Home > About Us> People> Josh Howell
Josh Howell

Josh Howell

President, Executive Team Leader, Lean Enterprise Institute

Joshua Howell is president and executive team leader at the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI). He supports co-learning partnerships across a variety of industries such as retail, restaurants, and construction, exploring how organizations transform for higher levels of performance with lean thinking. As a coach, he designs and facilitates hands-on learning experiences with solving meaningful problems by improving the work, believing such activities can add up to enterprise-wide lean transformation. Regular e-letters and podcasts are how he shares what he's learning with lean practitioners worldwide.

Prior to joining LEI, Howell was an architect and implementer of a lean operating and management system for retail stores at Starbucks Coffee Company, where he also created a team of lean coaches who helped facilitate and sustain the changes globally. The system enabled improved quality for products and experiences, increased product availability, and reduced waste (eg. brewed coffee). It was implemented by creating problem-solving experiences for managers at all levels, developing that critical capability across the company.

Howell holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame.

Articles by Josh Howell
Are You Creating the Right Environment?
Turner Construction is working hard to develop the "right environment" in which productive lean inquiry is baked into the working space of each situation their team is facing, writes Josh Howell. More »
Creating Better Jobs and Better Work: A WLEI Podcast with Josh Howell and Sarah Kalloch
As we slowly emerge from the long pandemic, LEI and colleagues like the Good Jobs Institute are deeply committed to helping produce decent jobs. In this conversation LEI LEI President Josh Howell spoke with Executive Director Sarah Kalloch of the Good Jobs Institute about ways they are both working to help foster good work. WLEI Host Tom Ehrenfeld moderated this conversation. More »
Who, or What, Is Your Company Investing In?
After reviewing the stellar work by a frontline supervisor who improved the problem of rotisserie chicken running out of stock, Josh Howell asked: will technology work for your people, or the other way around? More »
Reach for Your Mind Before Your Wallet
Josh Howell shares how the lean principle of reaching for your mind before your wallet can mitigate risk through careful planning and a willingness to conduct experiments, noting that this kaizen mindset is particularly relevant when tackling today's most pressing challenges. More »
What's Your Lean Origin Story? And Why Does It Matter?
"I’m wondering, as a leader and a coach, how can I help others develop similar routines, propagating, for example, the principle of 'work/er first' or 'work/er-back,'" says LEI's Josh Howell. "Reflecting on that has taken me all the way back to my 'lean origin story.  '" More »
Planning the Purposeful Turnaround
The capability to repurpose, and then to redesign and retool, is critically important in these challenging times, says Josh Howell, who adds: I hope you have enough cash and the built-in capability to learn what’s needed for a successful turnaround. More »
Lean-n-Food: Reimagining an Industry in Crisis
What is a restaurant in the post-pandemic world? LEI's Karen Gaudet and Josh Howell are exploring this and other questions with an international group of industry leaders who are lean practitioners. Here they frame the current problem, and share the work of their team in tackling the daunting challenges. More »
Lean WX – An Rx for Making Things Better
As someone whose understanding of lean/TPS grew exponentially by working on the line, Josh Howell encourages every would-be lean enterprise out there, even those who have “only” created a model line, to try this approach to capability development. More »
Turn to Lean To Tackle the Problems You Want to Solve Right Now
Lean thinking and practice is hard, says LEI President Josh Howell; noting that it's well worth the effort for those whose lives it has improved, and whose businesses have been saved and strengthened. But as a recent visit to the doctor reminded him, it’s still damn hard work. More »
The Hidden Value of Filling Out the Paperwork
Respect for people--and sustained continuous improvement--begins with something as simple as carefully filling out the paperwork for standardized work, says Josh Howell. More »
Exploring the Advantages of Online Learning
Transcript of "Exploring the Advantages of Online Learning," featuring the Lean Enterprise Institute's Josh Howell, Matt Savas, and Masia Goodman, who share how LEI is tapping into ways of learning and leveraging the latest learning technologies to design its upcoming Virtual Lean Learning Experience. More »
Changing Routines
In this article exploring ways to help lead positive change, Josh Howell asks: is pursuing understanding and conviction part of your influence or change model? Does your operating system enable it at the frontline, closest to the customer? And if not, what are the consequences? More »
Being 'Right' is Not Enough
All of us have problem-solving experiences to reflect on and learn from. And what better time to draw out that learning than now, when we as a society are tackling massive problems like the coronavirus pandemic and racism. In my case, I keep thinking about one experience when I failed. More »
Searching for a Path Toward Healing
Dr. Kiame Mahaniah, the CEO of Lynn Community Health Center, shares the message he wrote to his staff about finding a path toward healing after the recent spate of racial violence and resulting civil unrest. More »
