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Michael Ballé

Michael Ballé

Michael Ballé, PhD, is a lean management practitioner, business writer, and author. He is co-author of The Gold Mine Trilogy, The Lean Strategy, and The Lean Sensei.

For over 25 years, he has studied first-hand lean transformations, helping companies and people in fields such as manufacturing, engineering, construction, services, and healthcare make the transition to different ways of working and managing.

As a managing partner of ESG Consultants, Ballé coaches executives on how to obtain exceptional performance through lean tools, principles, and different management attitudes. His main coaching technique is the "real place visit," where he helps senior executives learn how to really see their own shop floors, teach people the spirit of kaizen, and reach the right conclusions for the whole business.

An engaging and colorful public speaker, Ballé also is an experienced workshop facilitator, an associate researcher at Télécom ParisTech's Projet Lean Enterprise, and co-founder of the French Lean Institute. Ballé holds a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Social Sciences and Knowledge Sciences. He is co-founder of the Project Lean Entreprise and the Instituet Lean France.

Articles by Michael Ballé
Are You Narrowing Your Problems Down?
"Rationality did not lay in higher reasoning powers, in visionary schemes, but in the ability to narrow down problems until one reached the nitty-gritty level at which one could actually do something about them," writes the protagonist of Michael Balle's The Gold Mine. More »
Lead With Respect Shares Tangible Practices That Develop Others, Says Author Michael Balle
Michael and Freddy Balle's book Lead With Respect portrays on-the-job behaviors of lean leaders which can be learned through practice. Michael explains how these can help fulfill the promise of lean by aligning the company’s success to individual fulfillment. More »
How Can Lean Affect Shareholder Value?
Lean can help challenge assumptions and surface opinions that ultimately improve shareholder value, argues Michael Balle. More »
Why Lean Is the Strategy We Need For Today's World
At all times, and especially in uncertain conditions such as today, lean is a learning framework, argue Michael Balle and Dan Jones. More »
Lean Lessons from Cobra Kai(zen) and the Karate Kid
The unexpected wake-up call of the modest perfection of the original Karate Kid movie was that we need to move beyond defending this or that method of work and look to highlight opportunities of improving things beyond monetization, says Michael Balle in this reflection on the meaning of this classic movie. More »
How Using Kanban Builds Trust
Kanban functions as a trust machine because everyone using it must understand what they have to do and why, says Michael Balle: "Our purpose here is to share our ideas on what we believe is important in lean thinking.  " More »
The Sanity of Just-in-Time
Path dependence is the worst enemy of smart resolution, argue the authors, who suggest greater "frame control" with enabling tools such as just-in-time to respect people on the frontline and respect the facts they share about what is happening to them. "Mastering the path as opposed to being led by it, means looking up frequently to reevaluate both destination and way as new information comes to light.  " More »
5S, Hygiene, and Healthy Habits
5S-like practice can uncover hidden beliefs and misconceptions, and pave the way to adopting new hygiene practices – as opposed to arbitrary imposition, argues Michael Balle, adding: In this community, we, of all people, have been trained to do so. Now is the time to start acting on it. More »
How One Company is Using Lean Fundamentals When Facing Disruption
Companies that have been built using lean principles are turning to these core ideals when confronting the unique challenges caused by today’s pandemic. Here's how the French seller of automobiles, AramisAuto, is responding. More »
How Can Lean Help Respond to Crises?
Although lean might seem fragile to crises, because of low inventories, it’s quite the opposite, says Michael Balle: Lean thinking is about training to solve small crises – problems – daily. More »
Lean Is A Product-Driven Strategy
What is at the core of lean? Michael Balle argues, in terms of our best known example: "Toyota is not an efficiency-driven company. It’s a product-driven company.  " More »
Kanban As A Learning Strategy
Toyota’s Kanban legacy—and its underlying ideas—have far more direct lineage with today’s digital economy than most folks realize; and capture the core elements of the disruptive lean strategy fueling many of today’s successes. More »
Book Review: Designing the Future
Forget frameworks, processes, rote step methods. Read this book and think back to the “Why?” before the “What?” and “How?”: companies live or die on whether their products and services better help customers to do whatever they want to get done, at a better value-for-money deal. More »
TPS, the Thinking People System
The twin pillars of just-in-time and jidoka help support a full model about how to achieve customer satisfaction from employee satisfaction, through teamwork and respect, on a basis of mutual trust between management and employees. More »
How Does Asking Questions Create Change?
Lean is not a sum of processes to acquire and apply which then will make things magically work better. It’s a set of techniques to visualize delivery processes so everyone understands them at a glance, reveal problems to give opportunities for people to exercise their abilities to think, be creative and utilize their strengths to self-actualize in the course of their work. More »
Seeing the Work of a Daily Management System
