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Art Byrne

Art Byrne

Partner, J.W. Childs Associates

Art Byrne is an Operating Partner with J.W. Childs Associates, a private equity firm specializing in leveraged buyouts and recapitalizations of middle-market growth companies, where he leads the implementation of lean management at Childs' portfolio companies.

While serving as CEO or an equivalent position, Byrne implemented lean principles in more than 30 companies (including subsidiaries) and 14 countries during the past 30 years, giving him a matchless knowledge of how to turn around companies using a lean strategy. Byrne began his lean journey as general manager at the General Electric Company. Later, as group executive, he helped introduce lean to the Danaher Corporation. As CEO of The Wiremold Company he quadrupled the company size and increased its enterprise value by 2,500% in less than 10 years.

Byrne holds a bachelor's in economics from Boston College and an master's from Babson College. He also serves as a board member of the Shingo Prize.

Articles by Art Byrne
Ask Art: Why Should I Convert to a Pull System?
Deliver more value to your customers by converting your business to a pull system and connecting demand directly to your production system, advises Art Byrne. More »
Ask Art: What Do You Look At in a "Pre-lean" Company?
Art Byrne identifies factors such as excess inventory and floor space, long turnaround times, and numerous other elements to study when considering the long-term value of "pre-lean" companies. More »
Ask Art: Why Switch from Batch to Lean?
Switching from batch production to a complete lean enterprise produces benefits far beyond immediate financial results, argues Art Byrne. Read this for details on your potential gains. More »
Ask Art: How Can I Ensure the Participation of Top Management?
Always keep in mind that to be successful with lean, senior management must drive the change, says lean veteran Art Byrne. He shares evidence of how this evidence has helped him lead numerous lean turnarounds. More »
How Wiremold Reinvented Itself Through Kaizen
Art Byrne shares a seminal 25-year-old article recounting how Wiremold tapped Kaizen to support a complete lean turnaround that continues to inspire and instruct people on their own journey today. More »
Ask Art: What is the Walk of Shame, and Why Is It Effective?
Take your team on a walk of shame, urges lean veteran Art Byrne. He suggests that you have some fun with it, but ask serious questions about what you are seeing at every stop. If you do it correctly, this exercise can change people's opinions and jump-start you down the lean path. More »
Ask Art: Why Are Leaps of Faith Involved in a Lean Turnaround?
Leaps of faith are not incidental associations with a lean turnaround; they are a basic requirement, argues lean veteran Art Byrne. More »
Ask Art: The Benefits of Kaizen Learning vs. Traditional Problem-Solving
Kaizen is for learning and doing, says Art Byrne, who points out the benefits of this "learn-by-doing" approach over traditional problem-solving. More »
Lean Lessons from Mark Deluzio, Art Byrne, and Jim Womack: transcript of the WLEI podcast
Lean required a level of discipline, engaged leadership, and a structured approach to execution for long-term success. Hear from Lean veterans Mark Deluzio, Art Byrne, and Jim Womack about enduring lessons of Lean execution.    More »
Lean Lessons from Mark Deluzio, Art Byrne, and Jim Womack: transcript of the WLEI podcast
Lean requires a level of discipline, engaged leadership, and a structured approach to execution for long-term success. Hear from Lean veterans Mark Deluzio, Art Byrne, and Jim Womack about enduring lessons of Lean execution.    More »
Ask Art: What Role does Human Resources Play in a Lean Turnaround?
Although you shouldn’t expect HR to lead the kaizen effort or set up extensive training programs, there is still plenty for them to do that will be critical to the success of your lean turnaround, says Art Byrne, who adds: "After all, lean is all about people.  " More »
Ask Art: What Was Danaher Like In the Early Days of Lean?
In this personal account of launching lean at Danaher, Art Byrne shares a wealth of insights into how to seed an enduring lean culture and business system. More »
Ask Art: Why Implement Lean During A Pandemic?
Implementing lean during this pandemic will allow many more companies to emerge from this economic crisis in far better shape than they were in before, says Art Byrne. In fact they will emerge much stronger than if they just tried to ride it out by making small changes to their existing batch approach. More »
Ask Art: Why Do Most Companies Think Of Lean as Just a Cost Reduction Program?
We shouldn’t be surprised at all that most companies approach lean as a cost reduction program, when it really is better understood as a time-based growth strategy, says Art Byrne, who points out the strategic benefits that accrue to companies practicing lean completely. More »
Ask Art: Why Does Setup Time Reduction Matter So Much?
