GA 006 | Exploring Why So Many Companies Struggle to Fully Embrace Continuous Improvement with Bill Waddell

By Ron Pereira Updated on June 16th, 2021

Bill-WaddellIn this episode, I’m joined by one of the most experienced lean thinkers I know.  Bill Waddell is a lean author, blogger, and consultant.

Bill is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and, some might even say, controversial lean thinkers out there.  Me?  I personally appreciate the honesty – and passion – Bill brings to his work and, especially, his writing.

Now, in this podcast Bill and I focus on why so many companies struggle to fully embrace lean thinking.  Bill brings a tremendous amount of experience to this interview and I know you’re going to enjoy, and benefit, from his thoughts.

To hear the podcast just press the “Play” button at the top of this post. An MP3 version is also available for download here.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • Bill’s favorite quote…think Henry Ford
  • Bill’s opinions on why so many companies struggle with lean
  • The role of the CEO & CFO during a lean transformation
  • The challenge publicly traded companies face
  • The importance of Lean Accounting
  • Bill’s advice to Lean Practitioners who don’t have senior management support
  • Bill’s advice to CEOs on why they better be prepared to follow through if they decide to practice lean
  • The best advice Bill has ever received

Podcast Resources

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Full Written Transcript

Ron Pereira:  You’re listening to episode 6 with Bill Waddell.


Narrator:  Welcome to the Gemba Academy podcast… the show that’s focused on helping individuals and companies achieve breakthrough results using the same continuous improvement principles leveraged by companies such as Toyota, Del Monte, and the US Department of Defense.  And now, here’s your host, Ron Pereira.


Ron Pereira:  Hey there, welcome to another edition of the Gemba Academy Podcast. I hope you’re having an incredible day and week. As always, thank you so much for listening to the show.

Now, today’s guest is Bill Waddell. Bill is a Lean thinking consultant, author, speaker and global supply chain expert. Bill is also one of the original Lean accounting thought leaders of the world.

I first came to know of Bill when he wrote over on the Evolving Excellence blog. Bill now has his own blog called The Manufacturing Leadership Center, which I highly recommend everyone check out… since Bill definitely doesn’t hold back when it comes to sharing exactly what he thinks, which I personally love.

During this interview, Bill and I talk about how organizations often struggle when they’re first getting started on the continuous improvement journey, and even those that are on the Lean journey, some of the obstacles that they come up against. Bill brings a unique perspective to this situation since he’s worked with so many different companies over his long career.

As you’ll hear, Bill actually faced his own challenges when he worked in the industry. Links to Bill’s website and all of the other resources discussed during the show can be found in the show notes, which you’ll find over at gembapodcast.com/06.

Enough from me, let’s get to the show.

Bill, thank you so much for taking time out of your day to visit with us. Why don’t we start? Tell us a little bit about your background, your work, your consulting business, and really how you came to learn about continuous improvement.

Bill Waddell:  Thank you for having me, Ron. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk with you. Any opportunity I get to talk about Lean, I gladly take advantage of.

Ron:  Great.

Bill:  The fact is, Ron, I’m so old that I’ve been involved in this since before it was known as Lean.

Ron:  Before it was cool, right? [laughs]

Bill:  That’s long before it was cool. It was anything but cool in those days. Actually, my introduction came close to 25, 30 years ago, when I was working for division of Emerson Electric. Those were pretty heady days in manufacturing.

Motorola had just conjured up something called Six Sigma and it was winning the first Malcolm Baldrige Quality Awards. Toyota was doing something. We had no idea what it was, but generically, it was referred to as JIT. Dr. Feigenbaum had just written about total quality management. Quality circles were a big deal. There was a lot going on.

It was around that time that Goldratt introduced the theory of constraints. Tom Johnson had written a book called “Relevance Lost: The Rise and Fall of Management Accounting,” where he laid out a case for accounting not supporting best manufacturing practices.

All those things were going on at once. I had the great good fortune to be working for a guy by the name of Dean Rowe, who was the chief operating officer of the Copeland Corporation, the division of Emerson that I was working for. He was a very idea‑oriented guy.

