It’s been a fantastic summer for me so far working at the Lean Enterprise Institute, learning with the broader lean community, but most of all, as I’ll explain, working as Operator #1.
After taking over the CEO role from John Shook last October, I’ve spent too long with my head down, trying to grasp the current condition, getting to know our internal team and LEI faculty, and beginning to grapple with the sort of problems that any small nonprofit has in staying focused, sustainable, and centered on mission, in our case: the spread of lean thinking and practice.
I came up for air long enough to meet many in our community at the Lean Transformation Summit in Nashville in March, but mostly stayed close to Cambridge. This summer I’ve been able to get around a bit more.
In June, I attended the Lean Healthcare Summit in Chicago, sponsored by our sister organization Catalysis. More than 700 learners in an industry that I know too well: 18% of GDP and some would say, about 30% waste. That’s a trillion dollars of opportunity, folks; not to mention countless lives saved. Great presentations about the work underway from South Africa to Cleveland to improve the reliability of care and the value-creation process.
From there, I took in “Designing the Future,” our inaugural Lean Product and Process Development Summit in Traverse City, MI. I grew up not that far away in northern lower Michigan, and it was great to be back in the heartland. You only have to read the press about Tesla or GE or a thousand other companies to realize how much lean thinking is needed and effective in the development of products that shape our society and future. We’ll do this event again next year.
A few weeks ago, I was off to the Lean Coaching Summit in Seattle, an event we have co-sponsored for a number of years with our friends from Lean Frontiers. Coaching is foundational to the work we do and the presentations gave terrific insight into what makes for effective coaching for lean change in an enterprise. Charlie Murphy from Turner Construction, John Shook and Isao Yoshino sharing a stage to reflect on their coaching relationship at NUMMI, and Renee Smith and Holly Jensen presenting about driving fear from the workplace and replacing it with love were high points for me. This fall, I plan to return to Washington to take in a session of Renee’s new community initiative called Make Work Human. A smaller group spent a great day of reflection on the character of lean coaching after the event, led by our own Senior Coach Josh Howell and Chairman John Shook.
But the highlight of the summer so far has been right here at LEI, where I participated this week in the pilot of a new workshop we are developing called “Building a Lean Management System.” The title doesn’t really capture the experience: this is not the kind of learning that we usually think of as a workshop. It’s built around a manufacturing simulation, a production line in which the learners participate in the roles of assembly operators, process engineers, team leader, and manager in a production facility that builds lock sets -- the kind you open your door with. For two days, we struggled to meet customer demand for quantity, quality, and schedule; we failed, did kaizen, studied our process and learned to measure our cycle time, takt time, lead time, and defect rate during multiple production runs, interspersed with PDCA and expert coaching.
I was Operator #1, tasked with beginning the lock assembly process. The pressure was on at this virtual gemba! I have to say, I fulfilled my role brilliantly: creating defects and trying to learn from them. But by the end of our second day, under the watchful eye of our coaches, we had succeeded in transforming our production system from push to pull using visual signals, coordinated parts resupply, heijunka, kaizen, and PDCA. From meeting roughly 40% of customer requirements with plenty of defects in our first run, we built a production system that met 100% of customer demand with zero defects in a calm, orderly, quiet work environment where my production colleagues and I were able to report less stress and strain and greater job satisfaction.
This is (IMHO) the way that we’ve all learned what brought us into the lean community in the first place, by seeing and participating in the miracle of lean production and the engagement of human creativity in the task of creating value, and it’s really exciting to be part of this new adventure in andragogy, uniting theory and practice. Look for this workshop to be offered to our broader community in the near future, and many thanks to my LEI colleagues Karen Gaudet and Jikku Mohan for leading this event and to our learners from vocational education, biopharma, healthcare, auto repair, public service, and others who joined us in bringing this new experience to life.