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LSS 020 | Learn What Joyfulness and Lean Thinking Have in Common with Richard Sheridan

Richard Sheridan Lean ThinkerHow much joy and happiness do you, and your colleagues, feel each and every day?  Are you excited to come to work or do you dread it?  

No matter your answer… if you’re interested in learning how to create a more exciting, and fulfilling, work environment while also understanding how lean thinking and a joyful workplace actually work hand in hand you’re definitely going to want to give today’s episode a listen.

In this episode, I’m joined by Richard Sheridan, the CEO and Chief Storyteller at Menlo Innovations.

Menlo is a software design and development company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Last year, 2,197 people came from around the world to visit Menlo. They made the trek not to learn about technology, but to witness a radically different approach to workplace culture — one intentionally designed to produce joy.

During this interview Richard and I discuss how he, and the entire Menlo team, makes this happen!

To listen the podcast simply press press play and listen to it while you work… or download this episode onto your smart phone (iPhone users click here to install the Podcast app) and listen while you work out or on your commute to/from work.

You can also read the full written transcript at the bottom of this page.

Again, to hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn

  • What “high tech anthropology” is all about
  • Richard’s favorite quotation… think how to create a sustainable culture
  • Why lean is actually about people and not spreadsheets
  • What the book Joy, Inc. is about and how its goal is to end human suffering
  • Why Menlo Innovations offers more than one tour per day
  • Why the title of the book ends in “Inc.”
  • Why Menlo programmers work in pairs and switch pairs every 5 business days
  • How the Menlo culture developed as a result of Richard’s experience and background
  • One practical piece of advice Richard has for any leader of people who wants to have a more joyful workplace
  • What was holding Richard back from being successful when he first started his professional career
  • The best advice Richard has ever received
  • One of Richard’s personal productivity habits including how he keeps his inbox under 10 emails
  • How Richard would approach his first week on the job at a distressed company void of any joy 

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Full Written Transcript

Full Written Transcript in PDF Format

Ron Pereira:  Welcome to episode 20 of the LSS Academy podcast.

Announcer:  You are now listening to the LSS Academy podcast, the show that’s spreading the good news that is LEAN and six sigma. Now here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron:  Hey there; welcome to another edition of the LSS Academy podcast. Now, I’m extremely happy that you’re here and definitely want to thank you for taking the time to listen.

I also want to give a quick shout out to one of our listeners. A gentleman named Fernando recently sent us an email, where he said, “I’m just writing to say thanks for the information you’ve been sharing in your podcast. I’m a student of manufacturing management in Brazil, and your podcast is helping me a lot. Thank you very much, and keep up the great work.”

So all I can say to that is you’re very welcome, Fernando, and thank you for listening.

I’m really excited for today’s episode, Richard Sheridan, from Menlo Innovations, joins us to talk about a topic most continuous improvement practitioners probably don’t think about too much. That topic is joy.

You see, Richard’s company, Menlo Innovations, is all about fostering an incredibly joyful culture. In fact, here’s a little snippet from their website.

“At Menlo, we’ve built a culture that removes the fear and ambiguity that traditionally makes a work place miserable. With joy as the explicit goal, we’ve changed everything about how our company is run and have brought that joy into the lives of our clients and their end‑users.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but that has to be one of the coolest statements that I’ve ever read about a company. Now, the show notes and links to everything discussed in this podcast can be found over at, that’s 20 as in 2 0. Well, let’s get to the show.

Well, all right, Richard. Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today. Are you in Ann Arbor, Michigan? Is that where you’re joining us from today?

Richard Sheridan:  I am.

Ron:  Well, I actually haven’t told you this but I’m actually from Ohio. I am a huge Ohio State football fan. So hopefully that doesn’t ruin the rest of this interview.

Richard:  [laughs] Yeah, we’ll leave that for another conversation on another day.

Ron:  I actually interviewed Bill Waddell, I don’t know if you know Bill or not but Bill is a Michigan State guy. We were talking about Mike Rother and his Michigan ties and all.

I said, “Oh, he’s a good guy. There’s just one flaw to him.”


Ron:  Before we get started, Richard, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about your background, about your company, Menlo. Obviously, throughout the interview, we’re going to talk about your book, “Joy, Inc.” Give us a little bit of background on who Richard is.

Richard:  My history is as a programmer. I started writing software when I was just a kid back in 1971. My high school offered a programming class when I was 13 years old, as a freshman in high school. I took it.

I fell in love with the idea that that could, one day, be a career for me. Here it is 43 years later, I’m still in the business. I think I was pretty clear in my vision for my future. Marched forward from that day to today, worked my way up standard corporate ladder for my 20s and 30s, and even the earliest part of my 40s.

Then, in 2001, when the Internet bubble burst, I was out on the street, like hundreds of thousands of other people in my profession. In that moment, I decided to start a business. That’s how Menlo came to be.

Ron:  Tell us a little bit about Menlo. What do you guys do?

Richard:  We are a business that, as the title of my book implies, focused on creating and sustaining what we call, “business value of joy,” which is a very unusual way to describe any business, particularly a software business.

The software industry is often a very joy‑less industry. I was a little kid excited about this profession. When I was a kid and I thought I want to create great software. I want to delight people with what I do.

There’s this engineering thing where, I think, a lot of people like to believe that engineers just want to engineer. In fact, what engineers want to really do is they want to delight people with their creations with their hands and their minds. That’s what I wanted to do.

We’ve built an entire culture focused on producing that kind of joy for the people who are ultimately going to use the software that we’re creating. That’s a pretty lofty goal.

Ron:  From a technical perspective, what kind of software do you guys develop? Is it apps?

Richard:  For us, it doesn’t really matter. We are contract software design and development firm. That means any of your listeners who want to build a piece of software, could call us and bring a couple of bags full of money with them and we’ll form a team around their project.

Then we will design, using, we’ll probably talk a little bit about this practice we call, “high tech anthropology,” which is all about understanding the humans that are going to use the software.

Then some really disciplined software development techniques that our programmers use to build incredibly solid, working software. There’s a softer side of Menlo, which is the high tech anthropology piece, which is all about making sure the user experience will delight.

Then there’s the hard engineering work on the inside that says, “it’s one thing to delight people with a great end user experience but dammit that software better work, too.”

We have both pieces to that covered here. So people come to us with projects. We’ve worked in about every industry you could imagine. The industry doesn’t matter. The technology doesn’t matter. The delivery devices doesn’t matter. Our team delights in all of those things.

Ron:  Love it. All right, before we get into the teeth of the interview, Richard, we like to ask our guests to share a continuous improvement or leadership quotation that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Richard?

Richard:  Well in the context of this discussion, Ron, I think I want to use this quote. It’s a quote that says, “We cannot hope to create a sustainable culture with any but sustainable souls.” It’s by Derek Jensen, in a book called, “End Game; the Problem of Civilization.”

The reason I picked that quote for this discussion, and believe me, I have lots and lots of quotes.

Ron:  Yeah, in your book, [laughs] there’s a million. [laughs]

Richard:  The reason that this is important for me goes right to the heart of what I believe is the heart of LEAN and I get to meet a lot of LEAN thinkers. Mike Rather and Jeff Liker, are two of my best friends.

I get to connect with the LEAN community. What I find is there’s actually two version of LEAN out there. The version of LEAN I see out there, with the key leading thinkers, are the ones who know and understand that LEAN is actually about people.

Then there’s the other side of LEAN that scares me. It’s the one who thinks LEAN is all about spreadsheets, eliminating waste, cutting cost.

Ron:  Tools.

Richard:  Quite frankly, you can see the fear in the team that’s implementing LEAN. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to us. It cannot be that way. That just doesn’t work.

The reason I picked that quote is because I think we have to start looking at, as a society, in general, sustainability of human beings.

Ron:  Yeah, love it. At a high level, Richard, tell us about your book, “Joy Inc.” What’s it all about?

Richard:  We adopted this mission at the earliest days at Menlo to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology. Our goal, since the beginning, was to return joy to, what we believe, is one of the most unique endeavors mankind has ever undertaken, that is the creation of software.

In my worldview, software is as big as anything mankind has ever discovered. Clearly, we’re in a golden age of software, in some ways.

[laughs] You can’t order a cup of coffee at Starbucks without software.

Ron:  We’re talking, right now, because of software. [laughs]

Richard:  Exactly. We couldn’t have this conversation without software. Yet, it is often the bane of our existence.

Hundreds of millions of billions of dollars are wasted in corporations, all around the world, because their software projects are going wrong. I didn’t want that for me.

This is a very personally, selfish journey. I built the place I want to work. We built this different kind of culture. We changed everything about the way software gets designed and developed.

There’s no stone we’ve left unturned. The world started coming here to see it. They did the Go to the Gimba thing. They come here and they come here by the thousands now every year.

We had 340 separate tours last year. If you do the math, there’s only 240, 250 business days in a year, 342, we’re doing more than a tour a day. 2,500 people came from around the planet to spend anywhere from two hours to a week.

Ron:  Let me stop you there. Why do you do so many tours? Some people would say, “Hey, we’re here to build a business,” and so forth. Taking tours or giving tours, obviously takes time, could be distracting. Why do you do so many?

Richard:  Part of it is altruistic. When we said we wanted to end human suffering in the world as it relates to technology, we didn’t want to just do it for ourselves. We know we’ve discovered something fundamentally important about the process of designing and building software and the world wants to see it. We’re absolutely open to sharing with them.

Obviously, there’s a component of it that’s just damn clever marketing. I mean you get thousands of people of year to come here to walk through our place, to learn about the vision of the leadership of a company, to see the inside reality, and see that it matches the outside perception.

That is a form of education‑based marketing that, in my view, unparalleled in terms of anything else you can do. It’s a recruiting machine. It’s a customer retention machine. It’s a customer‑recruiting machine. It’s a PR machine and all that sort of thing.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s really about sharing what we’ve learned with the world. We get so many requests for these tours. We knew it was time to share the story in a book and that’s really how “Joy, Inc.” came to be.

Ron:  So can anyone come to a tour?

Richard:  Anybody.

Ron:  What do you do? I want to come today, what do I do?

Richard:  You just go onto our website, we have public tours once a month. Those are typically fill up months in advance. Those are the free ones.

Then we have a paid one that also fills up pretty quickly. Most of the tours are actually privately scheduled tours, corporations make with us. You can just write me or you can make a request there for private tour. We set it up.

Ron:  We’re going to have all the links to Menlo’s website, the books, and Richard’s social media connections at show notes, which is, 20, 20.

Richard, next question is I get the title of the book which always interest me. I get the joy part, that’s obvious why you put joy. Why “inc.”? Why “Joy Incorporated”? What’s” inc.” got to do with anything?

Richard:  Great question. This is not namby pamby, People’s Republic of Ann Arbor style business joy. This is serious tangible business value of joy. This is joy in the context of business because a lot of people hear the word, “Joy,” and they say, “Oh, how much does joy cost you?”

Ron:  Does that mean free sodas and free lunch? [laughs]

Richard:  Yeah, is this everybody gets to wear Hawaiian shirts and funny hats everyday? No, this is serious business value of joy.

This is not a zero‑sum game. We have some data that suggest that our approach is 10 times as efficient because the approach we take.

When we talk about joy, we have to talk about it on the context of business. That’s why it’s called, “Joy, Inc.”

Ron:  Next question I had. I understand that your programmers, your team members, work two to a computer and then, I believe you switch them. What is it, every five days?

Richard:  Yes.

Ron:  Why do you do this?

Richard:  Yes, that pairing and the switching of the pairs every five business days leads to essentially one of my other favorite quotes from Peter Sange, who wrote the book, “The Fifth Discipline,” that the only competitive advantage that we have today, is your organization’s ability to learn faster than your competition.

The essence of Menlo’s learning organization is this pairing construct. It feeds. It feeds quality. It feeds productivity. It feeds speed. It feeds on boarding.

It feeds the concept that we try to avoid which is we don’t want to build towers of knowledge, which is really fun for me because when I think about LEAN manufacturing, one of the things that LEAN looks at, I’m a kindergartener when it comes to LEAN, so don’t confuse me with any LEAN expert.

So you can correct me anywhere along the way here. That’s why I hang out with people like Jeff Leiker and Mike Broderick. They’re teaching me everything they know.

When I hear people talk about LEAN and on a plant floor, they often talk about sub‑optimization as a big challenge for plant floor thinking. We’re going to run all the work and process inventory through the most efficient machine on the plant floor.

Of course, if that machine breaks, it can shut down the entire factory. Unfortunately, this is the way most software teams run themselves.

They build up these individual towers of knowledge. They have the guy that’s the oracle, service pack two expert. All database work has to go through that guy.

Now, guy gets sick. He wants to take a vacation. He wins the lottery and retires early.

Ron:  You’re in big trouble.

Richard:  You’re in big trouble. The entire team will stop. I find it funny that, in some ways, LEAN has taught us to treat our machines better than my industry has treat our humans.

Ron:  At a practical level, when you have two people sitting at a computer, is there one keyboard? Do they take turns?

Richard:  One keyboard and one mouse. They’re talking through what they’re working on.

Ron:  So one person’s driving the other one is offering tips and advice.

Richard:  Yup. Driving is actually a pretty decent metaphor for this. Image you and I are on a road, maybe it’s a little bit fog shrouded, mountain highway, a little bit dangerous.

We’re trying to get some place by midnight or the hotel closes. So we’re going to be locked out. It’s important we get there on time. It’s important we get there alive.

As a driver, my job is to actually keep us between the lines. To pay attention to the traction of the tires on the snow‑covered road. Your job is to make sure we’re going to hit the goal.

You got the map in your hand. You’re keeping me informed of when the next exit is. “Oh my gosh, Rich, you’ve got to turn off here.”

I might be so focused on the road ahead, I miss the exit. This happens in all kinds of human teams.

It’s one of the reasons airlines put two pilots in [inaudible 17:14] . Even the airline industry had to figure out, over time, that the relationship between these two pilots has to be that of equals, even if you’re pilot and I’m co‑pilot.

When we’re up there, we have to be equal partners or we’re going to lose the value of having two human beings up there with two independent minds, four eyes, two hearts, four hands on the controls. All that sort of thing.

This is really, really important to our practice because ultimately, great software development is not about how fast you type, it’s about how fast you can think great thoughts.

Ron:  Two people can think better than one right?

Richard:  Yep.

Ron:  Has Menlo always been an incredible place to work, or is it something that’s evolved over the years?

Richard:  Menlo’s always been the same essentially. Obviously, we continuously look at how we do things, and run experiments to try new things. The Menlo you see today is essentially, the Menlo and the way it started.

To understand where this came from, you have to look back a little bit further in Rich’s career. I had progressed from programmer to Vice President over a 16‑year span. By the time I hit Vice President, as successful as the world saw me, I wanted out of the industry. “Get me out of here. I’m burning out.”

“I’m frustrated, I’m not leading well, and I’m not delivering well.” My team is frustrated, the customers are frustrated, and the users are tearing their hair out. Every possible dimension was going wrong in my life.

In the midst of all of this, this 16‑year journey, I was actually reading lots and lots of books. That’s why I have a lot of quotes, because I’m an avid reader. I really drink this stuff in. Along the way, finally it dawned on me, there’s this whole different way of doing things.

In 1999, I took a tired old, 30‑year‑old public company, and transformed them over a 6‑month period with my cofounder, now James Goebel. He was a consultant to me at the time, and transformed them to what Menlo looks like today.

I took the standard office and cube environment, literally some of these guys had been in their offices for 30 years. They hadn’t moved. I pulled them out. I put them in a big open room, and I had them sharing computers, code and everything.

Within six months, “Holy cow,” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It so far exceeded my expectations. I got two years to run this grand experiment. I’d probably still be doing that today, had the Internet bubble not burst in the California company that had purchased us in the mean time. Shuttered every [inaudible 20:09] office they had.

In those two years, what I learned how to do with James Goebel, was build a great engine room. When we launched Menlo, we already had that…

Ron:  The model. Richard, what’s one practical piece? In addition to reading your book, which is obvious, and I really do mean that. Every leader of people should read that book, and even if you aren’t a leader of people, you should read that book.

What’s one practical piece of advice that you can give to that leader who’s listening to this podcast right now, and doesn’t work in an organization full of joy. Perhaps they’re wondering how he or she can develop a more joyful work place. What’s one practical thing they could do this week?

Richard:  I will say number one, if you’re not already, become a student again, and start reading. For me, authors are now my teachers, my professors. I give a lot of book recommendations in the back of my book, and I’m not saying my book should be your book.

My basic advice on any book is start reading it, and if it grabs you keep going, and if it doesn’t set it down for later, and you’ll probably never get back to it. Begin a journey of discovery again. Get excited about your career.

One of my favorite YouTube videos, or TEDx talks is Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why?” That’s really important. In the mix of the cacophony of business and chaos, and all that sort of thing, people forget why they got into their profession in the first place.