He would bring in different experts every month. Not to have them actually do anything, just to come in and teach for a day, and would have management listen. The expectation was that we were going to start kicking around ideas.

It was through that that I first met Dr. Deming and heard what he was up to. A guy named Jim Camp from Xerox, who invented the concept of benchmarking. All of this was going on in those incredible days.

Dean Ruwe plucked me out of my job. I was a manager of advanced manufacturing practices. Told me my full‑time job was to go out on the road, or to study, to go wherever I needed to, to do whatever it took, to sort through all of this stuff, and come back and tell him what it all meant to the Copeland Corporation.

Through that, I went to Motorola University. I went to the Kaizen Institute. I visited Malcolm Baldrige Award winners. I had a tremendous experience, lasted close to a year, and came back and told him, “It’s all about cycle time, Dean. That’s the common thread that everybody’s talking about is compressing cycle time, and that’s what we need to do.”

I got a copy of Shingo’s original green book, the one written in wretched Jangalese, the old one that’s [laughs] no longer available. We worked our way through that and started doing what people would now call Kaizen events and going out and changing processes at some of the satellite plants and getting astounding results. That was really my introduction to it.

Once I learned that, it was like a drug and I was hooked, and my life was never going to be the same after having had those experiences. I’ve grown with it and been involved for all of these years, and I’m as excited and enthusiastic about it now as I was close to 30 years ago, when we first learned about it ‑‑ in fact, more so.

Ron:  Right. We’re going to go ahead and link to your website, but you do offer consulting. I know your specialty, if I’m correct, is these one‑day visits, isn’t it? You do a lot of that, don’t you, Bill?

Bill:  I do a fair amount of it. I normally have two or three longer‑term consulting clients going at any given time. I do a lot of one‑day‑assessment visits, to go in and visit companies, that typically the profile is somebody who’s been working in lean for a few years and just not really getting the kind of results they expected and are running into problems.

It’s really gap analysis. It’s coming in, and as I tell them, the normal format is for me to spend the morning with my mouth shut and my ears open, and then they spend the afternoon with their mouths shut and their ears open.

Ron:  [laughs] Love it.

Bill:  I learn about them, and then spend the afternoon telling them, “Here’s what the best companies do, and here’s where you are, and here are the one or two or three areas that you really gapped. Here’s what your priorities are going forward.”

Ron:  We’re going to go ahead and explore that with the teeth of the interview here, but before we do that, Bill, why don’t you share with us ‑‑ I’m sure you have many ‑‑ one of your favorite continuous‑improvement or leadership quotations that possibly inspires you?

Bill:  It’s a very simple answer for me. When I was first learning about lean, and I also am curious about history, and I was astounded, like a lot of people are, when I was learning about the early days of Toyota, really trying to understand, what were they thinking when they did this? What were the driving principles? What drove them to create this very unique and very powerful approach to manufacturing?

When I did that, all of their early quotes, all the things they had to say, were just riddled with references to Henry Ford, and that “If Henry Ford were alive today, he’d be doing exactly what we’re doing. Everything we did, we learned from Ford.” When I read Ford’s book, “Today and Tomorrow,” written in 1926, there it is ‑‑ the entire lean philosophy laid out, in 1926. I really got into depth understanding what happened at Ford and what drove Ford, who, in my view, is really the founder of modern lean.

Ron:  Do you have a favorite Henry Ford quote, then?

Bill:  Yes. A quote from Henry Ford is the banner on my website, and it’s that “Profit is the inevitable conclusion of work well done.” Ford was saying, “Focus on the work, focus on the process, and profits will take care of themselves.”

As far as I’m concerned, that’s really the guiding light, the driving principle, of lean ‑‑ focus on the process, on the excellence of the process, and if you do that, you’ll make an awful lot of money. When you do the opposite, worry about the money and not the process, things don’t work out too well.

Ron:  Isn’t that the case?