Solutions from Afar
A leader's job isn't to provide solutions to problems; it's to teach and coach their staff to solve problems themselves--at the gemba. More »
Single Week Exchange of Business
You’ve no doubt heard of a single-minute exchange of dies in manufacturing, but what happens when you need to changeover your entire customer base in a few days? Here's the story of how a couple of lean thinkers did just that when the pandemic upended their business. More »
The Lab is Open
Why it's important to create a way to challenge assumptions and develop know-how, solve problems, and continuously improve--even during a crisis. More »
Working During an Outbreak; What We Can Learn for Later
During this pandemic, Trader Joe’s is demonstrating several hallmarks of lean thinking that help keep employees and customers safe--and creates a better shopping experience. More »
Delivering Quality Foods with Zingerman's Mail Order
Listen to this podcast between Tom Root, Zingerman Mail Order's Managing Director, and Josh Howell for a wide-ranging conversation about several phases of ZMO’s lean transformation, including the challenge of establishing a culture of continuous improvement with full participation, and how lean thinking could impact the food industry that’s in desperate need of a better way. More »
On The Job with Tom Root, Managing Partner of Zingerman's Mail Order (Transcript)
Zingerman’s Mail Order (ZMO), one of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, began its lean transformation 15 years ago after deciding that its 3rd relocation in 6 years due to 25-35% year-over-year growth was its last! There had to be a better way to solve its biennial capacity problem. And of course there was with lean thinking.   Tom Root, ZMO’s Managing Director, sat down with Josh Howell for a wide-ranging conversation about several phases of ZMO’s lean transformation, including the challenge of establishing a culture of continuous improvement with full participation, and how lean thinking could impact the food industry that’s More »
Rivian: The Electric-Vehicle Company Taking the Auto Industry by Storm
In this podcast, Rivian Founder and CEO R.  J. Scaringe and former COO Jim Morgan discuss the challenges of forming a bold electric car company from scratch. Starting with nothing a decade ago and now fueled by billions of dollars and more than 1000 employees, the company is set to launch two "electric adventure vehicles" domestically later this year. More »
Transcript for WLEI Podcast: Designing the Future, An interview with Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe and former COO Jim Morgan
If you do not yet know the company calledRivian you will undoubtedly know it very soon. In 2019 Rivian made waves in the auto industry by announcing two“electric adventure vehicles”: theR1T, an electric pickup truck, and the R1S, an electric SUV. Both vehiclesare expected to launch in the United States later this year and globally in 2021. Rivianis also developing afleet of electric delivery vans to fulfill a 100,000-unit order placed by Amazon. In the last twelve months the electric vehicle company has raised three billion dollars to bring this vision to life.   Rivian’s former COO Jim Morgan, who also leads LEI’s Lean Product and More »
How Ron Kelner Helped Build A System of Improvement at Deublin
In this podcast, Deublin COO Ron Kelner shares with Josh Howell the long learning journey of his company as it pursues lean, moving beyond creating a foundation of tools-based improvement, and towards developing a business system with problem-solving and people development at its core. More »
Transcript for the WLEI Podcast: On the Job with Ron Kelner, President and COO of the Deublin Company
Read the transcript from the WLEI Podcast: On the Job with Ron Kelner, President and COO of the Deublin Company, airing February 3, 2020, featuring: Josh Howell and Ron Kelner.  Listen to the podcast here » More »
Boeing Ex-Executive Alan Mulally Discusses a "Working Together Management System"
In this rare and revealing interview, Alan Mulally discusses lean management principles, including: the role of a CEO during a turnaround, how to take a “people-first” approach to leadership, and how to encourage people to share real information – good or bad. More »
I'm Josh Howell, Ask Me Anything
Since becoming LEI’s president a few months ago, Josh Howell has made it a priority to talk with you and visit your workplaces as much as possible. Please join in an Ask-Me-Anything conversation with Josh by sharing questions you have about the lean movement and the business struggles and problems you face. More »
All Lean Is Local
When I think about the idea of “all Lean is local,” I think about the fundamental entry point question for any Lean thinker in any situation, which is: “what's the problem to solve here? What's the problem to solve now?” More »
"What Did I Transform Today?"
A lean approach to coaching is incomplete if nothing has changed for the better, says Josh Howell, who shares how he learned that it is not enough to only think, talk, write, and draw. Best to conclude each day by asking yourself, "What did I transform today?" More »
Workers Unite for Better
The local strike by hospitality workers in Boston has led Josh Howell to contrast this situation with the lean culture at Dreamplace Hotels and Resorts in Tenerife, where front-line workers produce and socialize beautifully messy A3-sized papers sharing ideas for improvements. More »
Lean Coffee-Inspired Coaching