You’ve got to remind yourself of that. I would say go watch that video, and think about your personal why.

I will tell you that this place is the place I want to work. That’s what I did before I re‑crafted. It was hard. It’s not easy. None of this is easy.

Somebody signing up for this podcast saying, “Oh, cool. Ron’s going to give me an easy way to significant change.

Ron:  A checklist.

Richard:  Exactly. Five things that I’ve done. It is simple, but simple is almost never easy, particularly when it comes to changing human behavior.

I will also say find partners, and what I mean by that is when I transformed that old company, my CEO, I was the VP, my boss was my partner in this. James Goebel was my partner in this. I could not have done this without their support, their encouragement, because you get tired.

You feel defeated from time to time. You’ll wonder, can I really do this, and you can, but every once in a while you need somebody you trust whispering in your ear saying, “Keep going. You’re doing the right thing, don’t give up.”

Ron:  We’ve now come to my favorite part of the show, which we’re calling the quick fire segment. This is basically where you get to share your thoughts, and your wisdom with our listeners, which you’ve been doing, but the difference is now we’re really going to focus on Richard, OK?

First question is, when you first started down your personal and continuous improvement journey. Let’s call it continuous improvement journey. What was holding you back from being successful?

Richard:  The thing that was holding me back was how did I define success? For the first part, I defined success the way the world defines success. Greater stock options, more benefits, higher position, corner office, bigger team that I was leading, and all that stuff.

What I realized is that’s not what success is all about. Success is about do you love what you do? Can you bring personal energy to work every day, and if you can’t change the situation, whatever that means for you.

Ron:  Richard, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Richard:  The best thing I’ve ever did which was a series of points of advice was, when I partnered up with James Goebel to retool that old tired public company. James started rattling off a bunch of experimental ideas to me, and I kept saying, “Yes.”

One day he looked at me and says, “Rich, you don’t get how this consulting thing works. You have to say no at least once, or else you will be able to hold me accountable for the results you are producing.”


Richard:  “I need one escape hatch.” I said, “James, you’re not going to get it, because I believe in what you’re doing.” I know this is a little bit different from the question you asked, but what I found in that partnership was a kindred spirit. In that kindred spirit, I was able to actually hear the advice he was delivering to me, and act on it. That was really valuable for me.

Ron:  Having that trust as well, that’s how I feel with my business partners. I trust them inherently, even if I don’t always agree with them. I trust them. I trust their wisdom, and we go together. We fail together and we win together. I love that.

Next question, can you share, Richard, one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Richard:  I’m a little bit weird in this regard. I am the guy who actually checks email first in the morning. My inbox, even this morning, was below 10 in messages.

The way I got to this was interesting. Maybe you’ve heard, Ron, of Randy Pausch who was the Carnegie Mellon professor famous for “The Last Lecture.”

Ron:  Yes, oh, my gosh, what a powerful…I’m definitely going to link to that. I haven’t watched that for years.

Richard:  Interesting enough the thing you want to link to, this is powerful. He actually did one more lecture after that one. Most people don’t know this, and he did it on time management.

Ron:  I didn’t know that.

Richard:  It’s awesome. He starts out, it’s so compelling. He says, “Look, I’m dying of pancreatic cancer. I’ll probably be gone in three months. If you’re not going to listen to me about time management, I’m not sure who you’re going to listen too.”

Ron:  Where is that at?

Richard:  If you type “Randy Pausch time management,” you’ll find a YouTube video. What he talks about interestingly enough is he applies Steven Kubby thinking, which is, “Work on the urgent and the important first.”

Most people go to urgent unimportant second, and both Kubby and Pausch say that’s procrastination, because what you should actually do is move to important, but not urgent next. This is the mistake that we all make in managing our time is the siren call of the urgent always seems to consume us.

Then he asks the question, “How many of you have more than 10 email messages in your inbox right now?” Everybody’s looking at him, “What are you kidding? I’ve got a thousand in my inbox right now.” He’s, “You can’t have that. It’s electronic ADD. You don’t know which one to focus on, so you end up not focusing on any. It’s chaos.”

He walks through in his version an electronic way to organize that, so you get down to 10 very quickly. I, because we’re weird Menlo, and tactile little piece of paper, I actually turned it into a little index card system.

I use this to manage that part of my day. It’s awesome, because I stayed very approachable by the world because of this. I don’t let email consume my day, which is very easy to do, and it destroys your personal productivity.

Ron:  I can’t wait to watch that. I’ll be honest. I stink at email.

Richard:  We all do. This is like a disease. We should teach kids how to do this in school, because this is a huge problem for corporate America.

Ron:  I need Menlo to develop some software for my Apple mail. My problem is, after I read an email I don’t delete it. It sounds stupid, but I don’t delete it, so then I have a hundred emails in my inbox, 90 of them may have been read, but I’ve got to find a way to get rid of them somehow.

Maybe it’s a filing system, or I used to use Gmail, so I would archive. I don’t know. I’m a mess when it comes to email. We can take it offline. You can connect to catch me.


Richard:  If we ever end up at a conference together, I can take five minutes, and physically demonstrate the system.

Ron:  I’m going to take you up on that. [laughs]

Richard, we’ve talked a lot about different books. If there’s one book related to leadership or business that you would recommend someone has to read. What would it be and why?

Richard:  The team was frightened when I said this the other day, because they know how many books I’ve read in general.

I told them the other day. I said, I just read the most important book I’ve ever read. They were all, “Uh‑oh,” because they know that books change me.

It’s an old one actually, fairly old. It’s called, “Leadership and Self Deception,” by the Arbinger Institute. Boy, oh boy, I’ll tell you. If you want a book that helps you think about, and work on your relationships at work, managerially, at home with your family, your spouse, your community, your neighbors, the annoying person on the airplane.

This is the book. It has grabbed me and taught me new things about interpersonal relationships, which are so key to leadership. I would highly recommend that book.

Ron:  Give the name and author again.

Richard:  Yep, it’s “Leadership and Self‑Deception,” and the author, if you will, is an institute. It’s called the Arbinger Institute, A‑R‑B‑I‑N‑G‑E‑R Institute ‑‑ a phenomenal book.

Ron:  OK.

Richard:  And I’ll just ‑ let me throw out just a couple more.

Ron:  That’s fine. That’s fine. [laughs]

Richard:  Anything by the guys at VitalSmarts.

Ron:  OK.

Richard:  “Crucial Conversations,” “Crucial Confrontations,” “Influencer,” are great books and then, quite frankly, I’m a total geek about Patrick Lencioni books ‑‑ “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” “Getting Naked” ‑‑awesome books.

Ron:  Yes. Yes. Well, we’ll link to all of those in the show notes ‑ All right, so this next question is interesting because I don’t typically talk to top level leaders of an organization like yourself, Richard, so I’m going to kind of modify this one a little bit, but the gist of the story goes like this.

That ‑ just pretend that you’re not the leader of Menlo, OK? You were recently hired to take over a company that is totally a mess, I mean, they are struggling with everything from quality, productivity, morale is terrible. There’s no joy to be found, [laughs], OK?

And the CEO that hires you has basically given you full operational control and trusts that you’re going to right the ship. So with this said, what’s the first week going to look like for Richard on the job at this mess of a company? What are you going to do?

Richard:  Well, I think to be a leader in that situation, you have to engender followership. Leaders without followers isn’t leadership at all, it’s a guy out on a walk.

Ron:  Yeah.

Richard:  And so, it has to be a beginning of a journey building trust with this team to establishing your authentic heart for those people, and I would probably grab that Simon Sinek video and play it. It’s 15 minutes, and show the “Start With Why.” Then, start a conversation with the team, however big they are, that maybe is the ones I’m touching and say, “Why are you here?”

Ron:  Yeah.

Richard:  “What drew you, either to this profession, to this industry? Let’s get back to our ‘Why,’” because now we’re going to start to use that ‘Why’ to refit everything we’re doing because now if we ‑ you know, I think, humans, in general, want to work on something bigger than themselves.

Ron:  Right.

Richard:  They want that sense of purpose of mission. And my guess is a company in chaos has lost that. That there’s fear in the room. There’s ‑ you know, people that are panicking about their jobs, their house payments, all that sort of thing.

And I think the first thing you have to do with that team is reground them to the purpose behind the organization. Not the purpose of “Why I work here,” but the purpose of “Why we exist as a team. What do we believe? What’s our shared belief system about where we’re going?”

And once establishing that, now let’s start looking at the things we do, if you will, the “Whats” and “Hows” and get to those things and say, “Well, how are we doing this?” and start pushing things off the airplane that don’t need to be on the airplane anymore.

Ron:  Yes, yes.

Richard:  You know, a lot of companies, when they’re in chaos, which is the land of never getting anything done, which sounds like the fictitious organization you’re describing, and also, probably 90 percent of the corporations out there. They implement bureaucracy as its antidote.

Well, you go then from an organization that doesn’t get anything done to an organization that doesn’t get anything started.

Ron:  Yeah.

Richard:  And that bureaucracy is actually far more debilitating than chaos.

Ron:  Yeah.

Richard:  Because at least chaos, we’re doing stuff. Bureaucracy, everybody is sitting around waiting for a decision to be made, for a meeting to be had, for an approval or for a sign‑off or for a budget to be approved. And you know, what our view of this is, neither chaos nor bureaucracy is the answer.

What humans crave, more than anything else, and this is where I think Menlo and the LEAN community have just absolutely aligned and fallen in love with each other is they crave simple, repeatable, measurable structure.

Ron:  Yeah.

Richard:  Something just like our kids, right? Our kids, they want to know that when they get up in the morning there’s breakfast and then they get dressed for school, and they go off school, and the bell rings and there can be learning because that structure frees up so much of your attention from dealing with chaos.

Ron:  Yes. Yes. Oh, excellent response. Thank you for that. All right, Richard, so thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule. I know you have lots of interviews and giving lots of tours and whatnot. Why don’t we just close this show up, Richard, with sharing ‑ why don’t you share some final words of wisdom, and then, tell people how they can connect with you on social media.

Richard:  I think all of us, you know, we wake up in the morning and we’re trying to hold onto those little dreams we’ve had all our lives for what we want to accomplish in our lives, what we want to accomplish in our families, what we want to accomplish in our careers, and most of those dissipate like the morning fog.

And so, my encouragement to your listeners, Ron, is just hang onto those. You can achieve those. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s really important, so don’t lose sight of those.

Ron:  Yes. Yes.

Richard:  To keep up with me, @menloprez is my Twitter handle.

Ron:  OK.

Richard:  “MenloInnovation” without the S ‑‑ because that’s the longest Twitter handle you can have ‑‑ is our corporate Twitter ID, and I have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn account, and probably three other pieces of social media that my team has me on that all have the @menloprez ID on that.

Ron:  OK.

Richard:  So you’ll generally find me there.

Ron:  Excellent.

Richard:  Our website is We invite the world to come in for tours, so you’re welcome to come. The book is available wherever books are sold, both electronic and print, soon to be audio.

And also, kind of a fun author moment for the author of “Joy” is the Chinese, the Russians, the Romanians and at least one other country have signed up for translations.

Ron:  Nice.

Richard:  I’m losing track of them now, so clearly there is a need for “Joy” in China and Russia and Romania right now.

Ron:  Yeah, yeah, excellent. Well, again. Thanks, Richard, for taking the time and perhaps we can do another interview. I’ll tell you what, I would love to come and visit you there in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I guess I won’t come in November, or anything like that, or towards the end of November but…

Richard:  We actually can see the grass again, Ron, it’s awesome.

Ron:  Yeah. All right. All right. I actually meant when Ohio State plays Michigan, but you know…


Richard:  Here we go.


Ron:  Actually…

Richard:  Trying to avoid bad weather, yeah.

Ron:  As I said, I grew up in Ohio. I’m in Texas, now, so I know the weather. Boy! I’ll tell you…


Ron:  It’s a… Thanks again, Richard. Have a great day.


Richard:  Thanks, Ron.

Announcer:  That’s all for this episode of the LSS Academy Podcast. Now it’s time to go download the only book you need to get started in LEAN thinking, and that’s the LSS Academy Guide to LEAN. The best part is that this book is absolutely free when you visit Don’t miss your chance to truly understand what it takes to think LEAN.



What Do You Think?

What did you think of this episode? Do you hope to create a more joyful workplace? Also, do you agree that there is a correlation between lean thinking and joy?

LSS 019 | Learning, Focus, and Innovation with Matthew May

Matt May

OK, folks, I’m extremely excited to release this edition of the LSS Academy podcast!

You see, I’ve definitely enjoyed every podcast I’ve recorded… but, I must admit, this interview was incredible!

In this episode, I’m joined by Matt May.  Matt is an incredible lean thinker who specializes in helping companies innovate.

Originally, Matt and I were planning to talk about another topic… that was until I stumbled across an article that talked about the importance of being able to focus on what they called “main things.”

The reason this article troubled me is because I’m, admittedly, addicted to learning which, I worried, created tension between my ability to focus on “main things” and my love of learning “new things.”

Well, as you’ll discover, Matt does an incredible job helping me to see why my “main things” weren’t quite what I thought they were.

So, with this said, if you’re not sure about this whole podcasting thing all I can say is please give this episode a listen or read the full written transcript at the bottom of this page.

Simply press press play and listen to it while you work… or download this episode onto your smart phone (iPhone users click here to install the Podcast app) and listen while you work out… or listen to it on your commute to – or from – work.

I feel extremely confident you’ll benefit from Matt’s incredible wisdom.

Also, please share this with your co-workers, friends, family, and anyone else you come into contact with!

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Matt’s favorite quotation… think Lao Tzu!
  • What the phrase “Learning Organization” means to Matt
  • Whether there’s a difference between “training” and “learning”
  • How Matt’s daughter runs experiments from her high chair!
  • The relationship between Innovation & Learning
  • Whether it’s possible for learning to become a distraction
  • What the “Main Thing” really is and why it’s deceptively complex
  • How Matt helped me identify what my “real” main thing is
  • What the “story of ice” has to do with focus and innovation
  • Why your purpose should never be an “activity”
  • How Netflix is a great example of being able to identify main things
  • Why Matt takes a break from his work every 90 minutes

Podcast Resources

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CLICK HERE to subscribe to the LSS Academy podcast on iTunes.

You can also subscribe via Stitcher which is similar to iTunes and is definitely Android friendly.

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Full Written Transcript

Full Written Transcript in PDF Format

Ron Pereira:  Welcome to episode 19 of the LSS Academy podcast.

[background music]

Announcer:  You are now listening to the LSS Academy podcast. The show that’s spreading the good news that is Lean and Six Sigma. Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron:  Hey there, welcome to another edition of the LSS Academy podcast. As always, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to listen to what we’re up to.

Now, we’ve done some pretty good interviews, I think, in the past. I’ve really enjoyed talking to all the guests but today’s interview, I would have to say is, to date, my favorite.

I actually interviewed a gentleman named Matt May. Many of you probably know of Matt’s work. He’s written several books. One of my favorite books is, “The Laws of Subtraction.”

In any event, Matt and I had a topic that we were going to explore and then I actually stumbled across an article, recently, that talked about something called, “the main thing.”

We’re going to get into it in the interview but it’s really more about how we should focus on the main things that are important to us and to our businesses. It’s something that I’ve struggled with.

I’m a learning junkie, I guess you could say. I’m constantly trying to learn new things. In fact, I love to learn new things.

If I’m not learning something, eventually, I grow stale. I get grumpy. All the rest of it. It’s something that I’m trying to balance as to how do I balance what I call “the main things,” of my business, Gemba Academy, with learning new things.

I knew Matt was going to have an opinion on this. What you’re going to find is that I went into this interview, honestly, with no idea what Matt was going to say. [laughs]

Matt really told me before we started. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say but we really have a natural conversation.

As you’re going to find out, Matt actually helps me in something that I think I’ve always known what Matt was going to tell me but I wasn’t able to articulate it.

What Matt was able to do for me, was bring a tremendous amount of clarity and vision to what my main thing here, at LSS Academy and more specifically, Gemba Academy, what that is and really what I need to be doing as a leader of this organization.

I hope you’re going to enjoy this show. I’m positive you are. All the show notes and resources can be found over at

Enough from me, let’s get to the show.

All right, well Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.

Matt May:  Well, thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Ron:  All right, I guess you’re calling us from sunny California, I suppose?

Matt:  Absolutely. Although, today, I don’t think it’s so sunny.

Ron:  No?

Matt:  It’s blustery and overcast.

Ron:  It’s overcast here in Texas, too. I guess we’re feeling the same pain there.


Ron:  All right, so why don’t we start. Go ahead and tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, and really how did you first come to learn about continuous improvement, in general.

Matt:  Gee, Matt May in a nutshell. I’ll do that last part first. I was exposed to continuous innovation during an eight year, full time consulting stint that happened by accident, with the University of Toyota, here in Torrance, California, which is their sales headquarters.