Bill:  Profit is the inevitable conclusion of work well done. Everything that I teach companies all revolves around that principle. It’s what I took from all my studies of Ford, and it’s been very helpful to me.

Ron:  Bill, from your experience, what are the biggest challenges? I’m sure there’s more than one, but what are some of the biggest challenges that organizations face when they attempt to drive significant change with Lean?

Bill:  It’s failure to recognize that it’s all about management. Typically, when I’ll go into a company, one of these companies that’s gapped, they’ll tell me, “We’ve embarked on this Lean strategy four or five years ago, or three years ago. We’re just not getting the results that we expected.”

I’ll talk to whoever is in charge of sales and marketing and say, “The company has been on this strategic path. How has your job changed? What are you doing differently now, in real, practical terms? Who works for you? Who do you work for? What reports do you look at? What meetings do you have? In your daily management grind, how has this Lean strategy changed your day?”

The answer, really, sales and marketing people have a long‑winded answer to anything. You boil it all down and the answer is, “It really hasn’t.” You talk to the controller and, no, it hasn’t changed his or her job. Whoever is in charge of engineering hasn’t really changed, or human resources. It really is just the production person.

There’s the answer. How can you say that you’ve made a strategic change in your company when most of the organization and most of senior leadership isn’t doing anything different than they were doing before? You get what you manage. If you manage the company the same way, you’ll get the same results. If you want different results…

Ron:  Yeah, the definition of insanity.

Bill:  Absolutely. If you want different results, you have to manage differently. It’s management’s inability to recognize or unwillingness to embrace the fact that fundamental, tough, gut‑wrenching change has to begin with them. Not just in their philosophical support, but in what they actually do.

We need different accounting reports, a different approach to supply chain management, different performance metrics, a different organizational structure, fundamental, gut‑wrenching change in what management does. When we change that then the shop floor piece is easy. If we don’t change that, then we don’t get much on the shop floor.

Ron:  Let’s dig into that a little bit. Where does the president or maybe the CEO of the organization really fit into that equation, specifically that seat in the organization? What do they do? What do they need to do?

Bill:  A lot has been written about leadership. Culture is a big part of it. The CEO certainly needs to be the driver of cultural change. He needs to be the big supporter of this and to be very involved. The most specific task the CEO has to do ‑‑ it’s amazing how often this is not done ‑‑ is to set a clear strategic direction for the company.

Lean is powerful tool to help a company achieve its strategic goals, but it’s amazing how often the CEO can’t enunciate what’s the strategy. What are we trying to do here? What markets are we trying to grow? What products are we trying to grow? Where are we going? What direction are we trying to take the company?

It’s so important for them to have a clear vision and a very clear idea that everyone understands that this what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to grow our share of the consumer market with these products. We’re trying to grow our share of the agriculture market with these other products, to have a clear path of what it is we’re trying to do.

When they do that, it’s fairly straightforward. We can align Lean behind that. Now that we understand what customers we’re talking about, how we’re going to create value, let’s use Lean to do that. If there is no direction, then it’s just everybody meandering around with a general definition of goodness that’s not really going anywhere.

Ron:  Now, do you see a difference in the president’s role if they are the president or CEO of a $10 million company versus a $10 billion company?

Bill:  Well, it’s not the size of the company, but the fact that the $10 billion company is probably a publicly traded company. Publicly traded companies have….

It’s almost impossible for them to become truly Lean. They have a different task. The mission or the objective of the publicly traded company is purely to generate profits for the shareholders in the relatively short term.

The $10 million company is probably a privately held company that tends to have a longer‑term focus. It tends to be more cash driven. They’ve got all of the right pieces in place to become Lean.

It’s not the size so much, but it’s what’s the focus and what are the objectives? When a company is focused on quarterly results, they’re going to have a hard time ever really doing the things it takes to become Lean. There is a big difference.

You’ll find the leanest companies in the core of Lean success are in smaller and medium‑sized, privately held companies. There are very few of those $10 billion companies that anybody could truly describe as Lean. They’re using a lot of Lean tools, but not really a Lean company.

