Reflections at the end of 15 years with the Lean Learning Center
When I co-founded the Lean Learning Center 15 years ago, I never thought I would be leaving. It was my long-term vision that when I’m 70 years old (assuming I’m able to get that far), I’d still go back and play a bit of a role in teaching the Lean Experience, which was the course that started the whole thing. That didn’t come to pass, and so I find myself in 2016 out of the company and with a clean slate and hopefully a long runway in front of me.
It’s amazing how much I’ve learned over the last 15 years. It’s been one hell of a journey.
I’ve learned that the best way to do marketing (or at least for me to do it) is just be genuine. Share your ideas openly, and if people like what you have to say, they’ll find you. I’ve learned that client management is very situational – everyone has different needs, methods, priorities, and cultures. I’ve learned that you don’t need contracts if you focus on delivering value in every single interaction. I’ve learned that innovation comes more from focusing on clients’ tough challenges than on what competitors are up to.
And I’ve learned that the problems we set out to solve when we started this journey are really hard. We knew that then. We set up to take on three big challenges. First, make lean more about principles and behaviors than about tools. While making this work everyday in the workplace is still a challenge, I do feel good about our influence on the overall lean community. You certainly hear about lean behaviors, and “it’s not just tools” far more today than when we started that particular campaign. Second, we wanted to go past leadership buy-in and leadership support to build true leadership engagement. We’ve learned how vital this is, even more than we thought when we started. And third, we wanted organizations to think more creatively about change management, as at the time, every single strategy seemed to be training + 5S + kaizen events or value stream maps. We knew that was insufficient, and certainly wasn’t right for every single company. These challenges are far from solved, but given what we’ve learned about both their importance and difficulty, they were the right challenges to focus on.
And most of all, I’ve learned how many things I’m thankful for in this journey. And all of them have to do with something far more valuable than money (insert It’s a Wonderful Life here), and that’s relationships.
While we weren’t the largest team in the world and never had high turnover, there were still many team members who came and went over the years. Each one contributed to their clients, to the company, and to me in different ways. All put in hard work with the spirit of serving the client’s needs, which was one of our most foundational principles.
I have many great relationships with people in the lean community, whether it has been collaborating on a shared client, writing a paper together, or simply talking shop over a glass of wine at a lean conference.
The clients have been the relationships that have fueled most of my work. Many of these relationships have spanned over a decade, and quite a few have been with people who I’ve worked with at multiple companies. They are the reason for doing what I do. They bring me the kinds of challenges that makes some want to stay in bed, but that get me up in the morning, whether it’s getting a failing company through survival or getting from good company to great company. I’ve met great teams, learned from great thinkers, and been inspired by great leaders. There are many that the word friend is far more appropriate than client.
And finally, but actually first, are my co-founders Andy Carlino and Denny Pawley. Denny’s leadership was an inspiration to me, and is a large reason I do what I do. Andy has been a partner, mentor, confidant, friend, and brother. I never know what word to use first. I’ve learned how vitally important good partners are to a business, and to have a relationships with him that has lasted this long and been this productive is a rare thing.
And what goes beyond thanks, is gratefulness for my family, both immediate and extended. Most months in the past 15 years, I’ve been away more than I’ve been home. They have all sacrificed much to allow me to do this work. My wife, since we met, has been my inspiration that drives me to strive for excellence.
And with these reflections, I move forward, with challenges to face and energy to face them with.