of Transit Vehicle Cleaning. He created a Supply Order Form to standardize the way that 12 different employees order cleaning supplies on a weekly basis. He estimates that this improvement cuts down on approximately 55 minutes of extra time that unnecessarily prolonged the process of ordering supplies; multiplied out, these 55 minutes translate to approximately 570 staff hours saved annually. If you take hourly wages into consideration, the monetary value of this time savings translates to approximately $25,000 in freed staff capacity per year.

  • Brian Tsukamoto is a Manager of Special Projects for BART’s Production Support team. He realized that disorganization and clutter among decommissioned parts made it harder for staff to locate parts or know which parts to pull. After Lean 101, he decided to lead a team to start cleaning up and organizing the space in accordance with 5S – a five-step Lean methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment. After using 5S, he found that staff now take 10 minutes to pull and locate parts that used to take hours to find. He also found that they need to pull and locate parts less frequently than before. As a result, Brian estimates that the 5S maintenance of the decommissioned parts area translates to 1,880 hours and $65,800 in annual staff time savings. He also noted that staff’s ability to pull and locate parts quicker means that trains can exit shops quicker and, therefore, serve riders quicker.

  • Carlos Alberto Rosales is one of the BART engineers responsible for civil, structural, and track engineering projects. Carlos noticed that errors were occurring when workers performed quality control inspections in the track. BART has to schedule an 8-person team for an extra 8-hour shift to rectify these errors. To help prevent errors from happening, Carlos printed a Quality Control Construction Checklist and placed it in the tool chest that workers keep on the truck when they go into the track. That way, workers can easily access and use the checklist in the field. Carlos reports that, since he printed this checklist, no other quality control inspection errors requiring rework have occurred. His JDI is expected to save BART approximately 1,664 hours and $95,980 in staff time per year – and those are just the soft cost savings. Carlos’ improvement is also likely to reduce how much BART spends on leasing and maintenance costs for hi-rail vehicles, as they are used less frequently when rework is unnecessary.

And the savings don’t stop there. Three months after taking the course, we ask trainees to let us know how many hours a month they expect that Lean 101 skills are saving them. Respondents thus far have told us that they are collectively saving 351 hours of their own time per month, which equates to approximately $263,000 in staff time savings annually.


Lean 101 is helping to prove an essential tenet of Lean philosophy – small improvements over time can have a very big impact. As Karen Martin, one of my favorite thought leaders in the Lean space, says: It can be tempting to focus all your time and energy on making improvements that promise big results, but, just like in baseball, you do not win a game by only making grand slams. You win a game because singles add up.

Imagine what is possible if trainees continue to complete more JDIs over time. Or if more BART staff gets bit by the continuous improvement bug.


There is good reason to anticipate that more BART staff would be attracted to adopting a Lean mindset. The fact that 30% of trainees since May have gone out of their way to complete a JDI form is telling in itself. Enrollment in Lean 101 is completely voluntary, so there is no requirement that employees pass the course. We believe that employees need very little extra incentive to complete JDIs because so many of them are already hungry to reduce the frustrations they experience in their daily work.


My team wants to continue to effectively capitalize on that hunger. We are now offering Lean 101 on a quarterly basis and continue to sell out every class. At the same time, we train cross-functional teams across the District in portions of Lean 101 when we partner with them to solve high impact, high effort problems. Finally, we offer Office Hours on a weekly basis to hear from staff on the problems they are facing and, in these conversations, we expose employees to Lean 101 tools and techniques.


At the end of the day, though, my team’s success depends entirely on the motivation of BART employees to make improvements happen. Lucky for us, BART has a wealth of dedicated and talented employees that are enthusiastic about doing exactly that. Lucky for BART, too – the agency is facing an impending fiscal cliff, so the pressure to find ways to operate faster, cheaper, and better is greater than ever before.


We have only just scratched the surface of what is possible at BART using lessons from Lean 101.


And we’re just getting started.



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