Ron:  What about the CFO, Bill? What’s their role?

Bill:  The CFO is right behind the president or the CEO. They can make or break the whole deal. The CFO tends to be the unbiased holder of the truth. They’re the one that’s in the meeting. They say, “Yes, the numbers support this,” or, “No, the numbers don’t support that.” They tend to have a lot of credibility and a lot of influence on everybody.

The CFO can either be a huge obstacle to Lean by resisting it, being skeptical and not really embracing it, not really learning about it, and can take a very conservative, “Don’t change anything” approach. All too often, that’s the case.

Or they can be a huge force for change. They can be a real leader in the company and really try to understand what Lean is all about and what the fundamental economic principles of Lean are, and figure out how to drive that through the organization.

They tend to be really the force that shoves the organization one way or another. A good CFO can have an enormous impact on the company’s Lean trajectory. A bad one can be an anchor that just stops change from happening.

You’ll find that it’s almost universally true in companies that have had great Lean success. They have a CFO or their controller, whoever the top financial person is, has been heavily involved, understands it, and has played a leadership role. The companies that are floundering around, saying, “We’ve been doing this for six or eight years and not getting any results,” you usually find that that top financial person is at best standing on the sidelines, and at worst a naysayer and dragging the company down. They have a huge influential role.

Ron:  How important is it for the CFO to possibly transition away from traditional cost accounting to a more lean accounting‑focused approach?

Bill:  It’s very important. You can’t do standard costing and become Lean at the same time. It’s a square circle, those are two opposite concepts. If you’re allocating all of your overheads and if you believe that you understand product profit margins, none of that’s true.

It’s just traditional old gap accounting, they try to ram it through the organization. The inevitable result of that is to drag people away from attacking waste and to focus them on direct labor efficiency and beating up suppliers, the traditional management approach. It’s very important.

Whether they actually do all of the lean accounting stuff is not nearly so important as they can be the force that says, “Look, we’ve got to have standard cost for this gap stuff but we’re not going to use it for decision making. Let’s keep it off the table.” That’s usually good enough.

It’s when they believe those standard costs and they insist on everybody using those for decision making that they create problems. Ideally they’re going to embrace lean accounting too, but the most important thing is that they understand and they don’t force standard costing on the organization for all of its decision making.

Ron:  Bill, let’s assume that we have right now a lean practitioner that’s on an airplane. He’s traveling to some plant that he’s got to go run a kaizen event next week, and he’s not in management. He’s a practitioner. Let’s also assume that this person is totally fired up for Lean, believes in it, studies it, loves it, is passionate about it.

Unfortunately this person doesn’t have real management support. Sure, his boss allows him to go and travel around and supports it enough, but they’re not really bought into it. What can this person do? Speak to that person. Encourage that person for what they can do as a practitioner to possibly even manage up a little bit. Surely you’ve seen that over the years. What are your thoughts on that?

Bill:  My answer to that might be…

Ron:  Or should they update their resume? Let’s just be honest.

Bill:  That’s where I was going to go with it. You can only manage up so far. Obviously you want to try to expose senior management to it. You can try to build allies at your level and build a solid core of people with strength in numbers. Maybe if there are a handful of good people in the organization all urging the same thing, that’ll get management’s attention.

If you can get your boss to talk to a peer at a Lean company, quite often that has more influence than a consultant or an underling, if they’ve got somebody who’s in a similar position in another company who’s telling them, “Yeah, this is good stuff. You got to look into it.” There’s a limit to how much of that you want to do. At the end of the day, management’s going to make up its own mind.

My advice to that usually relatively young person who’s as fired up ‑‑ I remember how fired up I was back when I was young ‑‑ take a hard look at it. If it’s not going to happen, then by all means, update your resume and go to work for somebody who’s going to let you do this. It’s too much fun and there’s too much opportunity and it’s too powerful a concept to waste. If you understand it and you’re enthusiastic about it, then go find somebody who will support you and let you develop and grow.