I spent eight years there and moved from an initial project of facilitating the formation of the University of Toyota all the way through to becoming a master instructor.

I left in 2006, which enabled me to write a book, which enabled me to write three other books and launch my own campaign for innovation and helping other companies innovate.

Help them make their products, their services more innovative. I write, I speak, I coach, I facilitate, and that’s probably how we came to know each other.

Ron:  Yeah, exactly. We’re going to definitely link to all of Matt’s websites, and books, and what not. Those will be at the show notes at, one nine. Definitely, please check out all of Matt’s work there.

Before we get into the teeth of the interview, we like to ask our guest to share a continuous improvement, or leadership, or innovation quotation that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Matt?

Matt:  Well, the one that changed my perspective was one by Lao Tzu which just a little snippet of ancient Chinese philosophy which goes something like this; to acquire knowledge, add things everyday. To acquire wisdom, subtract things everyday.

Ron:  What does that really mean to you, Matt?

Matt:  Well, it means that the ability to be in insightful, to be introspective, to be wise about what you’re doing or what you’re saying, whether it’s with respect to your own actions, whether it’s with respect to what you’re advising other comes from the ability to truly focus on the things that are most important.

As my friend, John Mita, says, “Subtract the obvious, in order to add the meaningful.”

Ron:  You didn’t ask for this but I want to give you a nice sales promotion. “The Laws of Subtraction,” is probably one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read.

It’s fascinating when you stop to think about it. You just find yourself in your life, at least for me, so cluttered.

You look around, you’re like, “Oh my gosh.” We live in this world of must‑have and that’s, like you said, that could be so dangerous. You just become so convoluted and so overwhelmed. It’s hard to succeed sometimes, isn’t it?

Matt:  Yeah, it is at the heart of the Lean. Whether you’re talking about Lean thinking, whether you’re talking about Lean production, whether you’re talking about the Lean startup, subtraction is at the very core of all of that.

Ron:  It ties in perfectly in the opening, you haven’t heard that yet, but in the opening I talk about how I’ve personally struggled. I know you and I shared, talked about this offline.

I’ve struggled with a topic that we’re going to explore today and that is this thing called this learning organization, and learning, and how we want to grow as individuals but at the same time, having that focus.

It really ties into your whole concept of subtraction. Let’s dig into that part of the interview here, Matt. Let’s start with, when you hear the phrase, “learning organization,” that’s a very popular buzz word.

There are lots of books and articles written on learning organizations. What is that? What does that mean to you?

Matt:  What does it mean to me? I guess I first came across that term in “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline,” which really and truly is about the learning organization systems thinking.

I believe that a learning organization is one that has a child‑like ethos of curiosity in which you are experimenting in order to create knowledge.

Ron:  Can you think of…now obviously, Toyota is probably going to pop to your mind but can you think of any companies, in addition to Toyota, that have strong learning organizations?

Matt:  Sure, gosh, I think that Toyota is not alone in the ability to run millions of little experiments. The entire Japanese culture is fraught with companies from Sony who does even a better job, I think, with respect to, I guess, the number of little experiments and suggestions that happen over the course of a year.

They’re not alone there. It is a cultural, I think phenomenon. Honda I’ve worked with. I think that that is, gosh, I don’t know enough about companies like the Googles, and the Apples, and the Amazons but I do know the folks at Amazon will tell you that the notion of Lean and learning go hand‑in‑hand. They are quite the experimenters.

I think the entire Lean startup movement is a good indication that when you say, “Any companies,” I think there is a movement afoot among the entrepreneurial set that has caught on like wildfire and I would venture to say that there are 10s of thousands of companies that are experimenting in order to find that scalable business idea.

Ron:  Here’s an interesting question, is there a difference between training and learning? If so, what is it?

Matt:  I think that there are different kinds of learning. This almost goes to the quote that I gave you as one of my favorites.

There are two ways to learn, I guess. There’s probably a variety of styles of learning.

The acquisition of existing knowledge is one way. You go to college, you go to school, and actually our entire formative school experience is meant to acquire existing knowledge. That’s actually the difficulty, because when you get in to the working world, that just carries over and you start doing boss centered work.

You lose the ability that you were born with in that first four or five years of your life when you are not necessarily just acquiring existing knowledge, you are creating knowledge for yourself, and that’s different. The metaphor that I always love to use is the one of my daughter in the high chair, watching her create new knowledge. She does it like any good scientist does.

She’s in the high chair, there’s food in front of her, and she has a problem to solve and a question has been raised in her mind. Mind you, she can’t even speak. She does not know what a bully is, or cannot define it. She doesn’t know what a spoon is, but she sees this thing with stuff in it. She’s up above the ground, and she wants to know how to get that stuff on the floor. In order to do that, she has various options, various possibilities.

She could use this thing with a curved saucer called a spoon. She could just dip her hand in and throw fists of it on the floor, or she could take the whole bowl and just throw it. Those are her core capabilities, and those are her options, and she forms a little hypothesis in her brain that says “If I pick this thing up and just let it go, I think what’s going to happen is it’s going to make lots of noise and food’s going to get everywhere” and that’s what she decides to do.

She runs that little experiment, and gosh darn it, there’s great feedback. It confirms her hypothesis, mom gets really busy and puts the food back on the high chair tray. Like a good scientist, she does it again to confirm her results. That’s the creation of new knowledge.

It’s where you see a young child in the confines of a sandbox using their imagination. It’s when you see a young child who’s just learned to walk, walking down the street with mom or dad, hand in hand, and it takes them about an hour to walk 50 feet.

The reason is because she is looking, tasting, feeling, smelling, observing every little thing from an ant to a stick to a crack in the sidewalk. That’s a different kind of learning. That is the creation of new knowledge. It is not the accumulation of static knowledge, and I think that’s what you’re talking about.

Ron:  It is. Sometimes you’ll hear, I formally went to college and whatnot so I’m not down on college or anything. But in my personal situation, I think I learned much more after college, obviously, than I ever did in those four to six years where I was studying. That life experience, that throwing the food on the floor, that’s on the job training, I suppose, right?

Matt:  Well, yeah. It’s the ability to run an experiment. It’s the ability to recapture the art of the question. Why? Why is this here? How do we know this is true? How can I do this better experiment? We lose that ability because in the school system, we’re not really asked to do that except maybe in science class, and it’s very, very structured at that point. Instead what we’re taught to do is, the teacher will come up with all the questions, and you simply have to find the right answer. That’s a different kind of learning, so you’ve got to relearn before you can learn. Yeah, you actually have to unlearn, in order to learn.

Ron:  All right. Next question, what’s the relationship? You’re obviously really big into innovation. What’s the relationship, if any, between innovation and learning?

Matt:  It is the iterative cycle that underlies problem solving, the creation of new knowledge, which is learning, and innovation, which I define very simply as trying to figure out a better way to do something. A better way to do something, better than it’s ever been done before, are all the same. It’s the cycle that I simply defined with the child in the high chair exercise, where you take a look around, you have a question, you have a hypothesis, you run an experiment and you get feedback. You iterate through that. That is how one innovates, that is how one creates new knowledge, and that is how one creatively solves problems.

Ron:  I think the startup has done a great job at coming up with that minimum valuable product, and in pivoting if needed, right?

Matt:  Sure. I saw workers on the factory floor using toilet paper tubes and masking tape at duct tape and Popsicle sticks to mock up a minimally viable tool. Yeah, it is. Eric Reese has done a great job of applying that Lean, nested experimentation process to the entrepreneurial startup.

Ron:  It’s like 3P for the business world, right?

Matt:  Yeah.

Ron:  Now to transition a little bit. Much is written within the productivity world, for lack of a better phrase, productivity world, about the importance of being able to stay focused on your core competencies. For example, I recently read an article, and I’ll link to it in the show notes, where they were speaking about the CEO of Dickies, which is a Dallas based clothing company for those who are not familiar with that company.

The CEO had a sign on her desk, and possibly still does, that reads “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” In other words, really trying to stay focused on what it is that’s your main thing for your part of that business. Don’t become distracted. My question is, is it possible for learning to become a distraction, and actually harmful to the organization?

Matt:  It depends how you execute learning. The statement that you just read that’s on the card in the Dickies CEO’s office, keep the main thing the main thing, is actually deceptively complex because there are two components to it. The best treatment of what I’m about to say I’ve ever read, heard, talked to, listened to, is from a gentleman I referenced earlier, John Mita.

There are two components. One is priority, and the other is focus. The ability to find the main thing is focus. Keeping it the main thing is the notion of priority. Now, as John would tell you, he will tell you that the difference there is just in nuance. As he says, it’s like the difference between a ballpoint pen and a gel pen, for instance. But as a designer, he was trained to focus, not necessarily prioritize when he was working at the MIT media center, Media Lab.

Then, when he became the president, in other words a chief executive, of Rhode Island School of Design, he needed to learn how to prioritize, which he didn’t need to do as a creative.

I think you’re on to something, and I think the key will be, how do you resolve the tension between priority and focus? I’ll let that settle in your brain for just a minute.

Ron:  Like we were talking off line, even myself personally, my main thing with Gemba Academy, obviously, is developing new content, taking care of our customers. But at the end of the day, I and my business partner Kevin, and John, also some of our main things are to keep looking forward. What’s coming with new technology? What will the video training business, if you will, look like four years from now?

If we’re only focused on the main thing of making videos every day, these new technologies, these new innovations, they may pass us by. I see that when I worked at, I don’t want to name names, but I worked at certain cell phone companies. It happened to them.

The main thing was to be excellent at making these cell phones and telling customers what they want. Next thing you know, this little company from Finland or other places come zooming past you, and you’re like, “Wow, what just happened?”

Matt:  You just said something that is the key to everything. You just defined your work as making videos. Allow me to tell you a cautionary tale.

Ron:  OK.

Matt:  It’s the story of ice. I borrowed this story liberally from my friend Guy Kawasaki, who tells this story all the time. The story of ice goes like this. Ice 1.0 begins before 1900, where the way that you would get ice into your home in order to keep your perishables, your produce, your meats and vegetables, things like that, keep them longer so they don’t rot, was that Bubba and Junior would go out in the winter time to a frozen lake or pond.

They would cut big blocks of ice, stick them on a horse‑drawn wagon, and deliver them to your door. They would do that repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. That’s how you would get ice. Fast forward 25 years, 1925‑ish or so, and Ice 2.0. Ice 2.0 is the ice factory. The ice factory would make blocks of ice in a factory.

They would stick them on a horse‑drawn wagon, refrigerated this time, and deliver them throughout the city, town, neighborhood. Now you didn’t have to live near a frozen lake or pond and wait for winter time. Now, Ice 3.0 is another 20 years past that point. It is the original PC, the personal chiller, the refrigerator. Now you didn’t need blocks of ice at all.

The cautionary tale is this. None of the ice harvesters, which is Bubba and Junior cutting blocks of ice back in the 1900s, became ice factories. None of the ice factories became refrigeration companies. The reason is because they too narrowly defined their purpose.

If you define your purpose as an activity, in other words, which is by the way what you just did, if you define your purpose as, “In the winter time I go out and cut blocks of ice,” well, gosh, of course you’re not going to adopt the mindset of the ice factory. If you define your purpose as, “I make blocks of ice in a factory,” of course you’re not going to move to that next curve.

But if you define your purpose as the value that you actually provide, which is, “I provide a way for people to maintain their perishables longer,” then you’re more likely to adopt that next curve, or jump to it, or innovatively create the next curve. In your instance, what I would tell you is don’t define your work as “We make training videos.” What is the value that you truly provide? That way, not only have you truly identified your main thing, but you’ve left open all the different ways to deliver the main thing.

Ron:  Gosh, I feel like I’m going to get an invoice in the mail for the free consulting here. [laughs] That’s incredible. You’re so right. Yeah, we don’t make videos. We help companies transform and learn and evolve. This is what we do. Right now videos help with that, but that’s not the only way, obviously. Excellent.

Matt:  The modern example of that is Netflix. Granted that they stumbled, but look at what Netflix is doing. If they just viewed themselves as, “We deliver DVDs to people and take the pain of the corner video store away,” then they wouldn’t have moved to the next curve so readily, which was streaming video, and now the new curve, which is original content. They are disrupting their competitors because of that.

They have created a new way to consume, which is binge watching. I can’t tell you how many people that I know that, and I’m one of them, that sat their for an entire day and watched the entire 13 or whatever episodes of “House of Cards” as soon as it came out in February. I did. It was a rainy, cold day here in California, so I can’t ride my bike, I can’t play tennis, I can’t go stand up paddle boarding comfortably. I had a full day. I consumed 13 hours of TV watching, which I never do. That’s the modern ice story, is when you define the value as providing a seamless way to consume entertaining…Entertainment.

Ron:  Media.

Matt:  Yeah, media. Of course you’re going to think about the next best way to do that, and that leads you to learning and innovation. Learning, how do we experiment with new technologies? How do we create a better way using those existing technologies? Can we create our own technology? Can we change the rules of the game to make it even better for the user, for the audience, for your customer?

That leads to my favorite creative method, which is design thinking, because it’s all human‑centered innovation, which sometimes in the Lean world gets lost. I can’t tell you how many companies I run across that, yeah they do process improvement, but it’s process improvement for the sake of process improvement, and they lose sight of why they’re doing it in the first place.

I guess my overall message to you is focus. The main thing is the deeper purpose or higher purpose, if you will. What’s that true value proposition, the compelling reason that people want to be associated with Gemba Academy?

Ron:  Yeah. I guess you’re right, in that when you think about the Dickies article, the main thing is keep the main thing, get off Facebook, get off Twitter. Really, it’s a trap. The main thing is not an activity. I think that’s your main message here. The main thing is a philosophy or a purpose or a why do you exist kind of thing. That’s where I was missing, and I’m sure many of our listeners have been missing, so thank you for bringing clarity to that, Matt.

Matt:  There’s a simple good old Lean technique that will help you do that, because so many people, especially in larger organizations, can’t tell you what their root cause is. That’s what we’re talking about. A purpose is a root cause. What’s the cause you’re fighting for? It begins with the little white card that we all carry, which is a business card which has a job title on it.

It’s very easy, I think, to use the 5 Whys technique to get down to what your true purpose in life is. You begin with your title, which is not your root cause, it is not your true purpose. But you start with the job description. Maybe it’s a title. What does that mean? I’ll just give an example. “I’m a census taker.” OK, why is that important?

You keep asking that question until you can go no further. Eventually you’ll get to, “Well, it’s important because it allows the government to provide services to individuals in a more timely manner,” whatever. There is a core purpose at the end of three or four rounds of asking, “Why is that important?”

Ron:  I guess the homework for ourselves and our listeners is, what is your main thing for your position in life? You might have a main thing for personal life, professional life, and so forth. Is that fair?

Matt:  Yes, I think it’s quite fair. I think that most of us in business, if we’re honest with ourselves about why we exist, it needs to go beyond some sort of money issue, because that just really doesn’t get anyone out of the bed in the morning. It’ll get down to something fairly universal, which is to help others succeed, no matter what you’re doing. The rest is just different ways to do that, I think.

Ron:  All right. Well, that was fantastic. Matt, we’ve come to my favorite part of the show now, which we’re calling the quick fire segment. This is basically where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom, which you’ve been doing. But we’re really going to dig in now on Matt, OK? The first question, Matt, is, when you first started down your personal journey with continuous improvement and innovation, what was holding you back from being successful?

Matt:  I was looking at problems I was facing from the wrong perspective. I was looking at them…I remember it. It struck me like a ton of bricks. I was in the middle of that eight year stint with Toyota and I was up against a problem that I simply could no solve. I was hired to help them implement ideas. I ran out of ideas.

I was looking at the problem from the traditional Western view. We’re taught to look at any big decision from maybe three different choice perspectives. What to do versus what to not do. What to put in, what to add, versus what to leave out. Then what to pursue, what to go after, rather than what to ignore.

I was doing like any good Western MBA person would do, which is, “What do I do? What do I pursue? What do I put into this particular solution?” I was not looking at it from the perspective of what to leave out, what to ignore, what to not do. That little snippet of wisdom that I began the podcast with that you asked me about…

Ron:  Subtraction.

Matt:  Yeah. It was actually left on a little yellow sticky.

Ron:  On your chair, right?

Matt:  On the back of a chair, yeah.

Ron:  I remember that.

Matt:  It really helped me understand that I was looking at things from just the wrong way. As soon as I looked at things from a different perspective, a whole new world opened up. I began to see the entire Toyota experience as that, as what to leave out, what to ignore, what to not do, rather than the former, what to do, what to add.

The entire notion of Lexus, the relentless pursuit of perfection, was a streamlining activity. The way that we get to perfection is to use the good old quote from Michelangelo, which is, “I saw David in the block of marble and I simply removed everything that wasn’t David.” That’s my answer to the question. That was the block. The block was my own mindset.

