11 Lean Strategy Insights from the Mind of Art Byrne

Bob Emiliani’s latest book, Real Lean vol. 6 contains both controversial and though-provoking ideas about lean as it relates to politics, economics, education, leadership and management. It’s an easy read but not a light read, sure to challenge at least some of the paradigms we all hold. I recommend it to everyone but the thin-skinned executive.

One of the less controversial sections is a great interview with former Wiremold CEO Art Byrne who has over 30 years of leading lean very successfully. Here are eleven lean strategy insights from the mind of Art Byrne, in my words.

1. Lean is 95% done wrong. Only 5% to 7% of manufacturers have done doing lean correctly.

2. Insecure leaders fail at lean. Leaders have to be comfortable being insecure in order to do lean successfully and insecure leaders struggle because their primary goal is to reduce personal embarrassment due to failure, and learning from failure is a feature of lean.

3. Believe, do and then understand. According to Art lean is a series of leaps of faith.

4. Command and control leaders fail at lean. The command and control CEO will not succeed with lean because lean requires too much “go see” in order to get the facts and details, which requires delegation.

5. Short-term focus makes lean fail. Lean takes a long time because it is continuous improvement and not a program or one-time fix but many traditional leaders don’t have the patience, longevity in their position or the long-term view to truly see lean as continuous improvement.

6. Lean is not compatible with current structures. Trying to do lean on top of the current structures, whether it be accounting, organizational, information systems, will cause it to fail.

7. Lean should be driven more by external factors. Art estimates that 85% of companies do lean for internal cost reasons rather than external and customer-focused reasons.

8. Let’s call it Lean Strategy. Calling this lean thing “lean manufacturing” hurts it because it becomes seen as a manufacturing thing, an operations thing, and Art prefers “lean strategy”.

9. What lean is about. Lean must be not only about cost but also about speed, market share and growing people, an overall enterprise strategy.

10. Set up time reduction is really important. You can’t really do lean without cutting all of your set up times, and there are set ups all over every business.

11. Grow people through challenge. The thing Art Byrne is most proud of in his career, “I grew a lot of people.” He did this by giving people progressively harder challenges and helping them learn how to succeed. And here is a counterintuitive bonus insight worth pondering:

“When you think about people, people in general are pretty equal. They may have different backgrounds and different other things, but in general, if you gave them the same chances and the same education and other things, they may not come out equal, but they’re going to be reasonably similar.”


  1. Mark Graban

    December 9, 2010 - 6:24 am

    I’ve always enjoyed Bob’s books and this one was no exception. The interview with Art is excellent.

  2. Guillermo

    March 15, 2012 - 4:49 am

    A good example of Lean in the svcriee industry. I’ve got to admit I have some mixed feelings on their practice of having the customers pay first, though. Although the rationale is explained, there are some certain unspoken things at play, too. First, the pay first policy ensures that Paramount gets their money whether your meal was good, prepared properly, or not. Also, I would be willing to bet that more people than just me like to sit and talk with the people they came with and take in the atmosphere. To me as a customer, that’s part of the value of the experience. What Paramount is doing by denying this is saying, Eat your meal and get out so we can pull more people through the system and make our money. Good for Paramount not for the customer. It also keeps Paramount from having to dedicate more space/tables for patrons. Again, good for Paramount. If as a customer these things are not of value to you, then it’s no big deal. If you like being treated like a part going through their assembly line, Paramount my be a place you’d enjoy. I would imagine those of us who see value as more than just sitting and eating, Paramount may not be the place for them. Just my opinion based on the article, but it seems Paramount is defining value for their business more than they are for the customer. On the other hand, it seems they must have found a loyal following who value their experiences there, having stayed in business since 1937. It all depends upon how the customer defines value.

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