That brings up a real important point that I’ve made with a few CEOs. Be careful when you expose your organization to Lean. Maybe you tell your young hotshots and your up and coming stars that, “Yeah, it’s OK. You can go to the seminar, or you can have the training guy come in for a week.” You better be prepared to follow through and to make it happen, because if you don’t…

Ron:  They’re gone.

Bill:  They’re gone. You expose them to it. You open the door and you let them see the wonders of it. You get them excited about it and then you slam the door and say, “Not here,” then they’re going to leave. What you end up with are the people who are not excited about new ideas, people not open to change, not creative, not innovative, not aggressive, not eager. They’re the ones you’re left with. The best and the brightest looked at it and said, “This is too good, I’m leaving.” You will harm your organization if you expose it to Lean, but you don’t follow through.

Ron:  That’s great advice.

Bill:  My advice to the CEO is don’t even tell them about it.

Ron:  [laughs] Unless you’re serious about it.

Bill:  Unless you’re serious about it, because the good ones will see it and say, “I’m hooked.” It’ll change their lives and change their thinking.

Ron:  All right, Bill. We’ve come to my favorite part of the show, which we’re calling the Quick Fire segment. This is where you get to basically share your personal thoughts and wisdom with our listeners. You’ve already been doing that, but this one is going to be a little bit more about Bill and not necessarily about your advice to other companies. The first question, Bill, is when you first started down your personal continuous improvement journey, what was holding you back from being successful?

Bill:  Probably what was holding me back from being successful were the accountants in the organization. I talked about those heavy days back at the Copeland division of Emerson. I believe, I can’t recall exactly, but Copeland had 10 or 11 plants.

I realized that the further the plants were from headquarters in Sidney, Ohio, the more success we had. The three plants right there next to headquarters were just absolutely stuck and were not going to change. It was being close to the financial function, and really being frustrated with why can’t the accountants see this? Why can’t they come out and look at this and see the power of it, and realize that we need to do this?

It was great deal of frustration with the financial people that really inhibited me, and really had more than anything to do with me deciding to leave Copeland and go to work in an organization that was more supportive. While I left and I wanted to go get action, it stuck with me and I thought about it a lot because I realized that the accountants were every bit as smart as me. They were every bit as committed to the success of the company as I was. It wasn’t that they were stupid or had bad attitudes.

They were just looking at the world through a different prism, and that really sent me on a path to really understand what did that look like from the accountant’s prism, and what can I do for companies to change that? That’s what really shoved me into Lean accounting and trying to come up with solutions to that, so that people in other companies as they’re embarking on this wouldn’t run into the same wall and the same frustrations that I did back in those early days.

Ron:  You mentioned Sidney, Ohio. I grew up in Greenville, Ohio, and we played Sidney. Sidney Yellow Jackets, I remember those guys. It’s a small world. [laughs]

Bill:  Given the size of Greenville and Sidney, you probably whipped them pretty good. [laughs]

Ron:  I was a wrestler. We had some heated matches against those guys. I remember that, though.


Ron:  Sidney, Ohio, wow.

Bill:  Yeah, just a little one horse town with great manufacturing, in Sidney.

Ron:  Do you know of Greenville? You’ve been there?

Bill:  Oh, yeah. I grew up in Cincinnati, I know that part of Ohio well. Those are my old stomping grounds.

Ron:  All right, Bill, next question. What’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Bill:  Two bits of advice, and it’s hard for me to differentiate between the two. I had two great mentors when I was young and coming up in manufacturing. One of them was a guy by the name of Ken Morris, who was a senior executive with the CSX Transportation company.

I worked in the part of that company that was involved in manufacturing railroad, freight car and locomotive components. I was working in a headquarters function as a staff guy leading the implementation of MRP systems, the predecessors of ERP.

I remember one evening I was working late. He was working late. We were the only two in the building, and he told me that, “Smart young guys like you who want to hang around headquarters and make brilliant analyses and observations are easy to find. I can hire them from graduate schools by the busload, but somebody who is willing and eager to get out of this building and go out to the plants, go out to the field and get their hands dirty and really understand this business are gems.”

