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Jean Cunningham

Jean Cunningham

Executive Chairman, Interim CEO, Lean Enterprise Institute
jcunningham@lean.org

Since her career began, Jean Cunningham has been breaking new ground. At the former Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in Maynard, MA, she was the innovative company’s first woman plant controller, using a fully engaged team approach to create excellence in the function. She later moved from DEC finance to operations.

Between 1993 and 2005 Jean served as CFO at two manufacturing companies, where she broke new ground integrating lean manufacturing with finance, IT, HR, marketing, and other business functions.

As CFO and vice president for administration at capital equipment maker Lantech, she played a key role in one of the earliest examples of lean production success and lean enterprise innovation. Lantech’s transformation was featured in Harvard Business Review, business best-seller Lean Thinking, and The Work of Management, published by LEI in 2017. She later became CFO of Marshfield Door Systems.

Jean is one of the original thought leaders behind the Lean Accounting Summit and the Lean HR Summit. She is a board member of the nonprofit Lean Education Advancement Foundation, which provides scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students and faculty to attend lean management conferences or conducted research. 

From 2006-2011, she was the voluntary CFO of the Association of Manufacturing Excellence. "In 2006, she founded Illinois-based Jean Cunningham Consulting, and for the past 13 years has provided strategic guidance, lean management coaching, and other continuous improvement practices globally to companies in manufacturing, services, and healthcare."

Writing and Painting

A sought-after speaker and keynoter at conferences, Jean was inducted into the AME Hall of Fame for Manufacturing Excellence in 2018. The next year, she was inducted into the Shingo Academy, which honors business leaders who have distinguished themselves in operational excellence. She teaches Lean Accounting at the Ohio State University Master of Business Operational Excellence program.

Despite a busy schedule, Jean has found the time to write three business management books. She is co-author of the acclaimed, Real Numbers: Management Accounting in a Lean Organization, an essential text for learning lean accounting. She is co-author of Easier, Simpler, Faster on applying lean principles to IT processes.  Both books were awarded a Shingo Prize for Research in 2004 and 2008, respectively. In 2018, she published The Value Add Accountant, a follow-up to Real Numbers on how finance and accounting can innovate and add value in strategic improvement efforts.

When she isn’t helping companies start or advance continuous improvement systems, Jean enjoys swimming and painting. She holds a bachelor’s in accounting from Indiana University and a master’s from Northeastern University’s Executive Program.