Ron:  Matt, what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Matt:  The best advice that I have ever received. Well, I hate to beat a dead [laughs] …

Ron:  That’s fine. Beat it.

Matt:  It really comes from, I think, Eastern philosophy, and it wasn’t so much any one living person, necessarily, but is just some of that good old ancient ‑‑ 2,500‑year‑old ancient ‑‑ wisdom. There’s a lot of wisdom there that I think I’ve brought into my being now that gives me a different worldview.

Lao Tzu ‑‑ folks that were in about the formation of the Toyota production system, the Taiichi Ohnos of the world. There are all kinds of great quotes from him, from Sakichi Toyoda. It has stayed with me. You’re probably getting that it was a life‑changing experience for me, and it still has hung with me and it remains my zeitgeist, I think.

Ron:  Can you share, Matt, one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Matt:  I take a break every 90 minutes no matter what I’m doing.

Ron:  How long?

Matt:  It varies. It’s really not about how long; it’s the very act of changing your space and your geography and your outlook and mindset. I learned a technique. It’s not my technique. I learned it from Tony Schwartz, who is CEO of the Energy Project. It’s called pulsing. There’s a lot of science behind it. It coincides with our biorhythms, which, we all know they happen during our sleep cycles.

We go through these roughly 90‑minute sleep cycles. They don’t stop when we’re awake. What happens is we get into a flow. We get into a rhythm. We’re hugely productive. We’re in the middle of a big project, and we forget that we need to rejuvenate every 90 minutes. Four hours into our day, we’ve not taken a break. Yet we feel the exhaustion coming on. We feel the stress building up, and that gets in the way of our creativity.

What do we do? We drink a Coke. We drink a Red Bull. We substitute what we should be doing with something synthetic. What I do, and I do this in my training sessions. If I have a daylong training, I make absolutely sure that we are never going beyond 90 minutes of learning or activity. I will take a 10‑ to 15‑minute break.

How do you do that at work? Gosh. Leave the building. Get out of the building. Go sit in your car. Go listen to music. Go take a daydreaming walk, a purposeful daydreaming walk. This is where our insights happen. This is where the great, sudden creative insights happen, where we get little ah‑ha moments, is when we’ve removed ourselves from the problem.

I pulse my work. I think it’s a great productivity habit. I actually ended up writing “The Laws of Subtraction” in six weeks using this method, versus six months that it took previous books using the good old method of “Pound through a day; let it seep overnight, go back, read it the next day, and say, ‘Oh my God. What was I thinking? I’ve got to scrap that entire day’s worth of work.’”

Ron:  How do you keep track of time? Simple question, but use your iPhone or what do you do?

Matt:  In a training session I will. But I [laughs] use a good old, old‑school wristwatch.

Ron:  You set an alarm?

Matt:  No. I don’t. Once you start doing this, and it’s sort of like those that can meditate, which is another productivity habit which I’m not very good at, so I won’t call it a habit. But there’s a certain, I don’t know, biological body clock that goes off that says, “OK, I’m ready to go back to work now.” It’s like you take a nice, deep, cleansing breath and you’re ready to rock on.

I don’t set an alarm, but in certain training sessions I do have a little built‑in alarm, because I do a lot of timed and time‑blocked activities.

Ron:  Matt, if you could only recommend one book, what would it be, and why?

Matt:  Boy. [sighs] Of all times, or just currently?

Ron:  Yeah. Man, you got one book to give someone who…and let’s keep it, maybe they’re interested in what we’re talking about ‑‑ making things better, innovating, certain things like that. In that scheme of life.

Matt:  OK. Maybe you’ve heard of this book, maybe you haven’t. It was written in the 1800s, and it is the original self‑help book, and it is called “Self‑Help.” Smiles.

Ron:  I’ve not heard of that, no.

Matt:  It’s called “Self‑Help, with Illustrations of Character, Conduct, and Perseverance” by Samuel Smiles. It’s just as it sounds, S‑M‑I‑L‑E‑S. This was a book that was given to me at my time at Toyota by the chief operating officer. I have an old tattered version of it. It’s not a first edition, but it’s very close to it. It’s actually got an inscription in it that says, “June 18th, 1896. LC Travis, compliments of Mary Rose” someone.

It’s very close to a first edition. But…

Ron:  You can still buy it today, I’m assuming?

Matt:  Yes. You can find an online version of it.

Ron:  We’ll find it and link to it.

Matt:  It’s the ultimate…I think it’s…gosh. Every other personal/professional book sort of follows from this book, so that’s .

Ron:  Thank you for sharing that.

Matt:  Sure.

Ron:  Last question, Matt. Imagine that you’ve been hired as the general manager of a company that’s struggling with productivity, quality, poor morale, just all kinds of problems. You were hired because of your past experience and past success. As it turns out, the CEO that hired you has given you complete operational control and trusts you to right the ship.

With this said, Matt, what would your first week and really your first day on the job look like? What would you do and why?

Matt:  That’s simple. I’d spend that entire first week empathizing. I’d be observing. Everything begins with observation, and observation can be done and carried out in a number of ways. I would not just talk to people and ask them questions. I would observe them working. I would almost become one of the folks that are having the poor productivity to the best of my ability.

I’d try and not just be a detective, but I would try and be an FBI profiler, to really and truly understand the struggles that are happening. I can’t do anything unless I completely and fully understand the length, breadth, and depth of the issues. That’s exactly what I would do. I’d play Sherlock Holmes. I wouldn’t do anything. I would go beyond a week. A week’s not enough.

Before coming onboard, I would tell the CEO that my window of turnaround might not be a year. It might not be six months. But it’s going to take me probably a couple of months just to understand the issues, before I can pinpoint the pain point. That’s actually…my company’s called EDIT Innovation, and the E in EDIT, it’s not just about subtraction. The E stands for “empathize.” Empathize, define, ideate, and test.

Before I can define a problem to solve, I’ve got to sort of become the problem. It’s sort of the Zen‑ness of it. Become the problem. Be the ball.

Ron:  Matt, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us. To close this show, why don’t you share some final words of wisdom, and then share how people can connect with you via your favorite social media outlets.

Matt:  I don’t know if I’ve got any more wisdom, Ron. I think I’m spent for the day.


Matt:  Let me circle back to what we talked about, and I would reiterate…because I love the card that you sent me, and the article of the Dickies CEO. How do you keep the main thing the main thing? I think that’s everything that we talked about. The easy way for folks to find me, just go to From there you can get anywhere.

Ron:  All right, well, thank you so much for taking the time, Matt. Really enjoyed this.

Matt:  Thank you.

Ron:  Really enjoyed this. Again, if you want to send me an invoice for the consulting…

Matt:  [laughs] That’s fine.

Ron:  …But you really did help me, and I hope it really did help the listeners out there as well. Hopefully we can connect again. Depending on when people listen to this podcast, again, we are going to be doing some webinars with Matt at Gemba Academy and you can learn more about those at Sign up for those and you’ll get to see Matt and see his slides and hear him as well, so it’ll be even better than this.

All right. Well, thanks again, Matt, and take care.

Matt:  Take care. Bye‑bye.

Ron:  That’s all for this episode of the LSS Academy podcast. Now it’s time to go download the only book you need to get started in Lean thinking, and that’s “The LSS Academy Guide to Lean.” The best part is that this book is absolutely free when you visit Don’t miss your chance to truly understand what it takes to think Lean.



What Do You Think?

What did you think of this episode?  Do you know what your “main thing” is?  If so, what is it?

LSS 018 | Profit is the Inevitable Conclusion of Work Well Done with Bill Waddell

Bill-WaddellIn this episode, I’m joined by one of the most experienced lean thinkers I know.  Bill Waddell is a lean author, blogger, and consultant.

Bill is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and, some might even say, controversial lean thinkers out there.  Me?  I personally appreciate the honesty – and passion – Bill brings to his work and, especially, his writing.

Now, in this podcast Bill and I focus on why so many companies struggle to fully embrace lean thinking.  Bill brings a tremendous amount of experience to this interview and I know you’re going to enjoy, and benefit, from his thoughts.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

You can read a full written transcript of the interview by clicking here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Bill’s favorite quote… think Henry Ford
  • Bill’s opinions on why so many companies struggle with lean
  • The role of the CEO & CFO during a lean transformation
  • The challenge publicly traded companies face
  • The importance of Lean Accounting
  • Bill’s advice to Lean Practitioners who don’t have senior management support
  • Bill’s advice to CEOs on why they better be prepared to follow through if they decide to practice lean
  • The best advice Bill has ever received

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Full Written Transcript

Full Written Transcript in PDF Format

Ron Pereira:  Welcome to Episode 18 of the LSS Academy Podcast.


Narrator:  You are now listening to the LSS Academy Podcast, the show that’s spreading the good news that is Lean and Six Sigma. Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.


Ron Pereira:  Hey there, welcome to another edition of the LSS Academy Podcast. I hope you’re having an incredible day and week. As always, thank you for listening to the show. We’ve gotten some really good feedback on the new format of the show, which has been great. My plan is to release a new podcast episode every Wednesday.

If you’re interested in getting these new episodes automatically, please be sure to subscribe to this show on iTunes or Stitcher. Of course, if you’re enjoying this show, we’d be honored if you’d leave us an honest review over at iTunes.

Links to subscribe to the show and to leave a review could be found

Now, today’s guest is Bill Waddell. Bill is a Lean thinking consultant, author, speaker and global supply chain expert. Bill is also one of the original Lean accounting thought leaders of the world.

I first came to know of Bill when he wrote over on the Evolving Excellence blog. Bill now has his own blog called The Manufacturing Leadership Center, which I highly recommend everyone check out. Since Bill definitely doesn’t hold back when it comes to sharing exactly what he thinks, which I personally love.

During this interview, Bill and I talk about how organizations often struggle when they’re getting started on a Lean journey, and even those that are on the Lean journey, some of the obstacles that they come up against. Bill brings a unique perspective to this situation since he’s worked with so many different companies over his long career.

As you’ll hear, Bill actually faced his own challenges when he worked in the industry. Links to Bill’s website and all of the other resources discussed during the show can be found in the show notes, which you’ll find over at

Enough from me, let’s get to the show. Bill, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to visit with us. Why don’t we start? Tell us a little bit about your background, your work, your consulting business, and really how you came to learn about continuous improvement.

Bill Waddell:  Thank you for having me, Ron. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk with you. Any opportunity I get to talk about Lean, I gladly take advantage of.

Ron:  Great.

Bill:  The fact is, Ron, I’m so old that I’ve been involved in this since before it was known as Lean.

Ron:  Before it was cool, right? [laughs]

Bill:  That’s long before it was cool. It was anything but cool in those days. Actually, my introduction came close to 25, 30 years ago, when I was working for division of Emerson Electric. Those were pretty heady days in manufacturing.

Motorola had just conjured up something called Six Sigma and it was winning the first Malcolm Baldrige Quality Awards. Toyota was doing something. We had no idea what it was, but generically, it was referred to as JIT. Dr. Feigenbaum had just written about total quality management. Quality circles were a big deal. There was a lot going on.

It was around that time that Goldratt introduced the theory of constraints. Tom Johnson had written a book called “Relevance Lost: The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting,” where he laid out a case for accounting not supporting best manufacturing practices.

All those things were going on at once. I had the great good fortune to be working for a guy by the name of Dean Rowe, who was the chief operating officer of the Copeland Corporation, the division of Emerson that I was working for. He was a very idea‑oriented guy.

He would bring in different experts every month. Not to have them actually do anything, just to come in and teach for a day, and would have management listen. The expectation was that we were going to start kicking around ideas.

It was through that that I first met Dr. Deming and heard what he was up to. A guy named Jim Camp from Xerox, who invented the concept of benchmarking. All of this was going on in those incredible days.

Dean Ruwe plucked me out of my job. I was a manager of advanced manufacturing practices. Told me my full‑time job was to go out on the road, or to study, to go wherever I needed to, to do whatever it took, to sort through all of this stuff, and come back and tell him what it all meant to the Copeland Corporation.

Through that, I went to Motorola University. I went to the Kaizen Institute. I visited Malcolm Baldrige Award winners. I had a tremendous experience, lasted close to a year, and came back and told him, “It’s all about cycle time, Dean. That’s the common thread that everybody’s talking about is compressing cycle time, and that’s what we need to do.”

I got a copy of Shingo’s original green book, the one written in wretched Jangalese, the old one that’s [laughs] no longer available. We worked our way through that and started doing what people would now call Kaizen events and going out and changing processes at some of the satellite plants and getting astounding results. That was really my introduction to it.

Once I learned that, it was like a drug and I was hooked, and my life was never going to be the same after having had those experiences. I’ve grown with it and been involved for all of these years, and I’m as excited and enthusiastic about it now as I was close to 30 years ago, when we first learned about it ‑‑ in fact, more so.

Ron:  Right. We’re going to go ahead and link to your website, but you do offer consulting. I know your specialty, if I’m correct, is these one‑day visits, isn’t it? You do a lot of that, don’t you, Bill?

Bill:  I do a fair amount of it. I normally have two or three longer‑term consulting clients going at any given time. I do a lot of one‑day‑assessment visits, to go in and visit companies, that typically the profile is somebody who’s been working in lean for a few years and just not really getting the kind of results they expected and are running into problems.

It’s really gap analysis. It’s coming in, and as I tell them, the normal format is for me to spend the morning with my mouth shut and my ears open, and then they spend the afternoon with their mouths shut and their ears open.

Ron:  [laughs] Love it.

Bill:  I learn about them, and then spend the afternoon telling them, “Here’s what the best companies do, and here’s where you are, and here are the one or two or three areas that you really gapped. Here’s what your priorities are going forward.”

Ron:  We’re going to go ahead and explore that with the teeth of the interview here, but before we do that, Bill, why don’t you share with us ‑‑ I’m sure you have many ‑‑ one of your favorite continuous‑improvement or leadership quotations that possibly inspires you?

Bill:  It’s a very simple answer for me. When I was first learning about lean, and I also am curious about history, and I was astounded, like a lot of people are, when I was learning about the early days of Toyota, really trying to understand, what were they thinking when they did this? What were the driving principles? What drove them to create this very unique and very powerful approach to manufacturing?

When I did that, all of their early quotes, all the things they had to say, were just riddled with references to Henry Ford, and that “If Henry Ford were alive today, he’d be doing exactly what we’re doing. Everything we did, we learned from Ford.” When I read Ford’s book, “Today and Tomorrow,” written in 1926, there it is ‑‑ the entire lean philosophy laid out, in 1926. I really got into depth understanding what happened at Ford and what drove Ford, who, in my view, is really the founder of modern lean.

Ron:  Do you have a favorite Henry Ford quote, then?

Bill:  Yes. A quote from Henry Ford is the banner on my website, and it’s that “Profit is the inevitable conclusion of work well done.” Ford was saying, “Focus on the work, focus on the process, and profits will take care of themselves.”

As far as I’m concerned, that’s really the guiding light, the driving principle, of lean ‑‑ focus on the process, on the excellence of the process, and if you do that, you’ll make an awful lot of money. When you do the opposite, worry about the money and not the process, things don’t work out too well.

Ron:  Isn’t that the case?

Bill:  Profit is the inevitable conclusion of work well done. Everything that I teach companies all revolves around that principle. It’s what I took from all my studies of Ford, and it’s been very helpful to me.

Ron:  Bill, from your experience, what are the biggest challenges? I’m sure there’s more than one, but what are some of the biggest challenges that organizations face when they attempt to drive significant change with Lean?

Bill:  It’s failure to recognize that it’s all about management. Typically, when I’ll go into a company, one of these companies that’s gapped, they’ll tell me, “We’ve embarked on this Lean strategy four or five years ago, or three years ago. We’re just not getting the results that we expected.”

I’ll talk to whoever is in charge of sales and marketing and say, “The company has been on this strategic path. How has your job changed? What are you doing differently now, in real, practical terms? Who works for you? Who do you work for? What reports do you look at? What meetings do you have? In your daily management grind, how has this Lean strategy changed your day?”

The answer, really, sales and marketing people have a long‑winded answer to anything. You boil it all down and the answer is, “It really hasn’t.” You talk to the controller and, no, it hasn’t changed his or her job. Whoever is in charge of engineering hasn’t really changed, or human resources. It really is just the production person.

There’s the answer. How can you say that you’ve made a strategic change in your company when most of the organization and most of senior leadership isn’t doing anything different than they were doing before? You get what you manage. If you manage the company the same way, you’ll get the same results. If you want different results…

Ron:  Yeah, the definition of insanity.

Bill:  Absolutely. If you want different results, you have to manage differently. It’s management’s inability to recognize or unwillingness to embrace the fact that fundamental, tough, gut‑wrenching change has to begin with them. Not just in their philosophical support, but in what they actually do.

We need different accounting reports, a different approach to supply chain management, different performance metrics, a different organizational structure, fundamental, gut‑wrenching change in what management does. When we change that then the shop floor piece is easy. If we don’t change that, then we don’t get much on the shop floor.

