Meeting Art and Understanding Lean

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Oprah calls it an ‘Aha’ moment – the moment when something falls into place, when the penny drops, when a lightbulb goes off in your brain and you understand something with an immense clarity that you previously didn’t have.

I experienced this ‘Aha’ moment over 3 years ago when Art Byrne delivered his keynote speech at the 2013 Lean Enterprise Academy Summit. As well as a great guy, Art is a powerhouse of Lean knowledge having lived Lean with it’s highs and lows for many decades. I have read Art’s wonderful book ‘The Lean Turnaround’ many times and knew I was in for something special as Art took to the stage.

My ‘Aha’ moment came in as short a time as 4 minutes into Art’s talk. I had always known that Lean enabled a better, more efficient, more inclusive way of working however after listening to and understanding Art’s simple explanation of Lean, the power of this methodology was finally clear to me. Key elements from these short 4 minutes of Art’s talk that helped me understand the power of Lean are as follows

  • Lean is not a bunch of tools
  • Lean is not a collection of projects or belts (Art in his fabulous honesty makes it clear that in running a business you are not running a karate class!!!)
  • Lean is ‘the biggest strategic business weapon you can ever have’  – a business being ‘a collection of people and processes trying to deliver value to a set of customers and always the best team wins’.
  • Lean is a growth strategy not a cost cutting strategy.

Art continued by explaining the key elements required to be successful at Lean which are that Lean and  Operational Excellence are your core strategy, that Lean is led from the top and that people are transformed. Without these elements, Art explains very honestly,  failure will be the outcome!

As Art spoke about transforming people, he explained that people are the only asset you have that appreciates and you want them to keep appreciating, that you also need to respect your people because the best improvement ideas come from the people doing the work. To do this you need to create a learning environment where people are learning every day and are excited to come to work. This then becomes your culture, the way things are done around here – this is Lean.

Art summed up all of the above by simply saying –  Lean is a people thing!

I met Art at one of the break out sessions. He was gracious, humble and generous with his time. I spoke with him around challenges I was having in implementing Lean in my role as I  did not have the influence of a CEO for Lean to ‘come from the top’. He smiled and gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. He said ‘be the CEO in your area’, excellent advice for anyone trying to make things better when it’s not coming from the top!

Art signed my copy of his book ‘The Lean Turnaround’ by using a popular phrase synonymous with Guinness – it was Art’s way of saying how much he loved Ireland and how much he respects Kaizen. And yes, I totally agree with him, Kaizen is good for you!!!!

I left the 2103 Lean Enterprise Academy Summit energetic, enthused and looking forward to the next steps on my Lean journey.

Almost 4 years later my Lean journey continues to experience highs and lows, I’m happy to say more highs than lows these days and always, always learning lessons which is at the core of what Lean is about, continuous learning!

Thanks for reading,

Keeping it Simple,




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