Setup reduction is a necessary step to go from traditional management to lean--or said another way, from batch to flow and from push to pull. According to Art Byrne, reducing this time may sound like some “manufacturing thing” but is in fact one of the most strategic things you can do. More »
Ask Art: Does Lean Really Work Beyond Manufacturing?
Lean certainly applies beyond manufacturing, explains Art Byrne, who shares the dramatic gains at a life insurance company as a way of teaching broadly applicable principles for a lean turnaround. More »
Ask Art: What Do You Focus on When Assessing the Potential Gains From Converting to Lean?
Lean veteran Art Byrne shares the key areas to look at for gains to be realized from lean: focus on sales growth as the result of shorter lead times (lean is a time-based growth strategy), margin growth, inventory turns, doubling sales per employee and freeing up 50% or so of your floor space. More »
Ask Art: How Does Lean Bring the Customer Directly Onto the Shop Floor?”
The lean approach reduces setup times, creates flow, improves quality, lowers cost and drastically shortens lead times, says Art Byrne, who explains how a good kanban system essentially brings the customer directly to the shop floor in real time and allows all associates to feel the real demand. More »
Ask Art: What Are the Most Important Management Changes Needed to Implement A Lean Turnaround?
Lean thinking requires a totally different mindset than traditional management, argues lean veteran Art Byrne. This is probably the most significant reason that companies fail to make the lean leap. They simply can’t get rid of their traditional mindset. Here he shares the key changes needed for a successful lean turnaround. More »
Ask Art: What Happens When Standard Cost Accounting Meets Takt Time?
Trying to become a lean enterprise while retaining traditional standard cost accounting is an exercise in futility. It was developed for a steady state environment and is obsolete once a company changes to a lean “continuous improvement” strategy, says Art Byrne. It is therefore important to understand that one of the first things you need to do in your lean turnaround is to replace your standard cost approach with lean or “plain English”accounting. More »
Ask Art: What Do You Mean When You Say “Productivity equals Wealth”?
Productivity is the greatest wealth creator whether you talk about countries or companies, says Art Byrne. If you go about it correctly, the best ideas for productivity gains will always come from the people doing the work. Make sure you share the gains with them. More »
Ask Art: Why is Takt Time So Important in a Lean Turnaround?
Takt time represents the beat of the customer, or, the rate of demand, says Art Byrne: "As the primary focus of the lean company is delivering more value to its customers than its competitors can, then conformity to their demands in a quick, efficient way is the main driver. Takt time is therefore what sets the tone for everything else.  " More »
Ask Art: At What Pace Should A Lean Turnaround Be Implemented?”
Changing from a traditional batch, make-the-month culture to a lean value driven culture takes a lot of time and effort, says Art Byrne. The faster you go, the sooner you willsee the enormous benefits of lean. Also, the faster you go the less backsliding you will see and the changes will become permanent. So be bold, go as fast as you can. More »
Ask Art: What Foundational Items Must I Be A Zealot About?
Be a zealot on the foundational items such as 5S, visual management, and setup reduction, says Art Byrne, and your chances of succeeding with lean will greatly increase. More »
Ask Art: What Do You Mean When You Say Run Your Company On Your Operational Excellence Goals?
The Lean company competes on its operational excellence goals, says Art Byrne. These stretch goals must be aggressive in nature and deployed down to every person in the company so that they all are focusing on hitting these goals every day. More »
Lean Accounting Is Simpler, Faster, Cheaper, and More Accurate Than Traditional Management Accounting, so Why Don’t More Companies Use It?
Five thought leaders of the movement recently held a special conversation about what lean accounting is and isn’t, why it is vital to sustaining a culture of continuous improvement, how it relates to GAAP, and why it provides a truer picture of how your company is performing.   As long-time lean accounting practitioners, they also liberally share practical, real-world examples of how traditional accounting can mislead and misinform decision-makers. More »
Ask Art: Where Will the Biggest Resistance to Lean Come From?
Resistance to Lean will come from every part of your organization, senior management included, says Lean veteran Art Byrne. Knowing where the biggest resistance will come from, however should help you focus your early efforts and smooth your Lean turnaround. More »
Ask Art: How Can I Engage All Our Leaders to Learn and Teach Lean?
What's the best way to teach lean to your internal leaders? By forming teams who will learn by doing, shares Art Byrne. This will drive your gains, build great teamwork, and build the learning environment necessary to become a lean enterprise. More »
Ask Art: What Incentives and Bonus Programs Best Support Lean?
Bonus and incentive plans work best when they serve an underlying purpose, says Art Byrne, who advises that management design them to boost teamwork, learning, and strategic lean goals. More »
Ask Art: Why Focus on Why When Doing A Lean Turnaround?