Daily management systems tap visual elements that expose problems, and also use obeyas as thinking spaces for reflecting on broader challenges, says Michael Balle. More »
The Battle for the Soul of Lean
When elements of lean management began to infiltrate management ranks decades ago, a “great divide” quickly formed, according to author and lean practitioner Michael Ballé. Some managers looked at it as a radically different, disruptive, but complete business system. Others saw it as a set of tools for operational excellence. The gulf endures and determines what results you get. More »
Why You Should Think of Lean Tools as Frames
Michael Ballé, co-author of the recent book "The Lean Strategy" with Dan Jones, Orry Fiume, and Jacques Chaize; discusses why it's time to think of lean tools as frames for learning. More »
No Shortcuts: Creating a Lean Environment the Right Way
As much as we may wish there was a way to pull off a lean transformation with only a basic knowledge of its ideals, there isn't one. Michael Ballé explains why investing the time it takes to fully learn lean is worth every second you put into it. It may take a while, but the benefits will speak for themselves. More »
I'm Michael Ballé, Ask Me Anything
Ask author and lean coach Michael Ballé anything you wish on lean thinking and practice! He'll be here all day answering YOUR questions! More »
Is There No Other Lean Exemplar Than Toyota?
"I believe that while Toyota isn’t the only lean exemplar out there," writes Michael Ballé, "it still gives us a flawless example of what lean truly is – a definition that is so often misunderstood. Let us try to disentangle the matter.  " Read more. More »
TPS or the Toyota Way?
"Students of lean are often confused by the variety of ways Toyota explains the Toyota Production System," writes Michael Ballé. "For instance, 'what is the link,' they ask, 'between the TPS house and the Toyota Way?'" The answer in Michael's latest article for The Lean Post. More »
What I Could Only Learn from a Sensei
Some aspects of lean can be learned through experience, but other aspects can only be taught by an experienced sensei. Michael Balle reflects on some of the unique advice given to him by his most influential sensei: his father and co-author, Freddy. More »
Why Toyota is Still My North Star
"In the past five years the local lean engineering community has gained a deeper hands-on appreciation of how intermeshed product and processes are," writes Michael Ballé. "Product innovation often comes from progress in process innovation. We also understand better the truly outstanding feats of engineering that Toyota’s new drive represents.  " More »
Why Practicing Lean Thinking Matters (Even if Your Bosses Don’t Care)
"If your boss doesn't get [lean thinking], don't expect to convince him/her," writes Michael Ballé. "Do expect to get him/her interested if you manage to make them look good with your results.  " And no matter what, Ballé says, never underestimate the importance of your local lean efforts. More »
Lessons Learned from My Lean Sensei about “Customer Service”
"To 'get' Lean we have to change our specs, and no longer see processes as sequences of dependent tasks, but as sequences of dependent CHOICES," writes Michael Ballé. Read more. More »
The Five Poisons of Big Company Disease
What's "big company disease"? The tendency of any large company to worry about clearly defined territories, rules and procedures, and integrated systems more than a passion for quality or the kaizen spirit. Michael Ballé explains. More »
Products, People, Profits
Lean Management is about “seeking the customer’s smile,” writes author and lean practitioner Michael Ballé in Industrial Engineering's International Issue, October 2014. To do that, managers have to seek employees' smiles. More »
Why Leadership and "Respect" Are Fundamentally Entwined
Hear the word "respect" and most of us can think of a time we've wanted our boss, team member, or employee to "be more respectful.  " But respect is about something else altogether, says Michael Ballé. For leaders, "it's about committing to an employee's success. Employees have a right to succeed WITH us, not a duty, and we need to define this success together.  " More »
"How to Lead with Respect" -- Follow-Up Q&A to the Webinar
At the end of the lean management webinar “How to Lead with Respect,” we had a couple of hundred questions left over that presenter and author Michael Ballé didn’t have time to answer.  After reviewing the questions, several main themes emerged. We’ve selected your questions that best represent those themes and present them here with answers from Michael.  Q:Can you give examples of two improvements that can only happen within relationships to help me better understand this concept?A: Teaching lean thinking to the COO of a new company. In shipping, we start with a Truck Preparation Area --  the logistics More »
I'm Michael Ballé, Ask Me Anything
Reddit has mastered the AMA (Ask Me Anything) style post, giving readers a direct line of communication with leading thinkers, artists, and comedians. Here's your chance to ask Michael Ballé, co-author of Lead With Respect, anything about his new book, lean thinking and practice, and the future of management in the 21st century. More »
Still Faithful to Lean Thinking
"We wrote Lead With Respect to show just how central engagement and involvement is to lean success," says Michael Ballé. "As a sociologist, 'making people to make products' is what grabbed me as I first studied how Toyota led improvement.  " Learn more about what drove Ballé, co-author of Lead With Respect, to share this particular story. More »
Which Side Are You On?
"Lean is based on developing every person’s kaizen mind," writes Michael Ballé, "not asking them to thoughtlessly apply a best practice that was invented far from their real world.  " Read more. More »
Monozukuri Through Hitozukuri