Ron:  Let’s dig into that a little bit. Where does the president or maybe the CEO of the organization really fit into that equation, specifically that seat in the organization? What do they do? What do they need to do?

Bill:  A lot has been written about leadership. Culture is a big part of it. The CEO certainly needs to be the driver of cultural change. He needs to be the big supporter of this and to be very involved. The most specific task the CEO has to do ‑‑ it’s amazing how often this is not done ‑‑ is to set a clear strategic direction for the company.

Lean is powerful tool to help a company achieve its strategic goals, but it’s amazing how often the CEO can’t enunciate what’s the strategy. What are we trying to do here? What markets are we trying to grow? What products are we trying to grow? Where are we going? What direction are we trying to take the company?

It’s so important for them to have a clear vision and a very clear idea that everyone understands that this what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to grow our share of the consumer market with these products. We’re trying to grow our share of the agriculture market with these other products, to have a clear path of what it is we’re trying to do.

When they do that, it’s fairly straightforward. We can align Lean behind that. Now that we understand what customers we’re talking about, how we’re going to create value, let’s use Lean to do that. If there is no direction, then it’s just everybody meandering around with a general definition of goodness that’s not really going anywhere.

Ron:  Now, do you see a difference in the president’s role if they are the president or CEO of a $10 million company versus a $10 billion company?

Bill:  Well, it’s not the size of the company, but the fact that the $10 billion company is probably a publicly traded company. Publicly traded companies have….

It’s almost impossible for them to become truly Lean. They have a different task. The mission or the objective of the publicly traded company is purely to generate profits for the shareholders in the relatively short term.

The $10 million company is probably a privately held company that tends to have a longer‑term focus. It tends to be more cash driven. They’ve got all of the right pieces in place to become Lean.

It’s not the size so much, but it’s what’s the focus and what are the objectives? When a company is focused on quarterly results, they’re going to have a hard time ever really doing the things it takes to become Lean. There is a big difference.

You’ll find the leanest companies in the core of Lean success are in smaller and medium‑sized, privately held companies. There are very few of those $10 billion companies that anybody could truly describe as Lean. They’re using a lot of Lean tools, but not really a Lean company.

Ron:  What about the CFO, Bill? What’s their role?

Bill:  The CFO is right behind the president or the CEO. They can make or break the whole deal. The CFO tends to be the unbiased holder of the truth. They’re the one that’s in the meeting. They say, “Yes, the numbers support this,” or, “No, the numbers don’t support that.” They tend to have a lot of credibility and a lot of influence on everybody.

The CFO can either be a huge obstacle to Lean by resisting it, being skeptical and not really embracing it, not really learning about it, and can take a very conservative, “Don’t change anything” approach. All too often, that’s the case.

Or they can be a huge force for change. They can be a real leader in the company and really try to understand what Lean is all about and what the fundamental economic principles of Lean are, and figure out how to drive that through the organization.

They tend to be really the force that shoves the organization one way or another. A good CFO can have an enormous impact on the company’s Lean trajectory. A bad one can be an anchor that just stops change from happening.

You’ll find that it’s almost universally true in companies that have had great Lean success. They have a CFO or their controller, whoever the top financial person is, has been heavily involved, understands it, and has played a leadership role. The companies that are floundering around, saying, “We’ve been doing this for six or eight years and not getting any results,” you usually find that that top financial person is at best standing on the sidelines, and at worst a naysayer and dragging the company down. They have a huge influential role.

Ron:  How important is it for the CFO to possibly transition away from traditional cost accounting to a more lean accounting‑focused approach?

Bill:  It’s very important. You can’t do standard costing and become Lean at the same time. It’s a square circle, those are two opposite concepts. If you’re allocating all of your overheads and if you believe that you understand product profit margins, none of that’s true.

It’s just traditional old gap accounting, they try to ram it through the organization. The inevitable result of that is to drag people away from attacking waste and to focus them on direct labor efficiency and beating up suppliers, the traditional management approach. It’s very important.

Whether they actually do all of the lean accounting stuff is not nearly so important as they can be the force that says, “Look, we’ve got to have standard cost for this gap stuff but we’re not going to use it for decision making. Let’s keep it off the table.” That’s usually good enough.

It’s when they believe those standard costs and they insist on everybody using those for decision making that they create problems. Ideally they’re going to embrace lean accounting too, but the most important thing is that they understand and they don’t force standard costing on the organization for all of its decision making.

Ron:  Bill, let’s assume that we have right now a lean practitioner that’s on an airplane. He’s traveling to some plant that he’s got to go run a kaizen event next week, and he’s not in management. He’s a practitioner. Let’s also assume that this person is totally fired up for Lean, believes in it, studies it, loves it, is passionate about it.

Unfortunately this person doesn’t have real management support. Sure, his boss allows him to go and travel around and supports it enough, but they’re not really bought into it. What can this person do? Speak to that person. Encourage that person for what they can do as a practitioner to possibly even manage up a little bit. Surely you’ve seen that over the years. What are your thoughts on that?

Bill:  My answer to that might be…

Ron:  Or should they update their resume? Let’s just be honest.

Bill:  That’s where I was going to go with it. You can only manage up so far. Obviously you want to try to expose senior management to it. You can try to build allies at your level and build a solid core of people with strength in numbers. Maybe if there are a handful of good people in the organization all urging the same thing, that’ll get management’s attention.

If you can get your boss to talk to a peer at a Lean company, quite often that has more influence than a consultant or an underling, if they’ve got somebody who’s in a similar position in another company who’s telling them, “Yeah, this is good stuff. You got to look into it.” There’s a limit to how much of that you want to do. At the end of the day, management’s going to make up its own mind.

My advice to that usually relatively young person who’s as fired up ‑‑ I remember how fired up I was back when I was young ‑‑ take a hard look at it. If it’s not going to happen, then by all means, update your resume and go to work for somebody who’s going to let you do this. It’s too much fun and there’s too much opportunity and it’s too powerful a concept to waste. If you understand it and you’re enthusiastic about it, then go find somebody who will support you and let you develop and grow.

That brings up a real important point that I’ve made with a few CEOs. Be careful when you expose your organization to Lean. Maybe you tell your young hotshots and your up and coming stars that, “Yeah, it’s OK. You can go to the seminar, or you can have the training guy come in for a week.” You better be prepared to follow through and to make it happen, because if you don’t…

Ron:  They’re gone.

Bill:  They’re gone. You expose them to it. You open the door and you let them see the wonders of it. You get them excited about it and then you slam the door and say, “Not here,” then they’re going to leave. What you end up with are the people who are not excited about new ideas, people not open to change, not creative, not innovative, not aggressive, not eager. They’re the ones you’re left with. The best and the brightest looked at it and said, “This is too good, I’m leaving.” You will harm your organization if you expose it to Lean, but you don’t follow through.

Ron:  That’s great advice.

Bill:  My advice to the CEO is don’t even tell them about it.

Ron:  [laughs] Unless you’re serious about it.

Bill:  Unless you’re serious about it, because the good ones will see it and say, “I’m hooked.” It’ll change their lives and change their thinking.

Ron:  All right, Bill. We’ve come to my favorite part of the show, which we’re calling the Quick Fire segment. This is where you get to basically share your personal thoughts and wisdom with our listeners. You’ve already been doing that, but this one is going to be a little bit more about Bill and not necessarily about your advice to other companies. The first question, Bill, is when you first started down your personal continuous improvement journey, what was holding you back from being successful?

Bill:  Probably what was holding me back from being successful were the accountants in the organization. I talked about those heavy days back at the Copeland division of Emerson. I believe, I can’t recall exactly, but Copeland had 10 or 11 plants.

I realized that the further the plants were from headquarters in Sidney, Ohio, the more success we had. The three plants right there next to headquarters were just absolutely stuck and were not going to change. It was being close to the financial function, and really being frustrated with why can’t the accountants see this? Why can’t they come out and look at this and see the power of it, and realize that we need to do this?

It was great deal of frustration with the financial people that really inhibited me, and really had more than anything to do with me deciding to leave Copeland and go to work in an organization that was more supportive. While I left and I wanted to go get action, it stuck with me and I thought about it a lot because I realized that the accountants were every bit as smart as me. They were every bit as committed to the success of the company as I was. It wasn’t that they were stupid or had bad attitudes.

They were just looking at the world through a different prism, and that really sent me on a path to really understand what did that look like from the accountant’s prism, and what can I do for companies to change that? That’s what really shoved me into Lean accounting and trying to come up with solutions to that, so that people in other companies as they’re embarking on this wouldn’t run into the same wall and the same frustrations that I did back in those early days.

Ron:  You mentioned Sidney, Ohio. I grew up in Greenville, Ohio, and we played Sidney. Sidney Yellow Jackets, I remember those guys. It’s a small world. [laughs]

Bill:  Given the size of Greenville and Sidney, you probably whipped them pretty good. [laughs]

Ron:  I was a wrestler. We had some heated matches against those guys. I remember that, though.


Ron:  Sidney, Ohio, wow.

Bill:  Yeah, just a little one horse town with great manufacturing, in Sidney.

Ron:  Do you know of Greenville? You’ve been there?

Bill:  Oh, yeah. I grew up in Cincinnati, I know that part of Ohio well. Those are my old stomping grounds.

Ron:  All right, Bill, next question. What’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Bill:  Two bits of advice, and it’s hard for me to differentiate between the two. I had two great mentors when I was young and coming up in manufacturing. One of them was a guy by the name of Ken Morris, who was a senior executive with the CSX Transportation company.

I worked in the part of that company that was involved in manufacturing railroad, freight car and locomotive components. I was working in a headquarters function as a staff guy leading the implementation of MRP systems, the predecessors of ERP.

I remember one evening I was working late. He was working late. We were the only two in the building, and he told me that, “Smart young guys like you who want to hang around headquarters and make brilliant analyses and observations are easy to find. I can hire them from graduate schools by the busload, but somebody who is willing and eager to get out of this building and go out to the plants, go out to the field and get their hands dirty and really understand this business are gems.”

I took that advice and first opportunity bailed out of headquarters and went to a little out of the way place up in the mountains of western Maryland, but it was great advice. He was exactly right, and I’ve passed that on to other people.

The other bit of advice that has served me well is actually from my father, who went from entry level up to being in charge of manufacturing and engineering for General Electric’s aircraft engine group, and a great manufacturing manager and somebody who really taught me an awful lot.

He once told me that whenever someone comes to you and says the solution to the problem is tougher discipline or reorganization, you can be absolutely assured that they don’t really understand what the problem is. That has been true time and time and time again. When someone is saying, “We just need to get tough on them out there and make them follow the rules,” what they’re really saying is, “We have an unworkable process here,” and they don’t understand that.

Ron:  Or they’re too lazy to fix it. [laughs]

Bill:  Yeah. It’s always some character flaw that’s keeping people from doing the right thing, and that so rarely is the case. “We just need to put a new guy in charge.” No. There’s nothing wrong with the old guy. It’s we’re asking him to do an impossible task, and we can change the guy in the chair as often as you want. If it’s an impossible task it isn’t going to get any better. That was great advice that served me very well.

Ron:  Next question, Bill. Can you share one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Bill:  I’ve got more than my fair share of lazy habits and non‑Lean habits. I think that one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the big differentiation between people who are successful and people who are not, and the reason for any success I’ve had is just the sheer amount of work. You’ll find that people who do better work longer and work harder. It’s just a matter of what you put into it.

I don’t know that I’m necessarily more productive than anybody else, but I put in more hours than anybody else. It’s not because I have a better work ethic or a better habit. It’s that I’m one the few people that’s actually living the dream.

I love this stuff. I’d rather be talking to you about lean than doing just about anything else. I read about it at night. I read about it on the weekend. I’m surfing the Internet. I’m talking to people. I’m not sure where the work begins and the fun leaves off.

Ron:  Oh, yeah. It’s not even work, if you’re truly fascinated about it.

Bill:  No, it isn’t. It isn’t. Spending a day with a client company, going into a new manufacturer and talking to people about lean is about the best way I can imagine spending a day. The fact that I get paid to do it is just incredible.

Ron:  It’s bonus, right?

Bill:  Yeah. So I’ve been extremely blessed that I found an opportunity to make a living doing what I love to do. I don’t know that I’m necessarily more productive than anybody else. I’m just having a lot of fun.

Ron:  Yeah. I love that advice, too. You do have to work hard. A lot of times people will talk about lean as it’s how you can get more by doing less. Sometimes I think…the principals of what they’re saying are true, I suppose. Right? It’s not work harder. It’s a work smarter, kind of thing.

But I think people can take that the wrong way. One of my favorite business client of entrepreneurs…he’s not necessarily in the lean world. He’s more on the entrepreneurial side of the world. He’s Gary Vaynerchuk.

This guy, this crazy lunatic guy, talks about wine and everything else. He’s just incredible, and he has this famous quote. He uses some colorful language that I won’t use here, because my kids will listen to this one day. But he says, “If you want to build a business, quit watching,” and he uses an f‑word, “Lost.” You know, the TV show. This was a few years ago.

Bill:  [laughs]

Ron:  Quit watching Lost all night long. If you want to build a business, build a business. Go do something. So it takes action, to make anything happen, whether it’s business, lean, or anything.

I think a lot of times, my personal opinion is our kids of today, they’re not taught that. They’re taught, ah, just go to Google and find it. It’s easy. Life’s easy. Well, it’s not. Life isn’t easy, and lean isn’t easy. Is it?

Bill:  No, it isn’t, and the guy you listen to is exactly right. I learned a long time ago that if you want to understand what somebody’s priorities are, just look at their calendar. You can tell what’s important to people based on what they spend their time doing.

I think that’s really the key to productivity. With me, the things that I love in this world, more than anything, are Lean, my wife, and my family. If you look at, what do I spend my time doing for the last week, I hope that someone looks at it and says, “He didn’t spend a lot of time watching Lost.”

Ron:  Right. [laughs]

Bill:  He spent all his time doing lean, his wife, his family. It’s a matter of deciding what’s important to you in life, and making sure that’s what you’re putting your time into.

Ron:  Yeah, if I’m not making Lean videos or podcasts, I’m out coaching my kid’s soccer team. There you go. There’s my priorities. [laughs]

Bill:  [laughs] Yeah. I run into all kinds of guys who say, “The most important thing to me is my family. But I’m going bowling one night a week, and I play golf every Saturday. I’m out with my buddies as soon as hunting season opens. And of course, I’ve got to watch football all day on Saturdays.”

I’d say, “Well, I’m not real sure just how true that is, because you’ve actually spent three hours last week with your family, and the rest of it was all doing your own thing.”

Ron:  Isn’t that the truth?

Bill:  But your calendar and what you spend your time at reflects your priorities. I really think that it ties into the hard work. What are you spending your time on? Your productivity is a function of what you decide to spend time doing.

Ron:  Exactly. All right, Bill, if you could only recommend one book, what would it be, and why?

Bill:  Oh my goodness, one book. That’s awfully tough.

Ron:  Your books are off the table. We’re going to link to those ones. Those are mandatory reading, right? Everything that Bill’s written.

Bill:  Well, I’m not sure in an honest moment that would be the answer anyway, as much as I like to push my own books.

Ron:  [laughs] Yeah.

Bill:  Gee. In fact, my son, who’s interested in getting into lean and following my footsteps…

Ron:  Yeah, your son. What’s the first book you’re going to give him? Your son.

Bill:  He just asked me that a week ago, and I’ve been wrestling with the answer. It really depends on what you know about lean. If you know nothing about it, then probably your first book ought to be something like “The Toyota Way”.

But if you’re out there, been dabbling in it, messing around with it, starting to get more serious about it, I would think that the core book everyone should read is Mike Rother’s “Toyota Kata”. It really gets at the fundamental culture and decision making and thinking process.

Ron:  Yes.

Bill:  While Lean isn’t complicated, it’s different. It requires you to think about things differently. Mike is a fantastic guy, and he did a great job in explaining that in “Toyota Kata”. I would say if there’s one must read book, it would be that.

Ron:  Mike’s getting all kinds of free publicity, because we just did a podcast with Michael Lombard, who is a young practitioner here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and he’s all about the “Toyota Kata”. We actually did a whole podcast on that.

[laughs] That’s great stuff. I know Mike as well, and he’s a great guy. Gosh, “Learning to See” and all these books, that’s what I was born into, learning from those guys.

Bill:  Sure.

Ron:  So, yep. Great stuff.

Bill:  Mike Rothers is a guy who has really devoted his life to really understanding it. He’s blessed with the fact that he’s not only a smart guy, but he’s a great communicator. He writes in a way that’s very easy to understand and very easy to keep involved with the book. You just want to keep turning the pages, because it’s just good stuff.

Ron:  The only problem with Mike Rother is that whole University of Michigan affiliation. That’s the only problem. [laughs]

Bill:  I bleed Michigan State green and white, and I’ve had to hold my nose to talk to Mike.

