Diving into Lean

What a great week!

I spent most of it in Orlando Florida at the Peabody Hotel participating in meetings and discussions around “lean culture” with members of the Lean Enterprise Institute’s Lean Transformation Summit 2013.



The Institute is a non-profit organization made up of people like John Shook and Jim Womack who are certainly no strangers to the people who have decided to try and aspire to lean thinking.


The first day was spent in a workshop focused on Management Standard work.

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In lean manufacturing initiatives, we often focus on the Gemba where the work actually takes place. The lesson for the day was a renewed emphasis on the management/leader Gemba where other kinds of work need more focus on standardization. The problem with many groups is that the leadership does not completely align itself with a lean culture and the conflicts that arise are hindrances to advancing the progress of the whole unit.

The core part of lean is linked to an old retail saying:

“Location, location, location”

Proximity to the work and ultimately to the problems is linked with an iron band to the solutions that can be found. The more distance between the Gemba and the leadership, the harder it is to see problems and be a part of the solution. The mantra about problem solving is for the people involved to be where the problems occur. How can you achieve that if the managers are separated by space and time for most of the working day? Not only that, but meetings are very counterproductive if they are not linked to helping the people in the Gemba solve the things that keep them from being successful?

Can I get a witness?

The summit’s power is in bringing together thousands of lean practitioners from all around the world. Every major continent was represented in one way or another and the understanding of common struggles was obvious in the workshops and plenary sessions. As speaker after speaker identified common problems, you could see people shaking their heads up and down and smiling as if to say, “Yes, that is happening in my shop”.

The exciting thing is to see the principals of lean spreading to many industries. From the humble beginnings at Toyota, lean has spread like oil on water from manufacturing to healthcare, financial to insurance, services to education. The ideas of waste identification and elimination are useful in any industry with the vision to see what the possibility’s are. Mergers and acquisitions of companies have created untold opportunities for waste creation so finding ways to adapt this process is critical for all of us.

The common ground for all of us attending is the seeking of better ways to practice the beliefs and understand the way to apply the tools.

I learned some new facets of A3 thinking (both strategic and problem solving) from Tracey Richardson (Teaching Lean, Inc.). Tracey was a production worker at Toyota’s Georgetown plant in Kentucky and later became one of their trainers. She now teaches lean across all industries in her own business and is a dynamic speaker and presenter. Her tools for A3 problem solving will be shared with my team at my current location.


Laura Murray from IBM spent 90 minutes with us in a workshop that talked about TWI (Training within Industry). While much of the information was review for me, it was interesting to see the application in a process related industry and how it affected their lean journey.

Overall, the time was well spent for me. There were no moments of light bulbs popping over my head. But there was a great opportunity for me to sharpen my sword, learn a few new ideas of merit and meet with some fellow members of what some call a quasi-religious order.


The single best Plenary experience was hearing the success story of a young woman named Stacy Skinner who works for Herman Miller in western Michigan.

Herman Miller is one of the great lean success stories and you owe it to yourself to do a little research on the company and the way they do their business.

Stacy was a floor associate who was selected for one of Herman Miller’s leadership programs. HM identified that there was a gap in the middle and in order to expedite their lean journey they needed leaders at all levels. Tracy was selected for the program and currently serves as an Operations Facilitator. Her story about going form a floor worker and adopting the lessons learned in the classes was motivational and inspirational. There were some seasoned speakers before and after her, but none of them left the same impression with the crowd at large. Her ovation was the loudest and longest. Thank you Tracy and I hope you continue to grow and teach all of us.

Lean is about continuous learning.

I can honestly say that I spent the week in a way where some learning occurred. I wonder if there is a way we can spread waste elimination in a meaningful way to our government?

At the Peabody, that is like getting your Ducks in a Row…




Mister Mac

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