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Lean Transformation Summit Delivers Inspiration and Practical Information

Lean management leaders from manufacturing, healthcare, and service companies received inspiration as well as practical information at last week’s annual Lean Transformation Summit, sponsored by the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI). Nearly 500 lean practitioners attended the two-day conference in Orlando, FL, focused on the theme “improve the work, develop the people.”

“We’re out to make the world better,” said keynoter John Shook, CEO of LEI, whose mission is to “make things better through lean thinking and practice.”  He defined lean management as a way to “systematically develop people and continuously improve processes to provide value and prosperity while consuming the fewest possible resources.”

He offered leaders a practical model for guiding their lean transformations, based on answering five questions:

  • What is our purpose; what business problem is the transformation trying to solve?
  • How do we improve the actual work?
  • How do we develop the people?
  • What role must leadership take, and how does the management system support the new way of working?
  • What basic thinking or assumptions underlie this transformation?

“If any of these dimensions are not addressed, the transformation will stumble eventually,” Shook said.

Leading Lean

In plenary sessions, executives from a variety of businesses shared their experiences in leading lean transformations.

  • Margarette Purvis, CEO, the Food Bank For New York City, explained how the Toyota Production System Support Center was helping it use the lean concept of kaizen (continuous improvement)  to reduce the time people wait on lines at soup kitchens or food pantries, thus fulfilling its mission to deliver food with dignity. “Our mission is not to just end hunger but to do it with dignity,” she said. “You don’t stand on that line in the snow if you don’t have to.”
  • Kevin Nolan, vice president-technology, GE Appliances, described how the unit went from the brink of being sold in 2008 to an onshoring success story by applying lean concepts in manufacturing. It then spread the principles – including lean startup practices -- to product development. “If it weren’t for lean, we wouldn’t be here talking to you,” he told the audience.
  • William Owad, senior vice president of operational excellence, Cardinal Health, described development of a comprehensive program for developing internal lean leaders to create “sustainable change and capability” so Cardinal could keep pace with rapid changes in healthcare.
  • Mike Lamach, CEO, Ingersoll Rand, said when the company began a lean transformation about four years ago, leadership began comparing the company’s performance on 11 business metrics to a group of 17 peers and competitors.  As of the third quarter last year, the company had advanced at least one quartile in every one of the 11 metrics. Many measures had improved by two quartiles. “Employee engagement is the number one thing you have to have” to improve metrics, he said.

Lean Product and Process Development

The Summit introduced attendees to the ideas in the just-published Lean Product and Process Development, second edition, by Allen Ward and Durward Sobek, PhD. In a plenary presentation, “Lean Upstream Fastbreak,” Sobek and Jim Morgan, PhD, who used lean product development concepts while serving as a global engineering director at Ford Motor Company during its product-led revitalization, explained how lean differs from traditional development.

They said traditional development generates ideas, focuses on the one considered best, then begins a cycle of analysis and iteration. However, the selected idea may be fundamentally flawed. In contrast, lean product development uses “set-based concurrent engineering” to consider sets of alternatives to grasp the global landscape of possible solutions. “It’s an entirely different ways of thinking,” said Sobek.

Special Session with James Womack

Management expert Jim Womack, award-winning business book author and LEI founder, hosted a special “Lean Talks” session. The TED Talks-style breakout was open to selected Summit attendees who did 10-minute presentations (with minimal slides) on the conference theme. Womack is co-author of business book classics The Machine That Changed the World, Lean Thinking, and author most recently of Gemba Walks.

Open Space

During a unique “Open Space” session attendees rapidly self-organized and collaborated on 12 topics that they proposed, including how to: begin strategy deployment, apply lean concepts to knowledge work, involve senior leaders, and run a daily huddle with staff. At the end of the session, each group reported what it had learned.

Learn more about the Summit on the Lean Post and LEI’s Facebook album.

Lean Enterprise Institute

Lean Enterprise Institute Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Cambridge, MA, makes things better through lean research, education, publishing, and conferences. Founded in 1997 by management expert James P. Womack, PhD, it supports other lean initiatives such as the Lean Education Academic Network, the Lean Global Network, and the Healthcare Value Network. Visit LEI at https://www.lean.org for more information.