Ron:  [laughs]

Bill:  He’s one of those rare guys that I’ll overlook it for.

Ron:  Good stuff. All right, last question, Bill. We’ve kind of discussed a little bit about some of these things already.

But let’s imagine that you’ve been hired, now. You’ve come out the consulting world. You’ve been hired now as the general manager of a company that’s struggling with quality, productivity, poor morale. You were hired, obviously, because of your track record, all of your experience.

The CEO that hired you has given you complete operational control, and they trust you to right this ship. With this said, what’s your first day and really your first week on the job going to look like? What would you do, and why?

Bill:  I learned a long time ago, whether it’s related to lean or not…I was in that situation a few times early in my career, when I took over as a plant manager or a general manager. And it can be a little bit difficult, because you don’t really understand the business yet. You don’t really know the products and the people very well. That takes a little time.

But you want to let people know that you’re in charge and that you plan to have an influence, that you want to change the trajectory of things.

Ron:  Right, but I’m going to push you now, Bill. It’s Monday morning…

Bill:  What I do on Monday morning?

Ron:  Yeah, it’s Monday morning at eight o’clock. What do you do?

Bill:  I get the production management and we go through a walk through the factory. I point out every place that the place needs to get cleaned up, straightened up, shined up, painted, and let them know that this is not acceptable. That this factory is going to gleaming, that this is going to be a place that people are going to be proud to have their families come to.

I know that they’re not going to do it, because I’ve been down that path a few times. We’re going to have to make that tour a few times, and I’m going to have to get tougher and tougher with them, but I’m going to make that happen. I’m going to make the place cleaner, brighter, neater.

Not organized 5S. We’re just going to change the look, the feel, and the appearance of it in a very, very positive way.

The reason I like that is you don’t have to know very much about the business to do that. I don’t really have to know the product or the processes to clean it up. It also sends a very clear message to all the employees in the factory that there’s a new sheriff in town, that things are different here. It looks different. It feels different. Change is coming.

It’s a good way to go out and set a new tone, that we’re going to go in a different direction. And it’s pretty easy to do. You can do a lot of floor sweeping, painting, and a straightening up while you’re learning the product and learning the people.

But I’ve found for me that’s worked well as the best opening step, is to change the look and the feel of the place, to get people to look up a little bit and realize that, huh, this guy is different.

Ron:  Yeah, and I liked the analogy that you used, and I used to use this a lot when I worked in the corporate world. Would you be proud to bring your children to see where mom or dad works?

Bill:  Absolutely. And if the answer to that’s no, then that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

Ron:  Yep, exactly.

Bill:  People have to be proud of what they do.

Ron:  Yep, right.

Bill:  If they’re not, then none of this lean stuff is going to go very far.

Ron:  Right. All right, Bill. Well, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit with us today. Why don’t we close the show, Bill, with you sharing some final words of wisdom. Then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you over the Internet with your websites and social media?

Bill:  Well, if there’s any final words of wisdom it’s that I’ve found there have probably been 100 times in my career that I’ve thought, “There, now. I fully understand all of it. It all makes sense to me.”

And then I’ll visit another company or I’ll read another book or I’ll talk to another person and it’ll peel back another layer of the onion, and I’ll understand another dimension to it.

There are probably few people who spend more time and energy on this stuff than I do, but I’m still learning. And I learn every week and every month. So my best advice to people would be to keep learning. Keep assuming that you have more to learn. Keep after it and embrace the change and the continual learning.

If you ever get to the point of really believing you understand all of it, I think you’re in trouble. You’re in trouble then, because you can’t and you won’t. But embrace the learning and make it part of the fun.

That’s what makes it fun for me. It’s the fact that it’s always new and it’s always fresh because it’s always different. You keep learning more and more.

In terms of getting in touch with me, they can get in touch with me in all the usual places. If you go to www.bill‑, that will take you to my website. And you can find me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Facebook, all the usual places.

Ron:  Yeah.

Bill:  If you just go to Google and just do a search for Bill Waddell lean, I’m the the first thing that comes up, so I’m not too hard to find.

Ron:  Yeah, yeah.

Bill:  I’m always glad to talk to people, to swap emails with people. It’s the teaching and the learning that I thoroughly enjoy. And of course, if there’s anybody who wants to follow my often controversial blog, the Manufacturing Leadership Center, you’ll find me there too. Provocative is the word that’s often used.

Ron:  Oh yeah, oh yeah. You know, Bill, I’ve been following your work for a long time, when you used to write on Evolving Excellence. And my goodness, [laughs] you get fired up sometimes, man, and I love it. So that’s great.

Bill:  People meet me, and they’re expecting this firebrand to come in and just start poking people in the eye, and find that I’m actually a pretty nice guy.

Ron:  A big teddy bear. [laughs]

Bill:  I realize that that stuff is intended to take an extreme position to get people thinking, to stimulate discussion, but to get the brain cells working early in the morning.

Ron:  Yes.

Bill:  It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if they agree with me or disagree me. If they’re looking at the topic and thinking about another point of view…

Ron:  Yeah, exactly.

Bill:  …then something good’s going to come from it. But, you can certainly find me through the Manufacturing Leadership Center.

Ron:  Yes, and we’ll link to everything over on the show notes page, which everyone can find at That’s 1, 8 for episode 18.

Bill, thank you again for taking the time, and hopefully we can do this again down the road. I always enjoy learning from you and reading your work. Keep up the good work my friend, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Bill:  I look forward to doing it again, Ron, and thank you for having me. And good luck on your lean journey.

Ron:  Yes, absolutely.

Bill:  All right, well take care, Ron.


Narrator:  That’s all for this episode of the LLS Academy Podcast. Now it’s time to go download the only book you need to get started in lean thinking, and that’s the “LLS Academy Guide to Lean”. The best part is this book is absolutely free, when you visit Don’t miss your chance to truly understand what it takes to think Lean.


What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts on Bill’s thoughts and advice?  I’m specifically interested in hearing whether you agree that publicly traded companies have it harder than private companies.

Is Home Depot’s Expedited Checkout Lean?

It’s warming up here in North Texas… as such businesses like Home Depot are EXTREMELY BUSY places.

Yesterday I joined the crowd to buy some tomatoes and other vegetables to plant in our garden.  And, yes, the checkout line was backed up in a big way.

Expedited Checkout

Is Home Depot Expedited Checkout LeanAs I stood in line waiting I noticed a young Home Depot associate walking up to people and scanning their items.

Once he was done he ran a Home Depot card through his scanner and handed it back the customer.

The young man eventually got to me and scanned all of my items and handed me my own Expedited Checkout card as shown in the picture.

Once I made it to the cashier I simply handed the young lady the card.  She scanned it with one swipe… I paid and was on on my way.

Is This Lean?

So, my question is do you see this as a lean improvement?  After all, it did speed the process up from the customer’s perspective.

One could even argue this was analogous to what we do when practicing SMED.  In other words, we try to do as much preparation before the machine stops.

But, skeptics may see this as a bandaid to a broken, unbalanced, process.

In other words, instead of attempting to fix the root cause of the problem (checkout capacity) they’re throwing people with scanners at it.

What Do You Think?

So, I’m curious, what do you think?  Is this “Expedited Checkout” process lean or not?  If not, what would you suggest they do?

And, if you could add to this improvement what would you suggest the lean thinking Home Depot folks do?

LSS 017 | Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work & Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation with Karen Martin

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 11.31.41 AMIn this episode, I’m joined by one of the most passionate lean thinkers I’ve ever met – Karen Martin.

During this podcast Karen and I explore the topic of Value Stream Mapping.

Specifically, Karen and I have an excellent discussion related to the traps many practitioners fall into when working with value stream maps as well as how, and why, this tool is being used by many non manufacturing focused organizations.

Karen and Mike Osterling recently published a new book on the topic called Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work and Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Karen’s favorite quote… think W. Edwards Deming!
  • Karen’s elevator speech of what a Value Stream Map is including the history of the tool
  • Some of the biggest mistakes people make when working with this tool
  • How Value Stream Mapping is being leveraged in offices and the service sector
  • Karen’s spirited response to critics who claim Value Stream Maps actually slow the improvement process down
  • What Karen struggled with the most when she first started down her lean journey
  • The best advice Karen’s ever received
  • Karen’s favorite personal productivity habits

Podcast Resources

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Full Transcript

Full Written Transcript in PDF Format

Announcer: Welcome to episode 17 of the LSS Academy Podcast.[music]

Announcer: You are now listening to the LSS Academy Podcast, the show that’s spreading the good news that is Lean and Six Sigma. Now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira: Hey there, welcome to another edition of the LSS Academy Podcast. Thank you so much for listening. Before we get started, I wanted to give a shout out to one of our listeners who recently sent in an email.

Mark Reiken, who’s from New Zealand, wrote in and commented that he had started listening to the Michael Lombard interview that we just released, on that morning that he sent the email, on his drive in to work.

He said that he was quite interested in the whole Toyota Kata topic because one of his colleagues, had just given him Mike Rother’s book to read. That’s pretty cool. Mark concluded that, he said that we were doing some awesome work, which definitely made my day.

The reason that I really love my work with all my being is that I could stand here in Keller, Texas, talk into a microphone or even better into a video camera shooting a video. Minutes later, people from all over the world can learn and be inspired by that message.

It’s really incredibly rewarding and humbling. Again, thank you for everyone that watches our videos at Gemba Academy, and listens to this podcast.

Today’s guest is Karen Martin. Karen is the founder of the Karen Martin Group, which helps organizations deliver high-quality goods and services faster and at lower cost while creating a safe and stimulating work environment.

Karen is one of my favorite lean thinkers. Karen has such tremendous energy and passion for what she does, she’s just one of those people that you just like to be around, she’s such a nice person, and so good at what she does.

Karen and her co-author, Mike Osterling, recently published a book called “Value Stream Mapping: How to Visualize Work & Align Leadership for Organizational Transformation.” During this interview, Karen and I explored the topic of value stream mapping.

This exploration includes a question or two that Karen expected me to ask, but as you’ll hear, she does a fantastic job responding to everything that I ask and that you’re really going to enjoy the show.

Now, links to Karen’s websites and to this book, she’s also written some other ones, can be found in the show notes, which you’ll find at “,” that’s one-seven.

Again, thanks for listening, let’s get to the show. All right, Karen, thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us today.

Karen Martin: Thank you, Ron, for having me on the show, this is great.

Ron: All right, why don’t you go ahead and just start by telling us a little bit about yourself including your background, how did you come to learn about continuous improvement in the beginning?

Karen: That was a long time ago. I was running operations, building a couple of start ups, and then managing very rapidly growing operations. We just couldn’t keep up with everything.

There were changing dynamics all the time, new customers all the time, and I started exploring all of my options out there as, then a director, and ran into Demming, and was immediately addicted to his message and his philosophy.

I eventually moved completely into the whole quality and process analysis arena. When I left my last corporate job, all the way back in ’93 to start my consulting firm, that’s when I decided I would specialize in.

Because I thought we did a pretty darn good job of getting our operations very well wired in three consecutive companies, and I wanted to help others do the same thing.

Ron: Tell us a little bit about your consulting company?

Karen: Yeah, we started in ’93, and we work with organizations at any stage of what I call “The transformation journey.” Sometimes, clients come to us because they’ve got a burning issue or they’re bleeding at the jugular, as I call it.

Sometimes, it’s just new leaders have come in, they really want to build a new culture, they want to be a continuous improvement culture.

And sometimes, it’s even when there is a large improvement staff already in place that are dedicated resources and they just need to develop new skill sets or deeper skill sets.

It’s really the full gamut. We rarely do traditional consulting, it’s almost all getting improvement and getting results through developing people and through a fair heavy dose of teaching and developing people.

Ron: Right, we’ll link to Karen’s websites and all that stuff at the show notes which everybody can find at, that’s one-seven. We’ll link to all of your websites and what not.

Karen, before we get into the teeth of the interview, I’d like to ask our guest to share a continuous improvement or leadership quotation that inspires them. What quotation inspires you, Karen?

Karen: There’s one, I can’t remember the exact words Demming used, but there’s one that I paraphrase a lot where when someone says to me, “We don’t have time for improvement,” which is so common to hear that.I always very quickly say back to them “Yeah, but isn’t it interesting how you always have time to do things inefficiently, and you always have time to correct recurring problems, and you always find time to waste time [laughs] but never time to fix it.” What’s up with that?

I have one of my own. It’s my own. I don’t think I borrowed this from anyone. I say this a lot during improvement activities that I’m facilitating, or I’m coaching improvement teams “Do you think, or do you know?” A lot of people aren’t…

It’s not habitual for them to use data to support an assumption, or an opinion, or whatever. You hear people use the word think, and maybe a lot, and I’m just constantly trying to get them to be more precise with supporting an opinion about something.

Ron: I like that. “Do you think, or do you know?” I’m going to steal that.

Karen: You can. I give it to you.[laughter]

Ron: Very cool. As I mentioned in the intro, our focus today is really on value stream mapping. Before we get too advance, and too in depth, which I definitely want to do a little bit in this interview.Why don’t you give us, Karen, an elevator speech as to what this thing called a value stream map is?

Karen: A value stream map is a very high level, a macro level view of how work flows, or doesn’t flow throughout a large segment of an enterprise.

The term value stream mapping was probably created by Jim Womack in “Lean Thinking,” but the methodology of value stream mapping was first developed by Mike Rother,and John Shook in their 1999 landmark book “Learning to See.”

Which was their version of what they were observing Toyota doing with their material and information flow maps. They re-framed it a bit, and then named it value stream mapping. It comes from John and Mike. I answered your question. Sorry.

Ron: No, that’s good. What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see organizations make when they’re working with these VSM’s?

Karen: Since 1999 I honestly have seen very few value stream maps that I define as value stream maps, so the mistakes are numerous. The first one I see a lot of is that they’re process maps, not value stream maps.Value streams are made of a series of processes, and each process is made of a series of steps, or tests, so they’re not macro enough.

They often don’t have any metrics at all, which defeats the whole point of, and eliminates the foundation from which you make improvement when you have no measurement in place.

I see value stream maps that have tons of decision trees, and they aren’t linear enough to be able to get a clear understanding of the time line.

I see value stream maps that are usually too narrow versus too broad, although I’ve seen some that are too broad and try to solve world hunger in one map, but usually they’re far too narrow.

The risk is that if it’s not broad enough you’ll continue to sub optimize within a certain part of the company, and not really make holistic improvement that’s going to serve everyone well.

Ron: It’s pretty obvious that VSM’s they work really well for folks that produce widgets in factories. We can count inventory, and put that in between our processes step.

We can measure cycle time, and down time, and change over time and so forth, compare everything to attack time, so it’s pretty traditional and somewhat easy to do if you know what you’re doing.

What about those of us that work in organizations that don’t produce widgets? Can we also benefit from value stream mapping?

Karen: Oh yeah. In fact, that’s the bulk of my work is off the shop floor in offices of manufacturing, and then in every other industry there is. Information becomes the widget.  The information can morph just like a widget morphs as it goes down a production line. It can start with a verbal request. It can morph into some electronic format.

It could become a hard copy, maybe a hard copy drawing or report, or a set of marketing material, or something like that, and then it can morph back into verbal, or electronic. It’s really shockingly similar.

Ron: How do you handle the in between the process steps where you traditionally see the yellow triangle for inventory? Is this queue time, or waiting time? What’s your approach there?

Karen: I’m going to get a little technical here. What we feel strongly about in the information world is that you follow one thing going through the entire value stream. That thing, again, morphs, but it’s one incident, or one request going through to delivery.

When you get in between process blocks. You could have work queuing, and we show that as WIP – work in process – but we don’t apply lead time quite the same way you do in manufacturing because…

There’s many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is you don’t have the…How do I say this? There’s such high variation in the office because people are juggling so many hats.

And they’re juggling so many different projects that something could wait virtually no time one day, and it could wait a week, or two, or three another time just based on the high variation, and the work is frankly, not well designed [laughs] in most office environments.

It’s handled differently because you’re following one thing. Lead time is just the time it takes for that one thing to get through each process block.

Ron: Very good. My next question is the tough question of the interview.

Karen: I’m ready.

Ron: As you may know…I’m sure you know. You’ve probably seen it. There are some critics our there that claim things such as value stream maps. Not just value stream maps, but things such as value stream maps slow down the improvement cycle. I’m just curious if you heard that, and if you have, what are your thoughts on someone that would say that doing this whole value stream mapping thing it just makes us go too slow, lean kaizen needs to be fast? What are your thoughts on that?

Karen: Who are these people?

Ron: [laughs]

Karen: Seriously, I have never heard this, and it’s ridiculous. Who says this?

Ron: I’ve…I don’t want to say the…[laughter]

Ron: I’ll tell you offline. A friend of the show. I don’t agree with them.

Karen: We should have a he said/she said on the show.

