Frequently Asked Questions

bob emiliani head shotHere are some questions and answers that will help you understand who I am and what I do.

What is your role and the intention of your work?

My role is to expand people’s understanding of Lean leadership and Lean management through research and teaching. This includes critiquing various aspects of Leanwhich some people do not like — but that is what university professors do; they critically examine things. My intention is to serve others. The work I do, teaching, whether in my university work or as I engage the Lean community through my writing and speaking, is one of the so-called “helping professions.” I also advocate for a better system of management, Lean management, to alleviate human suffering.

Are you a consultant?

No. I am a teacher. A teacher helps people acquire knowledge that they can put into practice. Teaching is one of the “helping professions.” A consultant is a different type of professional, one who provides “expert advice” on a particular subject — deeper levels of knowledge than their client has, but (typically) not as deep a level of knowledge as what professors have. Consultants have industry experience but usually have no teaching experience. I have both management experience in industry and full-time teaching (and research) experience — which is a rare combination rare for professors or for consultants. Professors conduct research that is formally vetted through the peer-review process. Consultants may do research, but in most cases it is not subjected to the peer-review process.

Who trained you in Lean management?

Consultants from Shingijutsu Co., Ltd, between 1994 and 1997 and periodically thereafter. Through that hands-on training, I learned that Lean efforts must produce financial and non-financial business results. I have never been a “Lean tools” or a “manufacturing guy.” From the beginning, my interest has always been the human side of Lean management. My genba is leader’s minds.

How long have you been studying Lean?

My first exposure to progressive Lean management was in 1992 or 1993, when I read Masaaki Imai’s book Kaizen. I gained hands-on experience with Lean starting in the summer of 1994 and in the years thereafter. I continue to be a Lean practitioner today, which helps inform my research and university teaching work.

Why did you decide to focus your research on Lean leadership?

I was the first researcher to focus exclusively on Lean leadership. I picked that topic because so little was known about it. Lean leadership was widely seen as a mysterious art that few could master. I wanted to change that through my own practice and by conducting research focused on important questions such as: How do you lead a Lean transformation? Why are some companies successful while others are not? Why is Lean management so difficult to sustain? These were tough, challenging problems to study, but which now have mostly been answered.

Is your research practical or theoretical?

My research is practical. I am not a career academic; I come from industry and have a hands-on practitioner background. As a result, I always make sure that my research is useful to practitioners. Generally, books academic papers are perceived as theoretical because they have a formal look and style of writing. But don’t let that fool you; my books and research papers are practical.

What is the relevance of your research on Lean leadership?

We now clearly know what works and what does not work with respect to Lean leadership and how to lead a Lean transformation. My research has turned Lean leadership into much more of a science and less of art. This makes Lean leadership accessible to many more people.

Why don’t more leaders practice Lean management?

The answer to that question is here.

Leaders want to improve but they may not want Lean. What then?

For them there is another option: Speed Leadership.

Why have you written so many books?

I write books to share everything that I have learned. That is one of the things that professors do. Books are a practical, low-cost, and effective way others to learn — and then put what was learned into practice.

Who pays for your research?

My work is self-funded through book sales and related services. In some cases, my university has provided small and limited forms of support for scholarly work. All research is conducted as free and independent works, and I have no conflicts of interest.

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