Episode 040: Sam MacPherson – What Secrets Successful Lean CEO’s and Leaders Will Be Sharing This Summer


Today’s guest is Sam MacPherson. Sam is one of the Co-Founders of The Lean Leadership Academy based out of Pinehurst, North Carolina. He also partnered with Lean Frontiers and is a Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Summit on Lean Leadership, an annual event that is coming up on it’s second annual meeting in Charlotte, NC. Sam has been a guest on the podcast before and if you want to find out more about his lean journey, his successes, and setbacks you can check out his episode back in episode 20.

I’m pretty protective about the sponsorships that I take on for the podcast. I’ve worked hard to earn your respect and to give you a chance to know, like, and trust me. Therefore, I’ll only make recommendations of events, products, and service that I believe will be of value to you. Last year, I had the opportunity to feature the speakers who were speaking at last year’s summit and quite frankly, I was blown away. This is unlike any other event that you might attend. However, I want you to have an opportunity to decide for yourself so I asked Sam to hop on Skype with me and talk about what to expect in this year’s summit.

Sam and I will talk about :

  • Why is leadership so important in lean and continuous improvement.
  • How The Summit on Lean Leadership is different from other conferences or events in the Lean Community.
  • A preview of some of the presenters at this year’s Summit on Lean Leadership and what makes them unique.

Interview Links

The Summit on Lean Leadership Website (enter code “Leanpodcast” for a 10% discount)
Episodes of Speakers who have been on The Lean Leadership Podcast
Sam’s Original Episode-Episode 020
Rich Sheridan’s Original Episode -Episode 018
Mike Wroblewski’s Original Episode – Episode 029
Glenn Uminger’s Original Episode- Episode 026
Webinars from Lean Frontiers

Sponsor Links

Get a Free Audiobook from Audible.com
The Summit on Lean Leadership
10 Ways to You Can Become a Better Lean Leader in a Challenging Environment
Schedule a free 15 minute Lean consultation with Chris


Posted in Podcast

Episode 039: Being a Guest on Another Podcast – The Dangerous Risks Hiding in Your Data


Recently I had an opportunity to be on the other side of the microphone and be interviewed by Aaron Alexander, a good friend of mine who I used to work with, and is a fellow podcaster here in the Memphis area. Aaron is the host of The Rotcast, a podcast produced here locally by The OAM network. Aaron takes on different hot button issues each week and asked me to be a guest to talk about the use of data in the media and the pitfalls of thinking when two data sets correlate doesn’t infer a cause and effect relationship.

Interview Links

Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner (The authors of Freakonomics)
Spurious Correlations by Tyler Vigen
The Rotcast by Aaron Alexander on The OAM Network

Sponsor Links

Get a Free Audiobook from Audible.com
TWI/Lean HR Summit
The Summit on Lean Leadership
10 Ways to You Can Become a Better Lean Leader in a Challenging Environment
Schedule a free 15 minute Lean consultation with Chris


Posted in Podcast

The Ugly Truth About Productivity and Costs

I have learned through the years the skillful art of tuning out when people use their analysis of data to support their own agenda. Instead of pragmatically examining the problem and proposing solutions that address the issue at hand, people will offer countermeasures that don’t truly address the root cause.  These are put forth as the needed fixes and are accepted because of rank or authority.  Does this sound familiar?

Fortunately, this didn’t happen at work.  Instead, it happened in Room 614 of the Hampton Inn in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas.

I’m travelling for work this week and after enjoying a nice dinner I retired to my room to publish the blog post I had written earlier this week.  I opened up my laptop, started my browser, and looked at my RSS Newsfeed.  I saw the following headline:

U.S. Productivity Shrinks Again in First Quarter

So I clicked and I opened the article and read it.  Essentially the article says that American productivity declined again the previous quarter and says that “companies need more workers to keep up with demand.”  Are we sure that we need more people to increase productivity?

It also quotes a chief US economist who states, “For productivity to pick up, output has to pick up.”  This I agree with, until he says, “We need stronger demand…” Uh oh, incorrect root cause again.

In my need to understand what is truly being measured, I went to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and looked at the report.   They do define what is being measured in the report:

"Labor productivity, or output per hour, is calculated by dividing an index of 
real output by an index of hours worked of all persons, including employees, 
proprietors, and unpaid family workers."

This makes sense, but the authors of this article and many other leaders in corporate board rooms tend to confuse output with productivity.  Not really understanding what is being measured and what affects those measurements is a common leadership pitfall.  Even more dire is when we apply the wrong countermeasure to a plan over and over again with the thought that “maybe it will work THIS time.”