Ron: I personally don’t agree with it, but I’m just curious. The argument is that tools such as value stream mapping can create bureaucracy if not handled correctly, which, to be honest, I’ve seen that.  People get a little carried away with before improvements could be made you’ve got to have 10 meetings on your action plan, and so forth.

Karen: No here’s how we approach it. There’s no slowness in what we do. It’s pretty aggressive actually. I prefer a three day sequestered activity. I don’t always get it, but that is for sure the most effective way we’ve found so far to do value stream mapping.It’s a team at sequester for three days. There are three deliverables, not two. There are three deliverables, a current state map, a future state map, and then most importantly, a transformation plan.

The transformation plan is an Excel document. What we use, with line items of all the improvements that need to be put in place in order to realize that future state and have it become the current state.

At the end of the third day that plan is complete. it has owners, dates, deliverables, measurable, how do we define success, what are the target conditions we’re going for, and you start executing that plan literally the next day.

There’s a whole thing about how that plan is executed, which we go into great length in the book “Value Stream Mapping,” which we just release, which I don’t think we mentioned at the beginning that it’s a book that came out.

Ron: I’ve mentioned it in the intro. You didn’t actually hear that.

Karen: Oh, I’m sorry.

Ron: No worries. We’ll link to it as well in the show notes too.

Karen: One of the other criticisms, what I thought you were going to say that there are critics that say that once you get a transformation plan in place people think it’s set in stone, and they don’t really actively use PDCA, or PDSA to continue to make iterative improvements to the improvement plan.  That’s a no no. As you make one improvement in one area, it may affect another area, so you’re always going back to that transformation plan and making sure it still makes sense.

Ron: Very good. Now me personally, back when I worked in the industry I worked and created many, many, many value stream maps over the years, and I’d say the biggest challenge that I faced was a lack of senior leadership support.  Before I was a senior leader I was just a practitioner, and all the people, the big bosses would turn up for our report outs, and they would review the action plans and nod their heads, and say “Yeah, that looks good,” but they weren’t really on board.

It wasn’t that they didn’t support us, but they weren’t actively engaged in the improvements. I’m curious…Do you think this is a problem, and if so what can we do about it?

Karen: When you asked the question in the beginning about what do I see that are the things that aren’t going well with value stream mapping, I went to the mechanics and what the maps look like.

But by far the biggest methodology planning error that I see is that the maps are being created by people too low in the organization, or they’re being done by consultants, or six sigma black belts, or lean champions, and not the people who own the pieces of the value stream.

What we say in the book, and what we practice is “Go as high as you can, accept as low as you need to.” I have a value stream map coming up the first week in May with a client where it’s their entire senior leadership team. It’s all vice presidents and sea level.

The reason why we do that isn’t because they’re going to be familiar with the current state analysis that you need to have that as a foundation to develop the future state from. You can get that other ways. It’s because you need them with the authority to design the future state.

For example, if you’re going to take work from one area and put it in another area, or merge two departments together, or eliminate a department from involvement that’s leadership level, and sometimes policy level decision making that goes in to that.

They are actively engaged, and yes, I do get them to commit to three days of being sequestered. I sell them on the fact that this is absolutely a strategic decision.

We’re talking about getting lead time from in one case recently 17 months down to seven and a half months, and freeing the equivalent of 23 people’s worth of time in the value stream, that they can work on all this other business that’s coming in the door.

Ron: It’s almost a “How can you not do this?” [laughs]

Karen: Right. As an insider, I don’t have difficulty selling leaders on this. There’s usually a couple that go “Three days?” but once they go through it they absolutely love it.Because for the first time ever the entire leadership team involved with mapping finally understands how work actually gets done.

Ron: Love it. All right. Aside from buying your book, which everyone should do. I definitely recommend that, and of course signing up for, again, the academy and online training. [laughs] yeah, I love applauding that.

Karen: Absolutely.

Ron: How would you suggest people get started learning more about Value Stream Mapping if let’s say if they’ve never done it before?

Karen: The book is a good place to start. There used to be workshops all the time on Value Stream Mapping when it was new and then early 2000′s and stuff like that. You don’t see as many anymore. We are doing a couple of public workshops.  Like you guys, I also have webinars that I do. You really have to dive in and do one and learn from mistakes. I do think it really helps to have a good coach that really knows what they’re doing.

Ron: I agree, especially in the beginning. Like you said, the most important thing is to start, to try and fail and have some success and so forth. All right Karen.Now we’ve come to my favorite part of the show. It’s the quick fire segment where you get to share your personal thoughts and wisdom with our listeners.

First question is when you first started down your personal lean journey, what was holding you back from being successful?

Karen: There were a couple of things, but the biggest of all of them were…as a consultant I’m speaking. I really wanted my clients to go faster than they were capable of going or that they wanted to go.  I have finally relaxed into that and I say move the needle wherever it is. Move it at their pace. Push for sure, I definitely push. But I really let the client take the lead on the pacing.

It still frustrates me a little bit because people can get so much better faster, but it’s not my call.

Ron: Yeah. Any progress is better than no progress.

Karen: Exactly.

Ron: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Karen: Probably the opposite or in conjunction with what I just said. Probably that was the key advice from a couple of people. It was “Karen, you’re not the CEO of that company and you’re not the leaders in that company. You have to allow organizations to move at their own pace.”

Really, it was very good advice and I’ve been pretty much where I’m at now for about three years of my 21 years in business and it’s good. It’s good for everyone.

Ron: Yeah. Go ahead. Can you share one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Karen: I’m a big fan of the zero in box rule. Every day I zero out my in-box several times. I don’t know if you want me to go into details about how I do that.

Ron: No. That’s maybe another podcast actually because that would be great to explore.

Karen: I have on my team Tiffany McCallan is on my team and she is a master at helping people break their habits and get to zero in-box. She’s just fantastic, so she helped me.

Second thing I do is I use Google Drive now for all of my standard work for the organization, so everyone has access to it. We update it real-time all the time. It’s truly continuously improved.

In that I also have a To-Do list that now that I went to Google Drive it’s on all my devices and I’m actively working To-Do lists every day, all day long. That has made a world of difference.

Ron: Yeah. We also use Google Drive and I love it. Now we’ve already recommended your book, so that one doesn’t count. But can you recommend just a really awesome continuous improvement book or maybe it’s on leadership or something.That you read and that you think everyone else should read.

Karen: I have 10.[laughter]

Ron: Yes.

Karen: Let’s see. I’m going to go old school for a moment. Every single person in improvement or interested in improvement has to read Deming’s “Out of the Crisis”. Everyone has to read Peter Senge’s “The Fifth Discipline.”  Everyone needs to read Drucker’s… the essential Drucker just came out that’s the “Drucker-isms” it’s fantastic. Now you want me to go into the lean space maybe.

Ron: No, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes we lean folks, we get so laser focused on things like that. Like my favorite books are by Malcolm Gladwell.

Karen: Yeah. I like his works too.

Ron: That’s a great list. We’ll go and link to those in the show notes.

The last question here is, imagine that you’ve been hired as a general manager of a company struggling with quality, productivity and poor morale. You were recently hired because of your past success.

The good news is the CEO that’s hired you has given you complete operational control. What would you do on your first day?

Karen: First day, I’d probably go and observe in at least four areas for an extended amount of time, I’d have to figure out where the problem areas were and pick those. I would probably talk with 20 people and give them a safe environment to tell me what’s really going on.

Ron: You mean you wouldn’t sit in your office and review websites?

Karen: Heck no!

Ron: Good, I love it. Karen, thank you so much for taking time. I know you’re extremely busy. I really appreciate you taking the time to visit with us.Why don’t we close the show with how people can connect with you via social media or a website or whatever you’d like to give out there?

Karen: Thank you. My website is KS…and that’s “S” as in Sue. On that website there’s a link to, upper right-hand corner, to all social media.We’re on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Vimeo, SlideShare, YouTube, all of that and all the free webinars are there as well. That’s the best way.

Ron: Again, all the show notes can be found at

Karen, thank you again. I really appreciate it.Depending on when you are listening to this, Karen is going to be doing a webinar with us, again at the academy on April 23rd called “Value Stream Mapping” from tool to management practice.

Definitely register for that, it’s going to be incredible. I can’t wait to talk to you again Karen.

Karen: Ron, thank you so much. This was really great fun. I look forward to the webinar.

Ron: All right. Take care.

Karen: Thank you. Bye-bye.[music]

Announcer: That’s all for this episode of the LSS Academy podcast. Now it’s time to go down with the only book you need to get started in lean thinking. That’s the LSS Academy Guide to Lean.  The best part is that this book is absolutely free when you visit Don’t miss your chance to truly understand what it takes to think lean.



What Do You Think?

Have you had success with value stream mapping?  What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?  Have you used the tool outside of the manufacturing sector?

LSS 016 | Leveraging the Toyota Kata for Sustained Excellence with Michael Lombard

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 10.22.28 AMIn this episode, I’m joined by Michael Lombard.

During this podcast Michael and I explore the Toyota Kata.

Specifically, Michael explains how the hospital he works at has leveraged the Improvement and Coaching Kata with great success.

I’m also excited to announce that we’ve developed some new Podcast “Standard Work” allowing us to give our valued listeners more consistency.

In other words, while all future podcasts will be “different” the approach I take towards interviewing them will be far more consistent.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Michael’s favorite quote… think Aristotle!
  • What the Toyota Kata is all about
  • The differences between the Improvement & Coaching Kata
  • How Michael and his team have leveraged this new way of learning
  • How to get started learning about the Toyota Kata
  • Michael’s excellent responses to our new Quick Fire segment!

Podcast Resources:

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Full Transcript

Full Transcript Available in PDF Format

Announcer:  Welcome to episode 16 of the “LSS Academy Podcast.”

[background music]

Announcer:  You are now listening to the “LSS Academy Podcast,” the show that’s spreading the good news that is lean and six sigma. Now here’s your host, Ron Pereira.

Ron Pereira:  Hey there. Welcome to another edition of the “LSS Academy Podcast.” As always, thank you for taking the time to listen to the show.

I am super excited for this episode since we’re actually beginning a new chapter for the podcast. Specifically, I’ve put together some standard work for all future podcasts so our listeners know what to expect. For example, I’m going to ask all upcoming guests to share one of their favorite quotes related to continuous improvement. We’re also going to start a new Quick Fire segment, where I ask guests specific questions.

We’re doing this so everyone has a familiarity with the show and knows what to expect. I think you’re going to really like it. I definitely want to hear from you, so please head over to and leave us a comment or suggestion for how we can make this show even better.

Today’s guest is a good friend of mine. Michael Lombard is a longtime lean thinker, who has recently discovered and begun to leverage the principles taught within the book called “The Toyota Kata,” which was written by Mike Rother.

During the show, Michael provides an overview of what the improvement and coaching kata are all about, and also explains how the hospital that he works at has benefited from this way of learning and coaching. Again, show notes and links to everything Michael talks about can be found at Enough from me. Let’s get to the show.

Michael, thank for joining us today. Why don’t you give us your background and tell us what you’re up to these days?

Michael Lombard:  Sure. Thanks for having me on. It’s a pleasure. I’m currently working as the Director of Operational Excellence at a hospital in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

I came to healthcare through an unconventional route. I wasn’t a clinician and don’t have any real healthcare experience prior to starting to work for hospitals. I worked in manufacturing. Came across the whole concept of lean. Quickly realized that’s what I wanted to do with my career. Somehow or another, ended up working at a hospital in Dallas. Just taking it from there.

Ron:  I mentioned to the listeners before we came on here that we’re going to follow a new format here. Let’s go ahead. Give us your favorite quotation related to continuous improvement or leadership, or anything business related.

Michael:  My favorite quote is from way back in the day. When I say “way back,” I mean really way back. Ancient Greece, Aristotle, the great philosopher. I don’t know how his English was so good, but he said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act but a habit.” That fits well into everything that I’ve learned from lean and from the Toyota approach about how that’s made a difference, so that’s the one that I like the most.

Ron:  Would you say that this habit‑building is instrumental to some of your recent success?

Michael:  Yeah. Not only professionally but life in general. It dawned on me when I started studying the Toyota Kata approach that habits really do drive success in many different facets, whether it’s maintaining good health or being successful at work.

Ron:  You mentioned Toyota Kata. As I mentioned in the intro, that’s the focus of our talk today. Why don’t you give us a high‑level explanation as to what this whole Toyota Kata thing is all about? What is it?

Michael:  Sure. I’ll caveat my explanation by saying that I’m still very much a learner in this process. I have a little under a year of experience with the Toyota Kata approach. I had 10 years of experience learning about lean, but the Toyota Kata approach came to me later. I’ve been fortunate the past couple of months to have coaching and feedback from Mike Rother himself, who wrote the book, “Toyota Kata,” and also Jeff Liker, who wrote “The Toyota Way.” They’ve helped me see where I was misunderstanding things a little bit.

Ron:  They helped you personally? You spoke to these guys?

Michael:  They’ve been going me some feedback through email and through different discussion boards and that sort of thing. It humbles you. You think that you’ve hit onto something, that you’ve learned something, and I have, but you realize how much you have yet to learn. I’ll caveat this whole discussion by saying that I’m still at the beginning of my kata trajectory.

Ron:  Fair enough. What is it, though? High level, elevator speech, Toyota Kata.

Michael:  Toyota Kata is a series of routines that form continuous improvement habits. That’s the one‑sentence version of what the Toyota Kata approach is. The word “kata” is Japanese. It loosely translates to “a set of routines.” You can imagine having everybody in the organization, from the person on the front lines to the middle manager to the senior leader, all with the same habits when it comes to how we do problem solving.

They’re not that complicated. There’s the improvement kata and the coaching kata. Those are two main katas that we refer to with the Toyota Kata approach. If you can get those two routines down pat across the organization, you can start to see a continuous improvement culture emerge.

Ron:  Let’s dig into that a little bit. What’s the difference between this improvement kata and the coaching kata?

Michael:  They go together. There’s the role of the learner. The learner performs the improvement kata. Then there’s the role of coach, who of course performs the coaching kata.

The improvement kata is made up of four routines. The first one is seeing the overall direction. Step back and see the big picture of how whatever PI work you’re doing fits into the strategic direction of the organization.

The second step is to study or grasp the current condition. That’s to make sure that we understand what are the root causes that are driving the problem that we’re trying to solve.

The third routine that we perform is to establish the next target condition. You can imagine that we’re on a never‑ending journey towards perfection. We can’t really tackle that. That’s impossible to tackle perfection. But if we take just one bite out of the apple at time, that’s a target condition, something that we’re trying to achieve within the next month or two or three.

The fourth routine is simply, once we’ve established that target condition, that two to three month state that we’re tying to achieve, then we start to implement that, but we don’t do it blindly, implementing some project plan that was determined in advance. Rather, we use the plan‑do‑check‑act or plan‑do‑study‑act cycle, whichever one you want to call it. We use several cycles of PDCA to iterate toward the target condition. It’s more of an iterative, testing approach to implementation.

That’s the improvement kata. The coaching kata is simply two routines that help us help the learner. We don’t give the learner the answers. We don’t tell them how to get to their target condition. Instead, we ask questions. Specifically, we ask the five questions. That’s one of the major elements of the coaching kata.

The five questions. You can think about it as simplifying everything down to its most basic four elements. It’s four elements but five questions. I’ll get into a little more detail there.

You’re basically saying, “What’s your next step. What do expect to happen as a result of that next step?” Then you go do it. Then you come back and you say, “What actually happened, and what did I learn from it?” Those are the four elements. It’s simplified the whole concept of PDCA and the whole concept of improvement down to those four elements.

That fifth question that you tag onto the end is, once you’ve established what your next step is and what you expect, you say, “When can we go and see what we’ve learned from taking that step?” That’s when the learner comes back and shares with you what they learned.

It’s a lot easier if you see it. You can look at Mike Rother’s website for a visual of all of this that we’re discussing, but know that it’s basically simplifying the PDCA cycle down to its elements.

Ron:  We’ll go ahead and we’ll link to all of the websites. He’s got some nice downloadable information that’s free. That’s pretty cool. Those notes for everyone will be at

That’s a nice overview of the improvement kata and the coaching kata. How have you leveraged this in your current role? I know you guys have been practicing this for around a year. How has that gone?

Michael:  It’s gone really well. We were kind of blind when we started this. We had no idea how we were going to implement the Toyota Kata approach. We didn’t have any external sensei guide or formal training. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We took the learning‑by‑doing approach. We took a step forward. We started experimenting at a very small level; tackling small process improvement opportunities.

Ron:  Can you give us an example? I know you can’t share details if it’s healthcare and all that.

Michael:  We had a nursing leader. As a part of a patient safety effort, he wanted to improve what we call armband scanning. Basically, it’s to make sure that you’re giving the right medication to the right patient. You scan both the medication and the armband at the same time. It’s a safety thing. It’s a really worthy thing.

