The Backstory – Lean Leadership Research

Lean Lship 1994This is the backstory to seven of the more than 30 research papers that I have written about Lean leadership. The seven papers and six books listed below highlight the nexus of research and practice, grounded in my own experiences as a Lean leader while working in industry, since 1994.

Lean leadership in the early 1990s was not understood. It was seen by even experienced Lean leaders as a mysterious art that few had mastered – but which is clearly the key to Lean success. My research has sought to unravel the mysteries of Lean leadership, bounded by the twin principles, “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People.”

The significance of my research is three-fold:

  • It has transformed Lean leadership from an art that few understood into a science that anyone can learn and practice.
  • It has simplified the understanding and practice of Lean leadership.
  • All the big questions that existed 20 years ago have been answered; we now know what Lean leadership is and how to correctly lead a Lean transformation.

After leaving industry, where I was trained by Shingijutsu in TPS, I became the first university professor to focus exclusively on Lean leadership.

These are the key research papers on Lean leadership:

Continuous Personal Improvement
Journal of Workplace Learning, 1998
Soon after beginning my Lean training with Shingijutsu in 1994, I recognized that shop-floor Lean tools and methods could easily be transformed into leadership development tools. This paper describes how the tools and methods can be re-purposed to help simplify Lean leadership development in organizations undergoing a Lean transformation. I used these leadership development tools in my own efforts to become a Lean leader. It works.

Lean Behaviors
Management Decision, 1998
This paper defined the eighth waste, “behavioral waste,” and made the “Respect for People” principle explicit rather than implied. I recognized that leaders’ behaviors had to be consistent with the Lean management system that they were advocating. I developed a way to express this based on Womack and Jones’ Lean Thinking framework. This also helps simplify Lean leadership development. I used this construct in my own efforts to become a Lean leader, and it helped me greatly. “Lean Behaviors” won an Outstanding Paper award.

Linking Leaders’ Beliefs to Their Behaviors and Competencies
Management Decision, 2003
This paper reflects my dissatisfaction with traditional human resources leadership competency models and their ability to affect behavior change in organizations. Competency models ignore the beliefs that managers have about business and therefore assume that all managers share the same beliefs. That, clearly, is not the case. How do we know? All you have to do is observe a conventional leader and a capable Lean leader, and it quickly becomes apparent that they possess different beliefs about business. This paper explores those differences in detail.

Using Value Stream Maps to Improve Leadership
Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 2004
What do we use value stream maps for? To document current state processes and identify opportunities for kaizen to get to a future state. That’s great. But it turns out value stream maps are far more useful than that. This ground breaking paper describes how value stream maps can be used in a completely different way: As a diagnostic tool to identify and correct leadership problems. For most people, this leads to a “Eureka!” moment. They finally see, in clear and practical terms, the difference between conventional leadership and Lean leadership.

Leaders Lost in Transformation
Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 2005
All Lean practitioners and Lean advocates are unhappy to see so few successful Lean transformations. While there are many factors that contribute to this outcome, leadership is a prominent feature in organizations’ lack of success. This paper describes common Lean transformation errors made by leaders. It also describes the difficulty that senior managers have in grasping the implicit and explicit aspects of both task and behavioral elements of Lean management.

Standardized Work for Executive Leadership
Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 2008
Senior managers can be fussy about lower-level workers adhering to standardized work. They have good reasons for this. But what about the executives? Do they follow standardized work for the processes that they are engaged in? Does standardized work even exist for executive work? This paper presents a standardized work model for executives in relation to their strategic work. It is a new approach for improving leadership capabilities and effectiveness.

Music as a Framework to Better Understand Lean Leadership
Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, 2013
Brimming with deep insights and creativity, this paper presents a new and innovative way to explain why most senior managers have great difficulty comprehending and correctly practicing Lean leadership. Using music as a framework greatly improves one’s understanding of Lean management, Lean leadership, and how to learn them and become proficient.

The research findings from these papers have been distilled into these books written for Lean practitioners:

Better Thinking, Better Results: Case Study and Analysis of an Enterprise-Wide Lean Transformation (2007, second edition) – The complete story of The Wiremold Company’s Lean Transformation, under the leadership of Art Byrne. An award-winning Lean classic.

Practical Lean Leadership: A Strategic Leadership Guide for Executives (2008) – A workbook that guides the executive team members through basic and advanced concepts and practices in Lean leadership.

Moving Forward Faster: The Mental Evolution from Fake Lean to REAL Lean (2011) – A distillation of the Real Lean book series. It presents new economic, social, political ways of thinking that leaders must possess in order to be successful with Lean management.

Lean Is Not Mean: 68 Practical Lessons in Lean Leadership (2015) – Describes the differences, both great and small, between Lean leaders and conventional leaders. You’ll end up highlighting most of the book.

Speed Leadership: A New Way to Lead for Rapidly Changing Times (2015, second edition) – An amazingly practical, insightful, and innovative process view of leadership. A true breakthrough in understanding leadership and how to improve leadership capabilities and effectiveness.

The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It (2018) – Solves a major business problem that has endured for more than 100 years. This book provides a comprehensive explanation for why executives reject Lean management, and offers practical solutions for how to gain acceptance for Lean management.

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