In switching to lean, understanding the WHY is the most important thing, argues Art Byrne. It helps people overcome their traditional beliefs about how something can be done. It is in essence the strategy of the business; removing the waste from your operations in order to deliver more value to the customer. More »
Ask Art: Aren’t You a Little “Old School” in Your Kaizen Approach To Implementing Lean Thinking?
When you say “kaizen is old school” you may be seriously off track, argues Art Byrne. Focusing on tools like A3 might be popular and trendy, but companies that focus on tools have a hard time getting out of the tools stage of lean; and rarely become lean enterprises. They are taking the easy way out. More »
Ask Art: How Should I Re-invest the Gains from Kaizen?
Becoming lean through using kaizen activity allows you to remove a great deal of waste and deliver value to your customers, shares Art Byrne. If you do the right things with the excess resources you free up, you can then leverage your gains far more dramatically. Don’t waste the gains. More »
Ask Art: How is Lean A Time-Based Strategy?
Operating lean is the best way to compete on time, says Art Byrne, who notes that every time you remove waste you shorten the time and resources to do something. Lean is not a cost reduction program. Although you’ll get plenty of that as a side benefit, it is strategic, and over time creates unfair competitive advantage for you. More »
Ask Art: How Do I Get the Senior Management Team On Board with Lean?
Lean requires teamwork, and so getting your senior management team on board requires a great deal of work, including new mindsets, exposure to lean practice, and shifts in everything from how sales are conducted to how team leaders lead at the gemba, says Art Byrne. More »
Can Lean Succeed in a Strong Labor Environment?
Lean is all about people, says Art Byrne, regarding the question of making lean succeed in a union environment. He argues that if you treat people like people not union members and you will greatly increase your chances of success. More »
Ask Art: Does Lean Really Work in A Non-manufacturing Company?
All companies and organizations, whether manufacturing or not, are nothing more than a group of people and a bunch of processes trying to deliver value to a set of customers, says Art Byrne. And lean principles apply to each. To become lean, every company must focus on removing the waste in their current processes in order to deliver more value to the customers. More »
Ask Art: Why Does Boosting Inventory Turns Matter So Much?
If you want to deliver more value to our customers such that you can grow and gain market share then you should certainly focus on reducing inventory, says Art Byrne. Doing so frees up cash and capacity, boosts flow, and pushes you to solve problems as they crop up. More »
Ask Art: What's Wrong with Organizing By Function?
While you might be able to survive and be profitable using a traditional functional structure the fact is that you will be leaving a lot of money on the table. Moving to lean and flow eliminates structural problems, lowers cost, improves quality, shortens lead times and is more responsive to the customer. More »
Ask Art: Why Should I Be Able to Make Every Product Every Day?
Working on the goal of "every product every day" helps all companies realize the benefits of lean as a strategy, says Art Byrne, by developing flexibility and responsiveness that ultimately delivers far more value to the customer. More »
Ask Art: Why Do People Reject Proof that Lean Works?
Despite compelling proof, most people will find a way to doubt the power of lean to improve their particular work, shares Art Byrne, who argues that it is critical to press forward despite this natural and inevitably resistance. More »
Ask Art: Am I Showing Respect for People by Asking for Fast Action?
Lean is a “learn by doing” exercise not a classroom training approach. The best method I know to achieve this is through a sustained high level of kaizen activity. You are trying to create a learning environment where everyone is constantly learning and contributing to the organization. Every time an improvement is made, learning occurs. The faster you go the more learning can occur. More »
Ask Art: Why Do I Need to Switch From Batch to Flow?
Moving from batch to flow reveals the waste in your processes and simplifies your work at a systems level, says Art Byrne. It creates simplicity, and a productive tension to deal with problems as they occur, as well as other strategic benefits. More »
Ask Art: Why Should I Set Stretch Goals?
Art Byrne urges you to take the lean leap and set stretch goals. Setting ambitious goals shows respect for your people. Use the lean tools and kaizen to get to the point where you can compete on your operational excellence targets. More »
Ask Art: Why do you say the CEO needs to become a lean expert?
A key first step for any CEO leading a lean conversion is to call 1-800-lean-consultant to find an expert to train the VP of operations and keep the boss informed. While this makes perfect sense in traditional management thinking, lean thinking is virtually the exact opposite, writes former CEO Art Byrne. That’s why the CEO must become a lean expert to successfully lead the transformation. Here, Art describes how he came to deeply understand and lead lean transformations. More »
ASK ART: Can poetry be used as a tool for implementing lean?