We started off with the preconceived notion that this is just a matter of accountability. “We just need to have more accountability. Our nurses need to do a good job of scanning.”

Ron:  Quit messing up, right? [laughs]

Michael:  Exactly. That’s very common in any industry, but healthcare especially. These are licensed nurses and licensed physicians. They’re not supposed to make mistakes. We come in with those preconceived notions.

Through the kata approach, the learner, this nurse, methodically worked through the four routines of the improvement kata. What he uncovered was that it’s not as simple as being more accountable. There are actually opportunities to make it easier to do the job the right way.

It was as simple as, “We don’t have enough of the scanners.” The armbands they were using tend to wash out after you give the patient a couple of showers. If the patient is there for more than a day or two, their armband washes out and you can’t scan it.

These simple countermeasures emerged. “Let’s get the right number of scanners, and let’s get the right armbands that don’t wash out.”

That was something that we never even thought of when we went into it, but through several cycles of PDCA, several cycles of learning and having this nurse go out, get information, come back and share it with me, his coach, through the coaching cycles this discussion emerged, and we found that it was a lot more straightforward than we thought. It had nothing to do with accountability.

Ron:  How long did that cycle take?

Michael:  It probably took about 10 cycles of learning, 10 cycles of coaching. Each cycle can be a couple days apart, maybe. Ideally you’d be doing them daily, but in the real world we get busy, and of course, clinical emergencies pop up in hospitals. I would say 10 cycles over the course of about a month.

Ron:  I’ve known you for a long time, Michael. You’ve been a lean thinker for many years. When you first came across this approach, what was the biggest obstacle that you had when you started practicing this way of working? The second part to that is, how did you overcome it?

Michael:  Our biggest obstacle by far was how to develop coaching competency. I say that both for me personally and for the hospital. Me, I had been a project leader. I was a black belt. I was the guy that was given the assignment of figuring out how to fix the problem.

Of course, I would engage teams in doing that. I wasn’t a subject matter expert. I would do it collaboratively, but I was ultimately the one in the role of facilitator. In this role, I was the coach on many of these efforts. We had first‑time PI problem solvers, nurses, basically, in the role of learner.

How do we develop coaching competency? That was the big challenge. Again, we didn’t have any external training or sensei or anything like that, so we had to figure out how to build competency. It ended up being a learning‑by‑doing thing.

It took me literally 200 cycles of coaching, me in the role of coach, 200 cycles for probably a dozen different individuals. I had a pretty broad group of people that I was coaching. It took that many cycles before I actually started to understand the nuance of being a coach. Again, I’m barely achieving a level of competency with my coaching compared to people that have more experience with it.

Ron:  Are there other coaches in your organization, or are you the only coach?

Michael:  That’s one of the beautiful things about the Toyota Kata approach. It’s a self‑propagating system. In this scenario, I’m not the project manager trying to get a good project result. As the coach, I’m trying to build up the capacity of each person that I’m coaching so that they can graduate to become a coach themselves. Then I become a secondary coach. I’m looking at their coaching technique as they’re coaching new people.

In that way, you build levels of coaches and learners in the organization. I’m still in the role of learner on a bigger more complex PI effort, but I’m in the role of coach on many, many smaller efforts. You turn the tables around and a nurse might be the learner on a medium sized effort and a coach on smaller stuff. It’s almost viral in the way that it propagates itself.

Ron:  Is there a pretty good buy‑in, now that you’ve been at it for a little while, within the organization.

Michael:  We’ve always had good buy‑in from senior leadership. We said we’re not even going to bother putting in the effort to do this if we don’t have senior leadership support. Fortunately, through the A3 process, we were able to propose a strategy based on Toyota Kata, get senior leader buy‑in for it, and get the commitment to put together an advanced team where the first individuals start coaching. They were the first ones to see the power of the kata approach.

These are individuals from all different levels of the organization and different departments of the organization. They’ve helped us shepherd the initiative and build buy‑in amongst the middle and the front line levels of the organization. I have to say, until you start practicing the kata, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It doesn’t reveal itself to be a powerful tool until you start to use it.

For the people that we haven’t been able to touch yet, which are most of the organization, they’re still waiting and wanting to see what it’s all about. That’s natural.

Ron:  How do people get started with this whole Toyota Kata approach if they’ve never done it? Do you read a book or visit a website? What would you suggest?

Michael:  It’s always helpful if you have access to a sensei. somebody that has a background with the kata, somebody that understands the Toyota approach. If you have access to that, I definitely suggest doing that. However, most of us don’t. Most of us maybe don’t have a budget to go off to the University of Michigan for the Mike Rother training, but if you can, do that, of course.

If you’re like us and you didn’t have any of that, then the main thing is to put together an advance team. People from different departments, different levels of the organization. People that have high potential to be good coaches. People that have the right attitude.

Give them some basic training. We used Gemba Academy’s videos when it comes to simple kaizen. When it comes to the Seven Wastes and the Ten Commandments of Continuous Improvement, we had them watch those fundamental lean videos.

Then we said, “You guys start practicing the improvement kata, and I’m going to be the coach.” We kept doing that over and over and over again until I became a decent coach and they become decent learners. Then they could graduate.

Ron:  Let’s transition now, Michael, into what we’re calling the Quick Fire section. Are you ready?

Michael:  I’m ready.

Ron:  I’m going to fire some questions at you, man. When you first started down your lean journey, not necessarily this Toyota Kata journey but your personal lean journey, what do you think was holding you back in the beginning from being successful at it?

Michael:  That’s a good question. I was exposed first to principles and theory before I actually got a chance to practice the tools. That’s a little bit backwards from most people. Most people get really good at 5S, but they don’t understand the foundational principles behind it.

My challenge wasn’t jumping straight to tools and having a tool mindset, as many people do. My biggest challenge was that I needed to acquire some real skill, some practical skills that would actually produce process improvement results for the organization so I could keep doing this. I was not an industrial engineer. I was not an automotive guy or anything like that.

Ron:  You’re a Florida fan! My goodness, what a handicap [indecipherable 19:33] . [laughs]

Michael:  University of Florida learning system.

Ron:  Next question. What’s the best advice ‑‑ I mean any advice ‑‑ you’ve ever received.

Michael:  A good friend and mentor of mine by the name of Scott McDuffy, who’s been doing lean for a long time. I was working on some projects. They were talking a long time because we were being very thorough in our analysis. I said, “Sometimes I think that we’re over‑thinking this stuff a little bit.”

He said, “You might want to try what I call barnstorming kaizen.”

I was like, “What is that?”

He’s like, “Back in the old days, a village would get together and they’d all help each other raise a barn up in the course of a day or whatever. They didn’t do a ton of planning.” Of course they did planning, but when it came down to it, you’ve got to get started and start putting the structure in place.

He recommended to me that, when in doubt, show a bias towards action, because just taking a step forward will uncover some of the gray area that you’re worrying about.

Ron:  I see that in the business world as an entrepreneur. You have to have that courage to take that step. Many people go through life and never take that chance. You never know until you try. I love that advice.

Next question. Can you share one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Michael:  Dan Markovitz, who’s an expert when it comes to applying lean to your own personal productivity, helped me understand that I need to live in my calendar as opposed to living in an action items list. By that I mean turn your action items list into blocks of time on your calendar. It’s a way of level‑loading your work. It’s almost a kanban board for personal productivity.

That has helped me uncover some other tips that I think are useful. For example, I find that I work better on deep‑thought type of tasks in the morning. When I’m fresh and I’ve got a cup of coffee in my hand, I’m better at doing the deep‑thinking stuff.

I block my calendars most of the time in the mornings to allow for that. Then I use the afternoons, when maybe I’m at risk of having that post‑lunch coma, to do a lot of my one‑on‑one coaching sessions. They’re very engaging sessions. There’s no risk of me falling asleep while having a really engaging coaching session. I flip the script a little bit and do more of that type of work in the afternoon.

Ron:  Here’s the question of the day. I’m going to set the scenario for you. Imagine you’ve recently been hired as a general manger of a company ‑‑ it could be any company ‑‑ struggling with quality, productivity, and poor morale. You were hired because your continuous improvement experience is pretty incredible and you’ve had a lot of success in the past.

As it turns out, the CEO that hired you is giving you complete operational control and trusts you to right the ship. With this said, what would your first week on the job look like? What would you do, and why?

Michael:  Awesome question. I love that question. As lean folks, often we’re really good at telling other people how they should run their business.

Ron:  But now it’s you. You’re running the business.

Michael:  Now we’re in charge. What would we do? The first thing that I would do is, whatever they had in my office, I would instantly declare that to no longer be my office. I would create a desk out there on the front lines.

If it was a factory, I’d be right out by the assembly line. If I was in a hospital, I’d have it right up on one of the units or near the ORs or something. Maybe in the ER. actually. I would have a standup desk right out there with a bunch of whiteboards nearby. I would start making a routine of…In healthcare, we call it rounding but it really is more appropriately called a gemba walk. I would start building habits. I would start with gemba walks, and then I would start layering in the kata.

I would start with the gemba walks because if you start off with the kata, sometimes it’s hard for people to understand why it’s necessary to invest so much time in doing process improvement. The gemba walks are such eye‑opening experiences. I would start there, make that a habit, and then get into the coaching sessions right there on the shop floor, right there in the ER. From there, you could arrive at everything else that’s needed to create a successful operating system in whatever industry you’re in.

Ron:  The fact that you would move your desk out…It sounds really simple. Somebody might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about that?” But it’s profound. I know you’ve been in businesses where that’s happened. It’s incredible when you engage the workforce and you don’t try to solve problems from a conference room or a boardroom.

Just go into gemba. I love that advice, Michael. Thank you for that.

Ron:  Listen, thanks for joining us today, Michael. It’s been incredible. We’re going to have the show notes at Go ahead and check that out.

Michael, why don’t we close with you giving us some final words of wisdom? Then why don’t you tell people how they could connect with you via your favorite social media networks?

Michael:  I’ll attempt to provide some wisdom. I’m not sure how wise it is. I would say focus on habits. There’s a great book called “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. In it he talks about what it takes to form a habit. It’s a cue, a routine, and a reward.

If you can apply that logic to whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s personal health or continuous improvement in a hospital, focus on habits and specifically those three elements of the habit‑building loop. I think that you’ll figure out the rest as you go through your cycles of learning. Focus on habits, and don’t be afraid to learn as you go. Learning by doing.

Ron:  What was the name of that book again, Michael?

Michael:  “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.

Ron:  I know from talking to you earlier that that’s really influenced you in your journey.

Michael:  It really has. It led me to believe that the Toyota Kata was the right approach and led me to believe that the things that I’m doing in my personal life are the right approach. It’s all because those methodologies are focused on habits. If you’re focused on habits, you’re probably going to get a good result.

Ron:  What’s the best way if someone wants to get in contact with you? Do you have a social media network that you prefer?

Michael:  On Twitter, it’s @MikeLombard. You can search for “Michael Lombard” on LinkedIn as well.

Ron:  We’ll put links in the show notes there as well. All right, my friend. I guess we’ll see you on Thursday. By the time this is released, we’ll probably have already done this. Michael’s going to be doing a webinar with us. We’re going to be doing a dry run on Thursday and practice building good habits of doing webinars, right?

Michael:  That’s right.

Ron:  I’m looking forward to that. Thanks again, Michael. We’ll talk to you soon.

Michael:  Talk to you soon, Ron. Bye.

[background music]

Announcer:  That’s all for this episode of the “LSS Academy Podcast.” Now it’s time to go download the only book you need to get started in lean thinking. That’s the “LSS Academy Guide to Lean.” The best part is that this book is absolutely free when you visit Don’t miss your chance to truly understand what it takes to think lean.


What Do You Think?

Have you read the Toyota Kata book?  Have you attempted to leverage the Improvement & Coaching Kata?  If so, how has it gone?

Lastly, what do you think of the new podcast “standard work??  How can we improve the show?

Gemba Academy is 5 Years Old. Come Celebrate With Us!

Gemba Academy 5th BirthdayFive years ago I, and two good friends of mine, began what’s turned out to be an incredible journey.

Specifically, in March of 2009 Gemba Academy was born.

We had no way of knowing whether there would be interest in what we were doing… but we started nonetheless.

Growing Up

We’ve made so many mistakes over the years and we plan to “refresh” some of our older courses since… well, let’s just say, I’ve improved a little in front of the camera!

But one thing I can say for sure is we do our very best to practice what we preach… when we make a mistake we learn from it.  And when we have success we do our best to understand why.

In other words, we’re constantly doing our best to practice continuous improvement!

Next, I know there are all kinds of statistics out there regarding how many companies fail to succeed after a year or two. I don’t know how much of that is true… nor do I really care.

All I do know is being a part of Gemba Academy is like a dream and I thank God every day for the opportunity to reach people all over the world with the good news that is lean and six sigma!

Thank You!

I’m also thankful for incredible business partners and an even more amazing team.

But, most importantly, I’m so very thankful for current and past customers of Gemba Academy. We’d obviously not be around without you.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!

Celebrate With Us!

Lastly, as we’ve done every March, we’re celebrating Gemba Academy’s birthday with our free DVD promotion.

So, if you’re interested in learning more please head on over and check us out! We’d be honored to earn your business.

LSS 015 | Exploring Training Within Industries with Jim Huntzinger


In this episode, I’m joined by Lean Frontiers President and Founder Jim Huntzinger.

During this podcast Jim and I explore Training Within Industries (TWI) and how it was one of the primary enablers to what we call “lean” today.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jim for years, but we only recently met in person at ATC Trailers, where Gemba Academy filmed an upcoming episode of Gemba Live!.

With Jim at the helm, Lean Frontiers brings together industry thought leaders by holding workshops, like the upcoming TWI Summit.  Jim and his team have also created the website WhatIsTWI?

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Why TWI (Training Within Industries) was developed during WWII
  • Toyota’s role in the evolution of TWI methodologies
  • Why TPS and lean practices wouldn’t be the same without TWI
  • Why we lost touch with TWI after WWII
  • The J’s of TWI – Job Instruction, Job Methods, Job Relations
  • How and why TWI is making a comeback
  • How to use TWI to improve your organization

Podcast Resources:

Please Subscribe to this Podcast

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes.  Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and smartphone.

CLICK HERE to subscribe to the LSS Academy podcast.

What Do You Think?

Do you use TWI in your organization? Why or why not? Which “J” do you feel is the most important?

LSS 014 | Going to Gemba vs. Statistical Analysis

go to gemba or statistical analysisWhat’s more important… going to gemba (the place the work is done) or being able to performance basic and/or advanced statistical analysis?

Well, as it turns out, I have some strong opinions on the matter and am excited to share them with you in this podcast!

To play the podcast please click the play button at the top of this post or download the MP3 file by clicking here.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • What’s happening at LSS Academy and Gemba Academy
  • How I worked as a young process engineer at Nokia
  • My thoughts on going to gemba and statistical analysis

Podcast Resources:

Please Subscribe to this Podcast

If you enjoyed this podcast please be sure to subscribe on iTunes.  Once you’re a subscriber all new episodes will be downloaded to your iTunes account and Smart Phone.

My Newest Stand Up Desk!

Friends, I have a confession to make.

In November of 2009 I wrote about my new stand up desk. I was quite proud of how I’d managed to prop an old desk up on some crates… I guess you could say I definitely used my wits over my wallet!

Well, as it turns out, I simply couldn’t adapt to that darn desk and those crates were removed within a few weeks and I sat at several different desks for the next 5 years.

New Studio Brings New Opportunities

lean stand up desk

My Newest Standup Desk

This brings us to present day and I’m excited to announce that I’ve been officially “standing” for the entire month of January 2014.

The Gemba Academy team and I have been busy building a new recording studio in the DFW area. All future “studio” Gemba Academy videos will be recorded in this new space.

Additionally, I, and 3 Gemba Academy team members that live in the DFW area, will office out of this space.

With this said, I’ve used this new opportunity to give a new stand up desk another try and I’m happy to say I’ve done much better this time!

My New Set Up

My business, Kevin Meyer, has been a long time stand up desk proponent, which allowed me to essentially copy his set up.

Here’s what makes up my current workspace (click picture above to enlarge):

I mounted a surge protected power strip to the back of one leg in order to plug everything in and neatly hide wires.

The Initial Struggle

Now, truth be told, my legs did ache a bit the first week. But I fought through it and now feel no pain and, actually, love standing.

I can’t explain why… but I am far more productive standing up. It’s almost like sitting in a comfortable chair allows me to get too relaxed and lose focus.

Kaizen Opportunities

And while I do love this new desk… it can be better.

Since we’re in a recording studio being able to quickly rearrange things is important… so I plan to add wheels to the desk making it easy to move.

And since I only have to plug one thing into a wall (the power strip) once I have wheels installed I’ll be able to roll the desk anywhere.

Do You Stand?

What about you? Do you also stand up while working at a desk? If so, what is your set up?

And if you currently sit… what are your thoughts on trying to stand up while working at your desk?