I took that advice and first opportunity bailed out of headquarters and went to a little out of the way place up in the mountains of western Maryland, but it was great advice. He was exactly right, and I’ve passed that on to other people.

The other bit of advice that has served me well is actually from my father, who went from entry level up to being in charge of manufacturing and engineering for General Electric’s aircraft engine group, and a great manufacturing manager and somebody who really taught me an awful lot.

He once told me that whenever someone comes to you and says the solution to the problem is tougher discipline or reorganization, you can be absolutely assured that they don’t really understand what the problem is. That has been true time and time and time again. When someone is saying, “We just need to get tough on them out there and make them follow the rules,” what they’re really saying is, “We have an unworkable process here,” and they don’t understand that.

Ron:  Or they’re too lazy to fix it. [laughs]

Bill:  Yeah. It’s always some character flaw that’s keeping people from doing the right thing, and that so rarely is the case. “We just need to put a new guy in charge.” No. There’s nothing wrong with the old guy. It’s we’re asking him to do an impossible task, and we can change the guy in the chair as often as you want. If it’s an impossible task it isn’t going to get any better. That was great advice that served me very well.

Ron:  Next question, Bill. Can you share one of your personal productivity habits that others might benefit from?

Bill:  I’ve got more than my fair share of lazy habits and non‑Lean habits. I think that one thing I’ve learned over the years is that the big differentiation between people who are successful and people who are not, and the reason for any success I’ve had is just the sheer amount of work. You’ll find that people who do better work longer and work harder. It’s just a matter of what you put into it.

I don’t know that I’m necessarily more productive than anybody else, but I put in more hours than anybody else. It’s not because I have a better work ethic or a better habit. It’s that I’m one the few people that’s actually living the dream.

I love this stuff. I’d rather be talking to you about lean than doing just about anything else. I read about it at night. I read about it on the weekend. I’m surfing the Internet. I’m talking to people. I’m not sure where the work begins and the fun leaves off.

Ron:  Oh, yeah. It’s not even work, if you’re truly fascinated about it.

Bill:  No, it isn’t. It isn’t. Spending a day with a client company, going into a new manufacturer and talking to people about lean is about the best way I can imagine spending a day. The fact that I get paid to do it is just incredible.

Ron:  It’s bonus, right?

Bill:  Yeah. So I’ve been extremely blessed that I found an opportunity to make a living doing what I love to do. I don’t know that I’m necessarily more productive than anybody else. I’m just having a lot of fun.

Ron:  Yeah. I love that advice, too. You do have to work hard. A lot of times people will talk about lean as it’s how you can get more by doing less. Sometimes I think…the principals of what they’re saying are true, I suppose. Right? It’s not work harder. It’s a work smarter, kind of thing.

But I think people can take that the wrong way. One of my favorite business client of entrepreneurs…he’s not necessarily in the lean world. He’s more on the entrepreneurial side of the world. He’s Gary Vaynerchuk.

This guy, this crazy lunatic guy, talks about wine and everything else. He’s just incredible, and he has this famous quote. He uses some colorful language that I won’t use here, because my kids will listen to this one day. But he says, “If you want to build a business, quit watching,” and he uses an f‑word, “Lost.” You know, the TV show. This was a few years ago.

Bill:  [laughs]

Ron:  Quit watching Lost all night long. If you want to build a business, build a business. Go do something. So it takes action, to make anything happen, whether it’s business, lean, or anything.

I think a lot of times, my personal opinion is our kids of today, they’re not taught that. They’re taught, ah, just go to Google and find it. It’s easy. Life’s easy. Well, it’s not. Life isn’t easy, and lean isn’t easy. Is it?

Bill:  No, it isn’t, and the guy you listen to is exactly right. I learned a long time ago that if you want to understand what somebody’s priorities are, just look at their calendar. You can tell what’s important to people based on what they spend their time doing.

