John Y. Shook

John Shook is globally recognized as a true sensei who enthusiastically shares his knowledge and insights within the lean community as well as those who have not yet made the lean leap. John learned about lean management while working for Toyota for 11 years in Japan and the U.S., helping it transfer production, engineering, and management systems from Japan to NUMMI and subsequently to other operations around the world. At Toyota, John became the company’s first American kacho (manager) in Japan. In the U.S., he joined Toyota’s North American engineering, research, and development center in Ann Arbor, MI, as general manager of administration and planning. Next he served as senior American manager with the Toyota Supplier Support Center in Lexington, KY.

As co-author of Learning to See John helped introduce the world to value-stream mapping. In Managing to Learn, he describes the A3 management process at the heart of lean management and leadership. He is also co-author of Kaizen Express, a bi-lingual manual of the essential concepts and tools of the Toyota Production System.

John is an industrial anthropologist with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii, and is a graduate of the Japan-America Institute of Management Science. He is the former director of the University of Michigan, Japan Technological Management Program, and faculty of the university’s Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering. John has been interviewed on lean management by National Public Radio, Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and numerous other publications. His article, “How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI” in The Sloan Management Review won the 2011 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize.

Smarter work: applying lean to our own gemba

FEATURE ARTICLE – Stressed and overwhelmed by workload? Once again, lean thinking comes to the rescue, offering us a way to approach our work that helps us eliminate waste, save time, and avert breakdowns.

Words: Daniel Markovitz, consultant and author of A Factory of One

I wasn’t sleeping very well this past January.

I was six weeks into writing my new book, Building the Fit Organization, with two months till the manuscript was due. I’d wake up every night around 3am, my mind racing in a desperate attempt to keep track of all the moving parts: eight chapters, 10 long case studies, 12 smaller examples, charts, graphs, sidebars, appendices, etc. It was stressful, frustrating, and anxiety provoking. Even more stressful was the fact that when I’d sit down to write each day, I wasn’t entirely sure what I should be working on: not only did I have all the pieces of the book to write, but the chapters were all in different stages of completion. Should I work on the first draft of a chapter, or should I take on the final revision of a chapter and finish it?

This feeling of overwhelm was unusual for me. I work as an independent consultant, without the need to coordinate and cooperate with large numbers of coworkers. As a result, my life is much less complicated than that of the typical office worker. But here I was, reliving the stress of my former life working in a big company.

In my book A Factory of One, I argue that we can view ourselves as factories (small factories, but factories nonetheless)—we take some sort of raw material and turn it into something of value for our customers. We should therefore be able to apply lean thinking and lean tools to the way we work to make it easier, faster, and produce higher quality outputs.

From a lean perspective, the root cause of my (psychic) problem was that I couldn’t see the flow of my work. Sure, I had plenty of documents on my computer holding the case studies and the charts, and they were all neatly organized in folders, but it was difficult to see what I had done and what I still needed to do. So my brain was working overtime—literally—to sort out and track all the pieces of the book. Even though my brain didn’t charge me overtime wages to work through the night, it still wasn’t a particularly lean way to operate.

I took advice from A Factory of One and made my work visible. I created a personal kanban with each chapter in a swim lane, and each column representing the stage of completion for that chapter (outline, first draft, second draft, etc.). I had additional columns listing the case studies and charts that I wanted to include in each chapter. (And of course, I had a “Done” column so I could enjoy the feeling of finishing each section of the book.) When I sat down to write each day, I looked at the post-it notes on the board, determined which section I felt like writing, and then blocked out two to three hours in my calendar for work on that section—no client phone calls, no email, no interruptions. That uninterrupted block of time created flow in my work.

The difference was instantaneous. No more anxiety-filled sleep, no more waking up at 3am—instead, I was confident and sure of the progress I was making, the work that I needed to do, and my ability to meet the publisher’s deadline. Which I did. Two days early.

When we talk about lean, we generally talk about how it applies to external systems and processes. We forget that all the work we do contains processes as well, from organizing a meeting, to preparing a budget, to developing a marketing campaign, to designing a new running shoe. And those processes can be improved through the application of lean thinking. We can’t measure the benefits in the same way that we measure improvement on an organizational level, but they’re just as real. Lower stress levels. Less feeling of overwhelm. Greater emotional capacity to connect with colleagues. Fewer careless errors in your work.

Most of all, applying lean to your own work—or more precisely, to the way you work—means that it will consume less time. If lean is about creating more value with fewer resources, then using time more wisely and more efficiently is of utmost importance, because time is the only truly non-renewable resource we have. If everyone “worked lean,” overall lead-times in your organization would get shorter, and you’d have more time to spend with your husband, your wife, your partner, or your dog. And that sounds pretty good to me.

Dan will be a keynote speaker at this year’s UK Lean Summit (November 17-18; Kenilworth)

For more information on the program, click here

To register click here

Don’t miss this opportunity – other speakers include John Shook, Daniel T Jones, and Dave Brunt


Dan Markovitz is a consultant and the author of Building the Fit Organization: Six Core Principles for Making Your Company Stronger, Faster, and More Competitive. A faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and a lecturer at the Fisher College of Business, he holds a Stanford MBA, and received a Shingo Research Award for his first book, A Factory of One.

The Joy of Lean Innovation: A Case Study of Menlo Innovations

Richard Sheridan and James Goebel of Menlo Innovations did not set out to create a lean enterprise. In fact, they intentionally avoid the “lean,” “agile,” and “start-up” jargon that pervades their industry. They set out to create a joyful enterprise, one that they, their team, and their customers would love. Nevertheless, Menlo Innovations’ practices are grounded in the central principles of product and process development. Read more.

Jim Morgan

Jim Morgan is Senior Advisor for Product and Process Development at The Lean Enterprise Institute and lead coach for LEI’s LPPD Learning Group. Dr. Morgan was Director, Global Body Exterior, Safety, and SBU Engineering at Ford Motor Company during the product-led revitalization under CEO, Alan Mulally. Prior to Ford, he was Vice President at TDM, a tier one, global automotive supplier of engineering services, prototypes, tools, and low volume parts and assemblies. Jim holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Michigan. He is co-author of The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology and has developed and taught graduate courses on lean manufacturing and product development.