Michael Ballé reflects on what it really means to "make people before parts" and introduces two more lean terms that just so happen to be Japanese. More »
Show Me the Money!
In his latest piece for the Post, Michael Ballé writes, "If we don’t get better at showing explicitly where the gains of lean thinking and practice lay, why should managers listen?" More »
Kaizen Power
In his latest piece for the Post, Michael Ballé explains why "humble 100x1% is better than 1x100% kaizen.  " This kind of kaizen impacts the bottom line of your company and can even change its strategic trajectory. More »
The Fight for the Meaning of Lean
"It seems like every one and their dog is doing Lean," writes Michael Ballé. "But what 'Lean' are we talking about? Is it the 'to develop products we need to develop people' Lean.  .. Or is it the 'improve productivity to reduce costs' Lean corporate types like. Or both?" More »
Why Lean Gets Business Backwards (and why that’s a good thing)
Most executives think their role is to first define a strategy, then the organizational structure needed to implement the strategy, and then the systems needed to sustain the strategy. “And they’ve learned they also need some kind of involvement program,” said Michael Ballé, coauthor of The Lean Manager and The Gold Mine, popular business novels about lean transformations.  Lean takes the opposite approach, according to Ballé, who also writes the Gemba Coach column. “The basic assertion of lean is that if every year you are serious about improving your safety, your quality, your flexibility, and your productivity by involving everybody More »
A Lean Leap of Faith
Michael Ballé reflects on a core assumption of Lean that is often disregarded and explains why it is worth taking a lean leap of faith. More »
What comes after Lean?
Lean practice is an ongoing process, it never ends. But what are we learning about the field? What comes after Lean in terms of emerging schools of thought? Michael Ballé shares his thoughts. More »
Waste-Free Capitalism
In his first piece for The Lean Post, lean thought leader and LEI author Michael Ballé shares Toyota's lessons for society at large and calls for a rethink to capitalism as we know it. More »
What Lean Thinkers Think About The Gold Mine
Questions and comments from readers to co-author Michael Ballé about his book The Gold Mine. More »
Books by Michael Ballé
The Lean Sensei (eBook) The Lean Sensei (eBook)
The Lean Sensei provides both a conceptual and hands-on toolkit for developing lean leaders—and becoming one yourself. It will challenge you to reflect on how you coach; share mindful questions that improve your awareness of what to look for; and keep both you and your students focused on the signs, symptoms, and syndromes that can slow your lean success. More »
The Lean Sensei The Lean Sensei
The Lean Sensei provides both a conceptual and hands-on toolkit for developing lean leaders—and becoming one yourself. It will challenge you to reflect on how you coach; share mindful questions that improve your awareness of what to look for; and keep both you and your students focused on the signs, symptoms, and syndromes that can slow your lean success. More »
The Gold Mine Trilogy 4 Book Set The Gold Mine Trilogy 4 Book Set
Save $40 when you buy this as a set! ($115 total when books are purchased separately)This 4 Book Set includes:The Gold Mine deftly weaves together the technical and human pieces of implementing lean manufacturing in an engaging story that readers will find both compelling and instructive.  The Lean Manager: A Novel of Lean Transformation reveals how individuals can go beyond the short-term gains from tools, and realize a deeper, sustainable path of improvement.  Lead With Respect, Learn the true power of lean: developing people through a rigorous application of proven tools and methods. And, in the process, creating the only sustainable source More »
The Gold Mine Trilogy Study Guide The Gold Mine Trilogy Study Guide
A way for teams to improve their lean practice together through reflection on the Ballé novel trilogy: The Gold Mine, The Lean Manager, Lead With Respect More »
Lead With Respect Lead With Respect
In their third business novel Lead With Respect, authors Michael and Freddy Ballé reveal the true power of lean: developing people through a rigorous application of proven tools and methods. And, in the process, creating the only sustainable source of competitive advantage—a culture of continuous improvement. More »
The Lean Manager The Lean Manager
For many companies, the most important problem is not doing lean; it is becoming lean. How can they advance beyond realizing isolated gains from deploying lean tools, to fundamentally changing how they operate, think, and learn? In other words, how can companies learn to go beyond lean turnaround to achieve lean transformation?The Lean Manager, by lean experts Michael and Freddy Ballé, addresses this critical problem. This sequel to their international bestselling business novel The Gold Mine, tells the compelling story of plant manager Andrew Ward as he goes through the challenging but rewarding journey to becoming a lean manager. Under the guidance of More »
The Gold Mine The Gold Mine
A growing number of successful companies are turning to lean thinking to maintain a competitive edge in a global economy of falling prices, rising quality, and relentless competition. Yet while there are many excellent resources that teach both the tools and principles, no single book addresses what might be the most important lean discipline of all—the human challenge of creating and sustaining the commitment of the people doing the work.  The Gold Mine deftly weaves together the technical and human pieces of implementing lean manufacturing in an engaging story that readers will find both compelling and instructive. Authors Freddy and More »