I think that’s really the key to productivity. With me, the things that I love in this world, more than anything, are Lean, my wife, and my family. If you look at, what do I spend my time doing for the last week, I hope that someone looks at it and says, “He didn’t spend a lot of time watching Lost.”

Ron:  Right. [laughs]

Bill:  He spent all his time doing lean, his wife, his family. It’s a matter of deciding what’s important to you in life, and making sure that’s what you’re putting your time into.

Ron:  Yeah, if I’m not making Lean videos or podcasts, I’m out coaching my kid’s soccer team. There you go. There’s my priorities. [laughs]

Bill:  [laughs] Yeah. I run into all kinds of guys who say, “The most important thing to me is my family. But I’m going bowling one night a week, and I play golf every Saturday. I’m out with my buddies as soon as hunting season opens. And of course, I’ve got to watch football all day on Saturdays.”

I’d say, “Well, I’m not real sure just how true that is, because you’ve actually spent three hours last week with your family, and the rest of it was all doing your own thing.”

Ron:  Isn’t that the truth?

Bill:  But your calendar and what you spend your time at reflects your priorities. I really think that it ties into the hard work. What are you spending your time on? Your productivity is a function of what you decide to spend time doing.

Ron:  Exactly. All right, Bill, if you could only recommend one book, what would it be, and why?

Bill:  Oh my goodness, one book. That’s awfully tough.

Ron:  Your books are off the table. We’re going to link to those ones. Those are mandatory reading, right? Everything that Bill’s written.

Bill:  Well, I’m not sure in an honest moment that would be the answer anyway, as much as I like to push my own books.

Ron:  [laughs] Yeah.

Bill:  Gee. In fact, my son, who’s interested in getting into lean and following my footsteps…

Ron:  Yeah, your son. What’s the first book you’re going to give him? Your son.

Bill:  He just asked me that a week ago, and I’ve been wrestling with the answer. It really depends on what you know about lean. If you know nothing about it, then probably your first book ought to be something like “The Toyota Way”.

But if you’re out there, been dabbling in it, messing around with it, starting to get more serious about it, I would think that the core book everyone should read is Mike Rother’s “Toyota Kata”. It really gets at the fundamental culture and decision making and thinking process.

Ron:  Yes.

Bill:  While Lean isn’t complicated, it’s different. It requires you to think about things differently. Mike is a fantastic guy, and he did a great job in explaining that in “Toyota Kata”. I would say if there’s one must read book, it would be that.

Ron:  Mike’s getting all kinds of free publicity, because we just did a podcast with Michael Lombard, who is a young practitioner here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, and he’s all about the “Toyota Kata”. We actually did a whole podcast on that.

[laughs] That’s great stuff. I know Mike as well, and he’s a great guy. Gosh, “Learning to See” and all these books, that’s what I was born into, learning from those guys.

Bill:  Sure.

Ron:  So, yep. Great stuff.

Bill:  Mike Rothers is a guy who has really devoted his life to really understanding it. He’s blessed with the fact that he’s not only a smart guy, but he’s a great communicator. He writes in a way that’s very easy to understand and very easy to keep involved with the book. You just want to keep turning the pages, because it’s just good stuff.

Ron:  The only problem with Mike Rother is that whole University of Michigan affiliation. That’s the only problem. [laughs]

Bill:  I bleed Michigan State green and white, and I’ve had to hold my nose to talk to Mike.

Ron:  [laughs]

Bill:  He’s one of those rare guys that I’ll overlook it for.

Ron:  Good stuff. All right, last question, Bill. We’ve kind of discussed a little bit about some of these things already.

But let’s imagine that you’ve been hired, now. You’ve come out the consulting world. You’ve been hired now as the general manager of a company that’s struggling with quality, productivity, poor morale. You were hired, obviously, because of your track record, all of your experience.

The CEO that hired you has given you complete operational control, and they trust you to right this ship. With this said, what’s your first day and really your first week on the job going to look like? What would you do, and why?

Bill:  I learned a long time ago, whether it’s related to lean or not…I was in that situation a few times early in my career, when I took over as a plant manager or a general manager. And it can be a little bit difficult, because you don’t really understand the business yet. You don’t really know the products and the people very well. That takes a little time.