Articles by Jean Cunningham
Cost Saving is Tired--Value Creation is Hot!
Lean affects financial outcomes--dramatically so in firms that incorporate widespread lean thinking over the long term, says LEI Chair Jean Cunningham. And yet she counsels you not to fixate on cost reduction or product cost. Look instead at the real numbers. More »
Not So Simple: Pioneering Lean Product Development
Jean Cunningham, LEI’s executive chair, offers lessons from her time as CFO of lean management pioneer Lantech when it successfully deployed lean principles to product development to accelerate growth, cut new product lead time, and increase profits. More »
A Little Bit of Lean Product and Process Development with Very Large Results
Believing it had only enough land and budget for a badly needed new parking garage, a hospital was able to build not only the garage but a new trauma center that it needed by applying a principle of Lean Product and Process Development during the design phase, according to Jean Cunningham, executive chair, Lean Enterprise Institute.    More »
How Accounting “Squirrels” Can Ferret Out Waste
While other functions are busy as beavers looking for waste during a lean transformation, your accounting staff is like a squirrel with its head stuck in a yogurt cup. They only see the traditional work right in front of them instead of digging into data for buried “nuts” of waste, says Jean Cunningham, LEI’s new executive chairman. More »
A Small Amount of Time Can Yield Big Results
Four minutes, well focused, can be a long time, notes Jean Cunningham. Without competing distractions, many words can be spoken, absorption of new info happens, and a good deal can be accomplished. We found we actually got more done by getting clear on our focus and our timeframe. More »
The Art of Work
A visit to the Grohmann Museum helped remind Jean Cunningham that when done correctly and consistently, lean starts to reconnect people to work and work to people. Using lean principles and tools helps recreate worker ownership of the work, connection to the customer need, and value creation. More »
Moving People Around as Key to Unlocking Financial Outcomes of Lean
As lean accounting pioneer Jean Cunningham will tell you, there’s much more to understanding lean’s financial benefits than looking at a balance sheet. In this Lean Talk, she takes a deeper dive into one of the ways you can use to reap the financial outcomes of lean. More »
Tips for Proving the Financial Value of Lean to Leadership
Of the many aspects of lean accounting, one that has proven especially useful is the principle of “cost avoidance.  ” Today on the Lean Post, lean accounting pioneer Jean Cunningham explains what this is and why it’s a must-know for any finance professional. More »
It's Not All About the Cash: How to Help Leadership Understand Lean's Financial Benefits
Lean's cost savings might not show up immediately on the income statement -- but that doesn't mean there were no cost savings! Oftentimes the financial benefits of lean are other benefits in disguise, and it's important that we teach our leaders how to recognize them. Jean Cunningham explains. More »
Advice from the Gemba: Standardizing Work for Leaders with Varied Tasks
How, many people ask LEI, can you possibly standardize a leader's work when even they can't predict what their work will look like on a given day? The answer: by adopting the right approach. Three LEI faculty members weigh in. More »
What the Books Don't Tell: Explaining the Financial Benefits of Lean
It's a curious fact that very few books about lean address the topic of finance. Questions about lean's financial benefits are often the first that leaders skeptical about launching a transformation ask, so it's a wonder why this is seldom addressed. Lean accounting pioneer and LEI faculty Jean Cunningham now weighs in on this information gap in lean finance, along with suggestions for how to bridge it at your company. More »
Advice from the Gemba: Keeping Senior Leadership Committed
The cost savings of lean are not always apparent in the short term. If your senior leadership was skeptical going into the transformation, this situation can easily make them lose confidence and pull the plug. What's the best way to keep them onboard and committed? Three lean practitioners share their thoughts. More »
Why and How to Engage Finance in a Lean Transformation. An Interview with Jean Cunningham
There's often a disconnect between an organization's lean and finance departments, especially when a lean transformation is underway. In her newest piece for the Lean Post, Jean Cunningham explains the root causes, potential dangers, and solutions to this all-too-common problem. More »
Putting Financial Value on Lean Transformation
What is the ROI on a kaizen event? How does Lean stack up against other revenue generation or cost-saving initiatives? While Jean Cunningham says questions like these reflect an incomplete and superficial grasp of Lean, she's using them as the impetus for helping people understand the financial benefits of their lean efforts. More »
How Lean Thinking Affects Information Needs: a Q & A with Jean Cunningham
Jean Cunningham pioneered the diffusion of lean principles from the manufacturing floor to finance, information systems, human resources, and telecommunications, starting at Lantech, whose lean transformation was described in Lean Thinking.  LEI recently asked her, “What questions do you hear most often from Lean Thinkers struggling with the information needs of a lean organization?” She replied:Will I need a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system when I adopt lean?How will I know if lean is having a positive impact on my financial results?If I am a division of a larger company that has not adopted lean thinking, how can I More »
When to apply IT to lean improvements
Are Lean and IT friends or foes?   Is that really the right question?  Instead, ask when should we introduce technology.    In the following graphic, which is related to the use of kanban with suppliers, each phase of the learning/implementation used technology differently.    Technology was applied only where it could aid in quality or waste reduction.  At the end, technology helped with data analysis. (Source: Jean Cunningham, Jean Cunningham Consulting.  ) Read a Q&A with Jean about how lean thinking affects your information technology needs. More »
Books by Jean Cunningham
Real Numbers Real Numbers
Companies throughout the world are using lean principles to dramatically change the competitive landscape while generating new profitability and market share. As these companies transform, however, financial executives are usually not prepared for how lean principles affect finance and do not know how to streamline accounting. The management accounting model illustrated in Real Numbers points the way to unlocking the true profit potential of lean. More »
Real Numbers (eBook)
Workshops Taught by Jean Cunningham
The Lean Profit Model This workshop will show the connectivity between the various types of lean tools, techniques and concepts and how the benefits of using lean can be captured in quantitative aspects. More »