Lean Enterprise Institute CEO John Shook Said Lean Management Success Depends on Developing a Problem-Solving Corporate Culture

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But problem solving is a problem at companies accustomed to hiding problems, according to Shook.

Lean Enterprise Institute CEO John Shook is an award-winning author of books on lean management.

If your organization has a culture of hiding or ignoring problems, your lean transformation will not be successful.

A company’s “attitude towards problems” determines if it succeeds or fails at a lean management transformation, according to John Shook, CEO of the nonprofit Lean Enterprise Institute.

“If your organization has a culture of hiding or ignoring problems, your lean transformation will not be successful until you overcome those habits and create a culture of exposing problems for all to see and deal with them openly," said Shook, responding to questions during a keynote presentation at a meeting of the the Iowa Lean Consortium.

About 200 managers from manufacturing, healthcare, government, and service organizations attended the meeting October 2, 2012, at Vermeer Corporation, Pella, IA.

Shook learned how important development of a problem-solving culture is to lean management while working for Toyota for nearly 11 years in Japan and the U.S., helping it transfer production, engineering, and management systems from Japan to North America. Toyota pioneered lean management as a complete business system after World War II. During the late 1980s, a research team headed by James Womack at MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program coined the term “lean” to describe Toyota’s system.

In order for lean tools and practices to work, a corporate culture must support having the actual work identify problems and people engage in solving them, Shook explained. For example, if a worker stops a production line due to a quality problem, he or she signals there is a problem. The area manager responds immediately. Together they use problem-solving tools to get to the root cause of the problem or agree on a countermeasure.

“The process of doing the work is integrated with the process of improving the work, and the operating processes are people development processes,” Shook said.

About John Shook
Lean Enterprise Institute Chairman and CEO John Shook is the author of Managing to Learn and co-author of Learning to See and Kaizen Express. His article "How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI"; Sloan Management Review, January 2010, won Sloan’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize for outstanding article in the field of organizational development.

Lean Community Resources
LEI offers a weekly newsletter with lean management news and resources such as case studies, webinars, interviews with executives on lean leadership, and an archive of essays by authors and lean management thought leaders.

What is Lean?
The terms lean manufacturing, lean production, or lean management refer to a complete business system for organizing and managing product development, operations, suppliers, customer relations, and the overall enterprise. It requires less capital, material, space, time, or human effort to produce products and services with fewer defects to precise customer desires, compared with traditional modern management.

About the Lean Enterprise Institute
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc., was founded in 1997 by management expert James P. Womack, Ph.D., as a nonprofit research, education, publishing, and conference company with a mission to advance lean thinking around the world. We teach courses, hold management seminars, write and publish books and workbooks, and organize public and private conferences. We use the surplus revenues from these activities to conduct research projects and support other lean initiatives such as the Lean Education Academic Network, the Lean Global Network and the Healthcare Value Network. Lean Enterprise Institute and the leaper image are registered trademarks of Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. Learn more at lean.org.

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Chet Marchwinski
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