Experimentation is one of the essential elements of continuous improvement.  It’s important that when we propose a countermeasure that we write down what we believe the results will be.  After you run your experiment, a period of reflection and analysis will help you confirm that your countermeasure  does or does not affect the measurement.  Using what you learn from this period of reflection, apply that knowledge to your next experiment.

Instead of jumping to conclusions that we need more demand or more workers, perhaps we should examine more closely why output isn’t at expected target conditions.  Is there excess waste in the system that is driving output and therefore productivity down?

What are your thoughts?  What do you believe is hampering productivity? My challenge this week is to make sure that you truly understand what the problem or situation is before proposing solutions.  Instead of jumping to a conclusion, try to ask another two or three open ended questions that provokes reflection about the problem.

Make it a great week and remember, progress over perfection!


Posted in Blog

Episode 038: Amy Mervak – How Toyota Kata is Helping Healthcare Patients and Can Help Your Business Too


Today’s guest is Amy Mervak. Amy is a Yale School of Public Health Graduate and is the Chief Quality and Compliance Officer at Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan. She introduced Lean principles to the organization in 2010. As a member of HCSWM’s senior leadership team and the internal Lean expert, Amy has worked to make Lean practices part of the organization’s fabric. Most recently, she has introduced the implementation and practice of Toyota Kata. Amy has used Lean principles in many strategic initiatives, including the creation and management of a home-based palliative care program accomplished in partnership with a regional hospital system.

Today Amy and I will discuss among other things:

  • System Development and Building Capacity
  • The pitfalls of a project only approach
  • The need for having a sustainment plan and involving management
  • The underlying routines of thinking in practicing improvement
  • The power of improvement being everyone’s work
  • The need to connect with others and to have a coach

Interview Links

KataCon Resource Page
Toyota Kata by Mike Rother
Lean Hospitals by Mark Graban
On the Mend by Dr. John Toussaint
Connect with Amy on LinkedIn
Send an Email to Amy about her appearance on The Lean Leadership Podcast

Sponsor Links

Get a Free Audiobook from Audible.com
TWI/Lean HR Summit
The Summit on Lean Leadership
10 Ways to You Can Become a Better Lean Leader in a Challenging Environment
Schedule a free 15 minute Lean consultation with Chris


Posted in Podcast

How Good Ideas Evolve in Kaizen

Photo Credit R. Geciauskas via Flickr

Recently, I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine and we were discussing how the open exchange of ideas is really the “secret sauce” of learning and development in a Lean system.  One of my favorite Ted talks about this topic comes from author Steven Johnson.  Johnson has written nine books including How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World and of course, Where Good Ideas Come From.

In his TED talk, Steven talks about how a researcher named Kevin Dunbar videotaped scientists from around the world doing all of the things they do when conducting research.  Using a “big brother” approach, Dunbar discovered that breakthroughs didn’t occur in a eureka moment in front of a microscope. Instead, Dunbar noted that success occurred when teams discussed their data, what challenges they were facing, and shared their mistakes.

This prompted me to think about Kaizen. It amazes me how often it occurs that we are walking around with half of a good idea in our heads while the other half is in the head of a teammate, mentor, or complete stranger to the process.

We live in an idea economy today.  I recently heard someone say that if two people walk in a room and each have a dollar, that if they exchange those dollars, they each walk out with a dollar.  However, if two people walk into a room and each have an idea and they exchange those ideas they walk out with two ideas.  Even better, those combined ideas could blend into a breakthrough solution into a problem you may be facing.

The TED talk lasts 17:45 and is well worth the time of any continuous improvement leader. This is your best opportunity today to see how coffee houses, sputnik, nuclear submarines, and GPS satellites are all connected!  What are your thoughts about the exchange of ideas?  Do you have a process or technique that is effective at the exchange of ideas?  I have embedded the video below or you can check out the video here.

Posted in Blog

Episode 037 – Darril Wilburn : How to Turn Humility and Courage into Lean Success


Today’s guest is Darril Wilburn. Darril is a partner with Honsha Associates, a group of Toyota Alumni that has built a strong reputation from helping companies transform through using the TPS/Lean Philosophy that they learned through their experiences at Toyota.

Darril has been a frequent keynote speaker at multiple conferences around the globe and has worked with several well known companies including: M&M/Mars, Carl Zeiss, The United States Coast Guard, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, and Kimberly Clark.