“Inventory is evil,” said King Arthur of kaizen. So he came to Dame Barbie with his plan. “You must make these horrid racks go away Or February 25 is your banishment day.  ” More »
Ask Art: Why Do You Say Lean is All About People?
Lean is all about people, says author and former CEO Art Byrne, who has been successfully turning around companies for over 20 years. That means leaders must transform the way people think and act so everyone sees waste and has the skills to remove it. Such an approach leads to faster growth, higher profits, better quality, and lower costs. Here, Art offers practical advice and examples for why senior leaders should spend their time growing people, not figuring out ways to get rid of them. More »
Ask Art: Can Lean and “Make-the-Month” Co-exist?
"Make-the-month" programs are not unusual in manufacturing organizations. But, many people have asked Art Byrne, are such programs compatible with lean? Isn't the intense focus on results counterproductive when matched with the process focus of lean thinking? Art explores. More »
Ask Art: “Do lean conversions actually go smoothly, like in the books?”
Art Byrne receives many inquiries from people wondering whether lean transformations really are as smooth as they seem in books, or if the way is pockmarked with problems. He sets the record straight in this latest installment of "Ask Art.  " More »
Ask Art: Is there a balance between lean and full automation?
As a followup to his piece last month dealing with another aspect of lean and automation, Art Byrne now explores the oft-misunderstood balance between the two operating methods. More »
Lean Transformation: "Shock and Awe" vs. "Slow and Grow"
When leading a lean transformation, is it better to use the "shock and awe" method or the "low and slow" method? It may not even be that simple. Dan Markowitz and Art Byrne discuss. More »
Ask Art: Is there a conflict between automation/IT and lean?
An oft-heard debate in lean circles revolves around automation and IT. Do IT/automation complement lean? Or do they clash with it? Art Byrne explores this further. More »
Ask Art: Does lean compromise innovation?
To some, lean and innovation seem counterproductive. But Art Byrne is not one of them. Find out why he says "lean and innovation are and have always been completely compatible" and how it can help your organization reach next-level results. More »
Ask Art: Is Lean a Strategy?
The debate over whether lean should be considered a strategy, philosophy, methodology, etc. is a long one. Merriam-Webster defines a strategy as "a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time.  " Does lean fit into that label? Art Byrne explores. More »
Ask Art: Why do so few companies that implement lean do it successfully?
We've all heard the stories of failed lean implementations, as well as the hotly debated question of "Why did it fail?" In his many years as a lean leader, Art Byrne has seen quite a few possible reasons for a lean failure - read more. More »
Ask Art: Is there a formula to predict or evaluate the success of a lean implementation?
Art Byrne is often asked how to best measure the success of a lean transformation -- but does such a measurement even exist? He's been asked this so many times that he now addresses it in his latest installment of Ask Art. Read more. More »
Ask Art: Why do you say the CEO needs to become a lean expert?
I realize that this is probably a shocking idea to most CEO’s since they are taught to manage in a traditional way—and are generally rewarded to do so. More »
Ask Art: Is “We are customer-driven” a good lean strategy?
Art Byrne is often asked if "customer-driven" is a good lean strategy. The answer is yes - as long as it's done right. Read more. More »
Ask Art: How high is up with lean?
Art Byrne explains that continuous improvement really is continuous and that there is no limit to the “up” in lean. More »
Ask Art: Why Is Something As Simple As Lean So Difficult to Do?
"Recently my good friend Paul Akers of FastCap and lean blogging fame asked me why lean, which appears to be so simple, ends up being so hard for people to do," writes Art Byrne. "In my decades of leading lean, in fact, this has proven to be perhaps the most important challenge.  " More »
Ask Art: What sets lean accounting apart from traditional accounting?
"You can’t really become a lean enterprise without making the shift from traditional standard-cost accounting to lean (i.  e. plain English) accounting," writes Art Byrne. Read more to learn why a lean accounting department is crucial to a complete organizational transformation. More »
Ask Art: How is lean the opposite of everything people have been trained to do?
Art Byrne explains why, and how, lean practice is the opposite of what most people have learned about work in any setting More »
Ask Art: Is Lean Inward-Focused?
Art Byrne has been asked over and over if lean is inward-focused or customer-focused. There are aspects of lean that may suggest otherwise at a glance, but Art is firm in his belief that lean is far from inward-focused. Read more. More »
Ask Art: People are Nervous about Too Much Change, Can I Lead Lean Incrementally?
Resistance to change is a classic part of lean transformation, and it's not uncommon to see efforts to skirt around that resistance. Art Byrne was recently asked if incremental lean leadership is a good tactic to avoid resistance. Find out Art's response. More »
Ask Art: Is There More to Becoming Lean than Conducting Kaizen Events?
