Kind of a big deal

October 21, 2011 - | Filed under: Lean thinking, MBOE, MBOE Sessions


We’re pretty proud of the successes we’ve seen in just three years running Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence program. And the same can be said of the industry heavy-hitters we line up to give students top-notch wisdom in lean leadership. Among those big deals is John Shook, the CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute in the Boston area. Modest and easy-going as Shook is, he wouldn’t tell you that, but having him spend a day with our students is like taking a film-school course on westerns with Clint Eastwood as the prof.

Shook was kind enough to sit down with me after a full day of breaking down A3s with the MBOE cohort for a wide-ranging chat on the future of lean and some of his personal experiences (read the full interview). If you don’t know much about him, he spent time in Japan at Toyota Motor Corp. about 30 years ago and, quite simply, is one of the reasons lean is alive and well in the U.S. today.

John Shook Lean Enterprise Institute Fisher MBOE

Photo by Peg Pennington

While our chat was full of insight, one thing Shook said near the end has stuck with me since, and it’s about why companies make mistakes in a lean transformation, and more specifically in using A3s to solve problems. “All lean tools and processes,” he told me, “are like an iceberg. There’s more underneath them that embody different ways of thinking and going about work, and if we just copy the tools it’s possible for us to miss that and be implementing the tool for the tool’s sake.” Shook then referenced an old saying about hammers in search of nails.

He’s not talking about carpentry here. This is the heart of the matter when it comes to lean, the idea that we shouldn’t just be putting out fires (hammering nails) but digging deep behind them to discover what caused that spark. Switching metaphors here: A layer beneath the tip of that iceberg is the crucial root cause.

So what does digging for that root cause, maybe with the help of an A3, do for your company? Shook says it best:

“It helps us solve problems and create a problem-solving culture all at the same time so it can help us choose the right hammer.”



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