Latino Leanings


I am reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I can tell it’s going to be a long read. For starters, I am a slow reader. Lend me Atlas Shrugged and I’ll give it back to you in 6 years.


But the 336 pages isn’t the whole issue. With this book, every few paragraphs I am forced to stop and think about my daily activities. Goal setting, new products, testing, failure, and success – The Lean Startup forces you to think about the Whys behind how you operate.


The entrepreneur/author Eric Ries defines a Startup this way: a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.


This definition should resonate with an awful lot of people in the construction industry. Is anyone – or any company – operating the same way they were in 2005? Is anyone – or any company – not creating new products and services under conditions of uncertainty 


I am interested in Lean because from what I understand about the topic, it makes a ton of sense.


  • Eliminating Waste – who wants more waste?
  • Observing behavior – better than guessing, right?
  • Focus on what the Customer Values – why wouldn’t we?
  • The 5 Whys – annoying, but effective.
  • Continuous Improvement – you aint perfect yet.


Lean looks to clarify, simplify, and standardize.

Far from a Lean Guru myself, I am going to guess Communication is important in Lean Operations. Given the number of people involved in a jobsite, communication and teamwork seem critical.


How do we communicate with the Spanish-speakers on our jobsites? Latinos install the majority (and for your retailers, they also BUY the majority) of all the products in construcción.


But construction managers are predominantly English-speakers. To improve comunicación on the jobsite with Latino workers, they typically play a professional version of the childhood game, “Telephone.”


You remember “Telephone,” right?


I say a sentence to you. For example, “Hey Jose, when can you install the vanity?” You listen and then say it to the next guy. He listens and passes it on. Repeat per the number of people in the game.


Then the guy at the end stands up and says what he heard. In this case, he heard something like, “Hey Derrick Rose, eh? How can you stop the Linsanity?



It’s funny because humans are poor at passing verbal communication thru intermediaries. Direct, one-to-one communication is best.


So, how can we work together to Leanify operations amidst the language barrier on our jobsites?


If you are thinking, “That’s easy – require everyone on your jobsite to speak English.” Try again. Part of Lean is living in Reality. And Reality = Realidad on the jobsite.


We are in this together. Get used to it. Adapt or Perish.


Or feel free to hire 20 English-speakers who are itching to hang 35 sheets of drywall every day.


One way you can overcome the language barrier is to use the Lean tenet of Visualization. Phones these days have 8 megapixel cameras, which is amazing. Take pictures of your site and call attention to key problem areas. On one side have the picture, on the other have details in both English and Spanish.


Print them out on 11×17 paper, laminate them and take them to your next Toolbox Talk.




Try this out next week and save yourself some Rework – something your customer finds zero value in and won’t pay for.



Bradley Hartmann is founder and el presidente at Red Angle (, a Spanish language training firm focused on the construction industry. He hopes to finish The Lean Startup by Christmas. 

Categories: Jobsite Leadership

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