Kaizen events may be a key part of lean transformation, but they're certainly not the only aspect of it. They're just one step on the stairway to a culture of continuous improvement - but only if you build upon them. Art Byrne shares some great tips for getting the most out of your kaizen events. More »
Ask Art: How Are Lean Teams Different?
"Teamwork in lean is a much bigger deal than the way most people think about it, and it's crucial to success," writes Art Byrne. In fact, he points out, most people's understanding of teamwork isn't actually teamwork - at least not from a lean standpoint. Read more. More »
Ask Art: What’s So Important About Standard Work?
Standard work is one of the cornerstones of a lean transformation. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's fully appreciated. "People often have a hard time with the idea of standard work," writes Art Byrne. "They complain that they are not robots, that everyone is different with different capabilities.  " In his latest installment of "Ask Art," Art revisits standard work and its critical importance in lean. More »
Ask Art: What Lean Books Should I Start With?
Art Byrne shares with us his book recommendations to newcomers on insights into the philosophy and general approach behind lean. More »
Ask Art: What to Look for in a Lean Team Leader
One of Art Byrne's most-asked questions is, "What are the key traits for a lean team leader?" His recommendation might surprise you - take a look and find out Art's take on this critical position in any lean organization. More »
Ask Art: How One-Piece-Flow Supports Quality
"One-piece-flow is the key to quality improvements," writes Art Byrne. "In my experience it is pretty common to get a 10x or better gain in quality once you are in a one-piece-flow. This will occur naturally and is something that you get for free.  " Find out how this works in Art's latest piece. More »
Kaizen Learning vs. Traditional Problem-Solving
"Lean offers a fundamentally different approach to problem-solving than most traditional companies practice," writes Art Byrne. "Most [traditional] companies delegate important problems to teams of experts that take months to create a plan and even longer to get lasting improvements.  " What would a problem-solving process look like at a lean company? Read this article and find out. More »
Key Traits and Behaviors of Great Lean Consultants
"If you want to accelerate your lean practice I highly recommend reaching out to a good lean consultant to serve as your coach, teacher, trainer," writes Art Byrnes. "Plan on working with these people over the long haul.  " But how can you tell the good lean consultants from the poor ones? Art has the answer. More »
Tried and True Strategies for Leading Lean Practice
"In my 30 plus years of leading Lean in a wide range of companies, I’ve learned common practices that work in virtually every setting," writes Art Byrne. "For an informal list such as this to have any value, you must first organize for Lean. This means changing your organizational structure from a functional batch approach to a lean value stream approach.  " More »
Ask Art: What Does a Lean Manager Do Differently?
"The lean leader has a vision for growth just like the traditional manager, but he sees the source of growth quite differently," writes Art Byrne. "Growth comes from a combination of providing the customer with higher quality, shorter lead times, and better customer service.  " More »
Ask Art: How Much Lean Training Should We Be Doing?
Why aren't more companies successful at Lean? Art Byrne says it has to do with an over-focus on planning and not enough learning-by-doing. "They don’t trust that a rapid kaizen approach is still the most effective way to become a lean enterprise," he writes. More »
Ask Art: How Do We Prevent Backsliding?
Backsliding is inevitable. "The key is to anticipate the backslide and take early, aggressive, organized steps to prevent it from happening before it starts," writes former Wiremold executive Art Byrne. More »
Ask Art: How Should We Staff and Run Kaizen?
"Unless you have some lean knowledge before you launch any kaizen, your traditional ('batch' rather than 'flow') thinking will overwhelm you at every turn," writes lean leadership expert Art Byrne. So just how do run an effective kaizen? Read more. More »
Ask Art: Will Lean Work for a Distributor?
Pairing distribution companies with Lean may seem counterintuitive to some. However author of The Lean Turnaround, Art Byrne, says this match actually makes perfect sense. More »
Ask Art: Does Lean Really Work Everywhere?
There's a common misconception that Lean is "just some manufacturing thing.  " Read why Art Byrne believes Lean can be applied any and everywhere. More »
Ask Art: Doesn't Lean Entail Headcount Reductions?
Many people think Lean is about reducing headcount. Art Byrne responds to this common misconception and explains what to do when lean improvements do free people up or jobs need to change. More »
Ask Art: How Do I Get Senior Leadership On Board with Lean?
Lean transformations are rarely successful without the support and participation of senior leadership. Art Byrne, former CEO of Wiremold, shares his advice to lean practitioners who are having difficulty getting senior leaders engaged. More »