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Lean Leadership – every lean success has great people behind it


I’ve been lucky enough to receive some great feedback about this blog and my contribution to the lean journey of others.

This is extremely humbling and it has led me to reflect on the huge number of amazing people who I have collaborated with over the years on my lean journey. Becoming a successful leader in a lean organisation relies heavily on the support and buy in of the people in your team and I have been lucky enough to work with some fantastic colleagues.

These are the people who have vision and a desire for improvement. On top of this they also have to be willing to take risks, break new ground and learn new ways of thinking about things. They take the vision of the lean leader and work it, mould it and drive it so that its becomes process, all the while tweaking things to fit in with their own knowledge and experience of the process.

I can’t think of a single successful improvement project that didn’t have a group of awesome, intelligent and courageous team members involved.

Here are a few of my memorable experiences of working with amazing people.

Pre Kaizen Jitters

I have a great memory of one team member I worked with on a 5 day Kaizen event on a difficult project. She had done a huge amount of preparation work and was heavily invested in the success of the project. The Kaizen event would bring senior team members from multiple locations for a week. It was her first experience of the Kaizen event format and the day before she was terrified that it wouldn’t work and experienced a high level of anxiety. Well, we followed the process, applied our Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) methodology and it did work. That team member went on to be a force of nature in the company for improvement and in the coming years led her own improvement projects and events.

Overflowing with Vision

My very first manager was and still is a paragon of improvement mentality. We got to the stage that we had a giant list of opportunities for improvement that lived on the whiteboard by my desk that he would add to as the ideas took him. He introduced me to how an improvement leader can drive a culture through vision, enthusiasm and a lack of barriers. At that time, Total Quality Management (TQM) and Theory of Constraints were the improvement programs of the day and my lean journey was in its infancy but the culture I learned there stays with me today. My manager had built a team of people who lived and breathed improvement in an industry that was as far from automotive manufacture as you could get.

A Novel Approach

One of my favorite lean memories is of a fellow manager who had a drive to make the plant he was responsible for as lean as possible. Not too worried about tools, techniques and lean theory he had a novel approach to improvement that was perfect for his particular environment and team. First he surveyed everyone in his team about what bugged them the most. He then wrote these issues up on a list and taped it to the break room table. From there he proceeded to work with the team to eliminate every problem on the list. Each problem was crossed out on the break room table until the whole list was finished. The level of buy in and momentum he gained from this was incredible. After this, getting support from his team to improve quality and reduce cost and lead-time was effortless.

Courage to Take a Risk

One of my teams thought I was more than a little crazy when, having been at the plant for a few months,  I suggested that we do more time consuming change-overs on our key machine to reduce staggering levels of inventory and improve an excessive production lead-time. It’s to their credit that they went along with the Just In Time, Set Up Reduction project I was proposing despite a high degree of skepticism on their own part and outright resistance from the sales team of the business. Of course, in the way of lean projects, the change was a huge success that reduced inventory levels by around 70% and the lead-time down to a matter of days from months. They also loved the shorter changeover times and became extremely proud of their ability to produce special products at the drop of a hat. Without their support in the face of their own doubt there is no way this project would have succeeded.


My current team are just as amazing. They daily impress me with their ability to visualize, problem solve and implement improvement at a staggering rate. I learn every day from working with them and they constantly trigger off new ideas and visions.

As has been proved to me every day for almost 20 years, the people we are privileged to work with are the people that continue to make our lean journey possible.


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