Today Darril and I will discuss:

  • The power of learning how people learn
  • His experience in being a learner and being a coach at Toyota
  • His view of what respect for people really means
  • The role of proper communication to people not directly involved with transformation with change management.
  • The power of trusting the process and people in lean transformation
  • The pitfalls of focusing on tools and not understanding their purpose.
  • The need for focusing on humility in learning before teaching

Darril will be a speaker at the upcoming Lean HR Summit in San Antonio May 12-13 where he will be speaking about Courage, Humility, & Kaizen: The Keys to Lean Development.

Interview Links

Darril’s Company: Honsha Associates
Darril’s Book: Toyota by Toyota: Reflections from the Inside Leaders on the Techniques That Revolutionized the Industry
Book Recommendation: Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way by Dr.Jeffery Liker and Mike Hoseus
Connect with Darril on Twitter
Connect with Darril on LinkedIn
Send an Email to Darril about his appearance on The Lean Leadership Podcast

Sponsor Links

Get a Free Audiobook from Audible.com
TWI/Lean HR Summit
The Summit on Lean Leadership
10 Ways to You Can Become a Better Lean Leader in a Challenging Environment
Schedule a free 15 minute Lean consultation with Chris

Posted in Podcast

How You Can Lead With Humility Almost Instantly

Leading with humility…

Three words, that represent the single most important ingredient in a successful Lean journey. You can have talent, technical proficiency, and an abundant opportunity funnel but if you lack humility your journey will be difficult to sustain. Here are three key steps to equip you to lead with humility today.

Listen to the ideas of others

Listening is the highest form of showing another person respect. A 2012 MIT Study showed that the barrier to success in conflict is the belief that their concerns are not being heard. People don’t necessarily want you to implement their idea, they want to feel like you listened to their point of view. If you feel like the people that you are engaged with aren’t sharing enough, simply stop talking. Give the others in the group the opportunity to take the floor and share their point of view. People dislike silence and by being quiet, others will naturally fill the void with their thoughts and ideas. If people are still reticent, ask an open ended question to provoke discussion.

Give Others a Chance to Lead

Passing the baton of leadership is a great development opportunity for others on your team. It’s also an opportunity to allow others to put their own unique leadership style on the typical routines you have during the day. Rotate the leadership of key meetings and projects among team members to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership abilities to their peers. Make sure to provide positive reinforcement and feedback to nurture the future leader’s soul.

Learn to say “I don’t know.”

This is the most difficult behavior for a leader to learn. It seems that the further up the leadership chain, the more challenging this behavior is to demonstrate. A leader can gain trust and respect from their team by admitting that they don’t know the answer to the question at hand. The vulnerability that a leader demonstrates by admitting they don’t know the answer promotes an environment that is open to discovery and experimentation. When a team recognizes that they don’t understand an answer and need to run an experiment this creates a safe environment. When people feel safe this unleashes the true power of continuous improvement.

Look for opportunities to demonstrate these behaviors today as you interact with your team. Does it seem to challenging to take on all three of these behaviors? Pick the behavior that feels most comfortable to you and give it a try. Good luck and remember, progress over perfection.

Posted in Blog

Episode 036: Tim Mclean – Where Companies in Australia Are Finding Success with Lean and How to Get It


Today’s guest is Tim Mclean. Tim is our first guest from Australia and is the Principal and Managing Director of TXM Lean Solutions. In his mid 20’s, Tim was promoted into a Plant Management role and this lead to senior operations and general management positions at Hoechst and in major Blue Chip companies including PPG Industries, Carter Holt Harvey and Amcor. In these roles, Tim continued to increase his knowledge of continuous improvement and lean methodologies and successfully apply these approaches to achieve breakthrough improvements in operations that he was managing.

In 2004, Tim moved to leverage this experience across a wider range of industries by setting up TXM. TXM has grown to be a leading international Lean consulting company with offices in Australia, China, the UK and USA and projects in 15 countries.

Tim visits many factories across Australia and the region including literally hundreds of small and medium sized manufacturers. It was the experience of seeing these businesses, talking to their owners and understanding their challenges that lead Tim to write his book, “Grow Your Factory – Grow
Your Profits: Lean for Small and Medium Sized Manufacturing Businesses”published in 2014 by Productivity Press in the USA. Tim is a passionate believer in the future of Australian manufacturing lead by the growth of innovative small and medium sized companies producing advanced niche
products for the world.