Lean Coffee has been praised for making meetings more productive by giving all participants a say in creating an agenda that works for everyone. LEI Senior Coach Josh Howell recently chose to incorporate Lean Coffee principles into the 2017 Lean Coaching Summit, which he organized and hosted back in July. Here's how he did it and what we as coaches can learn from it. More »
Advice from the Gemba: TPS Mythbusting
Despite its fundamental role in a lean transformation, the Toyota Production System is not an easy thing for many to grasp. In this special installment of Advice from the Gemba, three of LEI's accomplished faculty discuss the most common misconceptions they hear about TPS from their workshop participants. More »
Big Problems? Start Small
"In problem solving, we’re taught to ask a simple question, “Is this problem within my scope of control?” If yes, then we go after it. If no, then we escalate it to the next level of management. But for that to happen, I’ve learned it’s sometimes necessary to engage frontline team members in thinking about their work (steps, stuff, and time involved for transformation per a customer need) first.  " More »
A More Prepared Coach
"Many coaching situations we enter.  ..  with so little knowledge about the situation and how things work," writes Josh Howell. "Instead we rely on our wits and our ability to “ask effective questions.  '" But neither wits nor questioning skills will guarantee a productive coaching session if you haven't taken time to prepare yourself. Read more. More »
Experimenting with LEI's Transformation Model
Josh Howell, senior coach at LEI, reflects on LEI's Lean Transformation Model. "We set out to better understand the model, its value, and its usefulness," he writes. "We did this by trying to incorporate it into everything that we do and through experimenting with you, our customers.  " More »
The Case for Lean Thinking in Retail and Service Organizations
Josh Howell, senior coach at LEI, recently joined Ron Pereira at Gemba Academy for podcast conversation on coaching, lean thinking for retail and service organizations, and what respect for people really means. Check out some of the highlights here. More »
Hanging Up My Cape
"Managers and front line workers hustle to work around problems resulting from poorly designed work systems.  .. and with such pride!" writes lean coach Josh Howell. While he remembers them fondly, read why Howell is long past his superhero days. More »
How to Fold a T-Shirt
Training Within Industry Job Instruction is a four-step method that teaches an individual how to do a job correctly, safely, and consistently while meeting all requirements. In this video, LEI senior coach Josh Howell demonstrates standardized training for standardized work. More »
Are You Playing Today’s Game or Yesterday’s?
Are your coaching sessions with your staff inspiring 3-pointers or are they all air? LEI coach Josh Howell has some tips on how to keep your head in the game. More »
Workshops Taught by Josh Howell
Hoshin Kanri - Aligning Your Organizational Objectives This workshop will help leaders understand Policy Deployment as a process for "de-selecting" initiatives down to the ones the organization can really achieve while aligning them with company strategic objectives and deploying them down through the organizational ranks. More »
Key Concepts of Lean Designed for individuals and teams that want to gain a better understanding of the components and underlying philosophy of lean, based on the Toyota Production System (TPS), and how the elements and philosophy work together to create a Lean Enterprise. More »
Lean in Service: A simulation-based workshop This workshop is designed for learning by doing with no up-front instruction. By discovering some key points through the simulation and receiving others “just-in-time” from the instructor, you will develop a deeper understanding of the why behind the techniques you experience. Engaging reflection sessions ensure that your learning objectives are met. More »
Managing to Learn at the Gemba This session builds capability to effectively observe the gemba in a purposeful way and to define a clear problem to solve. This is built off of the fundamental framework of A3 thinking from Managing to Learn by John Shook. More »
Managing to Learn: Gaining Agreement This workshop introduces the A3 management process and the way of thinking represented in the A3 format that capture the heart of lean management. Participants will be provided an overview of various forms and uses of the A3 format and will have an opportunity to create their own A3. Working in small groups, they will be able to read, discuss, and evaluate each another’s A3s. More »
Managing to Learn: The Use of the A3 Management Process This workshop introduces the A3 management process and the way of thinking represented in the A3 format that capture the heart of lean management. Participants will be provided an overview of various forms and uses of the A3 format and will have an opportunity to create their own A3. Working in small groups, they will be able to read, discuss, and evaluate each another’s A3s. More »
Understanding Lean Transformation Come explore the components of the Lean Transformation Model, see examples of what others are doing and reflect upon some potential gaps to close within your own organization. More »
Using Training Within Industry (TWI) Techniques for Rapid and Sustainable Problem Solving Join us for a workshop based on scientifically-proven Training Within Industry (TWI) techniques designed to help you and your team (and the organization) learn faster. We will practice in real time through a lock-building simulation. More »