Today Tim and I will talk about:

  • The unique challenges and advantages of working with small to medium manufacturers with teach lean and continuous improvement.
  • What happens when business owners find that their business management systems are holding them back.
  • The downfalls of point optimization
  • The benefits of benchmarking to truly understand the applications of lean principles
  • The need to focus on building relationships, trust, and respect

Interview Links

Tim’s Company TXM
Tim’s Book – Grow Your Factory – GrowYour Profits: Lean for Small and Medium Sized Manufacturing Businesses
Learning to See by John Shook and Mike Rother
Creating a Lean Culture by David Mann
David Mann’s Episode on The Lean Leadership Podcast
Connect with Tim on Twitter
Connect with Tim on LinkedIn

Sponsor Links

Get a Free Audiobook from Audible.com
TWI/Lean HR Summit
The Summit on Lean Leadership
10 Ways to You Can Become a Better Lean Leader in a Challenging Environment
Schedule a free 15 minute Lean consultation with Chris

Posted in Podcast

Episode 035: Dan Markovitz – Building the Fit Organization and Unleashing the Power of Lean



Today’s guest is Dan Markovitz, President of Markovitz Consulting. Dan founded Markovitz Consulting to help organizations become faster, stronger, and more agile through the application of lean principles to knowledge work. Dan has worked with non-profit and governmental organizations such as the New York City Department of Health, Planned Parenthood, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, as well as a diverse roster of corporations such Starkey Technologies, W.L. Gore & Associates, Abbott Vascular, Clif Bar, Hydro Flask, and CamelBak.

He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business.

Markovitz has published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Rotman Management, Quality Progress, Industry Week, Reliable Plant, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. In 2015, he keynoted the Lean UK Summit, the Lean Island Conference in Reykjavik, and the Printing Industry Association National Conference. He’s also a regular presenter at the Association for Manufacturing Excellence National Conference and the Outdoor Industry Association Rendezvous.

Dan is the author of two Shingo Award winning books, A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance and his most recent book Building the Fit Organization: Six Core Principles for Making Your Company Stronger, Faster, and More Competitive.

Today Dan & I talk about:
How a love for coaching runners has influenced his lean and continuous improvement journey
The need for leadership to act and think differently as well as front line associates in applying lean principles
An experience he recently had with a simple kaizen idea he observed that he thought really captures the true spirit of kaizen
How a lot of people get lost on their lean journey by getting tripped up by 5S
The generosity of the lean and continuous improvement community
The power of benchmarking
The need to overcome learned helplessness

Interview Links

The Machine That Changed The World
The 28th Annual Shingo Conference April 25-26 in Washington DC
A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance
Building the Fit Organization: Six Core Principles for Making Your Company Stronger, Faster, and More Competitive
Joy Inc by Rich Sheridan
Rich Sheridan’s Episode on The Lean Leadership Podcast
Built to Last by Jim Collins
Great by Choice by Jim Collins
Connect with Dan on twitter
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn
Markovitz Consulting

Sponsor Links

Get a Free Audiobook from Audible.com
TWI/Lean HR Summit
The Summit on Lean Leadership
10 Ways to You Can Become a Better Lean Leader in a Challenging Environment
Schedule a free 15 minute Lean consultation with Chris

Posted in Podcast

The Sooner You Know How to Procrastinate the Better

I’m not shy about the fact that I’m a TED talk junkie.  They have talks from some of the brightest thinkers, authors, and teachers on a wide variety of topics. I have found that these talks often challenge the way I view a subject or provoke thought and reflection.

Recently I watched a TED talk from Adam Grant who is an award-winning, tenured professor at the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania.  He is also a New York Times Best Selling Author who wrote the books Give and Take which examines how helping others helps us succeed and Originals which explores how individuals champion new ideas.

In his most recent talk, Adam Grant talks about how procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.  He debunks the mythical benefits of the first mover advantage and compares the difference between movers and improvers. The difference is significant and I believe you will be quite surprised.

Grant also points out that original thinkers have doubts.  He posits that there are two types of doubt, self doubt and idea doubt.  While self doubt can have a paralytic effect, idea doubt energizes and helps prompt experimentation and improvement.

Adam also talks about how creative people fail the most.  He describes how many of the people that we consider masters in their field have honed their skills through extensive experimentation and failure.

I’ve embedded the talk below for you to watch.  If you are a leader or an innovator I would highly recommend you take a few minutes and enjoy Adam’s talk.  He is insightful, entertaining, and humorous and it is well worth your time.

Adam Grant’s website

Connect with Adam Grant on Twitter


Posted in Blog

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