But you want to let people know that you’re in charge and that you plan to have an influence, that you want to change the trajectory of things.

Ron:  Right, but I’m going to push you now, Bill. It’s Monday morning…

Bill:  What I do on Monday morning?

Ron:  Yeah, it’s Monday morning at eight o’clock. What do you do?

Bill:  I get the production management and we go through a walk through the factory. I point out every place that the place needs to get cleaned up, straightened up, shined up, painted, and let them know that this is not acceptable. That this factory is going to gleaming, that this is going to be a place that people are going to be proud to have their families come to.

I know that they’re not going to do it, because I’ve been down that path a few times. We’re going to have to make that tour a few times, and I’m going to have to get tougher and tougher with them, but I’m going to make that happen. I’m going to make the place cleaner, brighter, neater.

Not organized 5S. We’re just going to change the look, the feel, and the appearance of it in a very, very positive way.

The reason I like that is you don’t have to know very much about the business to do that. I don’t really have to know the product or the processes to clean it up. It also sends a very clear message to all the employees in the factory that there’s a new sheriff in town, that things are different here. It looks different. It feels different. Change is coming.

It’s a good way to go out and set a new tone, that we’re going to go in a different direction. And it’s pretty easy to do. You can do a lot of floor sweeping, painting, and a straightening up while you’re learning the product and learning the people.

But I’ve found for me that’s worked well as the best opening step, is to change the look and the feel of the place, to get people to look up a little bit and realize that, huh, this guy is different.

Ron:  Yeah, and I liked the analogy that you used, and I used to use this a lot when I worked in the corporate world. Would you be proud to bring your children to see where mom or dad works?

Bill:  Absolutely. And if the answer to that’s no, then that’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

Ron:  Yep, exactly.

Bill:  People have to be proud of what they do.

Ron:  Yep, right.

Bill:  If they’re not, then none of this lean stuff is going to go very far.

Ron:  Right. All right, Bill. Well, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit with us today. Why don’t we close the show, Bill, with you sharing some final words of wisdom. Then why don’t you tell people how they can connect with you over the Internet with your websites and social media?

Bill:  Well, if there’s any final words of wisdom it’s that I’ve found there have probably been 100 times in my career that I’ve thought, “There, now. I fully understand all of it. It all makes sense to me.”

And then I’ll visit another company or I’ll read another book or I’ll talk to another person and it’ll peel back another layer of the onion, and I’ll understand another dimension to it.

There are probably few people who spend more time and energy on this stuff than I do, but I’m still learning. And I learn every week and every month. So my best advice to people would be to keep learning. Keep assuming that you have more to learn. Keep after it and embrace the change and the continual learning.

If you ever get to the point of really believing you understand all of it, I think you’re in trouble. You’re in trouble then, because you can’t and you won’t. But embrace the learning and make it part of the fun.

That’s what makes it fun for me. It’s the fact that it’s always new and it’s always fresh because it’s always different. You keep learning more and more.

In terms of getting in touch with me, they can get in touch with me in all the usual places. If you go to www.bill‑waddell.com, that will take you to my website. And you can find me on Twitter, on LinkedIn and Facebook, all the usual places.

Ron:  Yeah.

Bill:  If you just go to Google and just do a search for Bill Waddell lean, I’m the the first thing that comes up, so I’m not too hard to find.

Ron:  Yeah, yeah.

Bill:  I’m always glad to talk to people, to swap emails with people. It’s the teaching and the learning that I thoroughly enjoy. And of course, if there’s anybody who wants to follow my often controversial blog, the Manufacturing Leadership Center, you’ll find me there too. Provocative is the word that’s often used.

Ron:  Oh yeah, oh yeah. You know, Bill, I’ve been following your work for a long time, when you used to write on Evolving Excellence. And my goodness, [laughs] you get fired up sometimes, man, and I love it. So that’s great.

Bill:  People meet me, and they’re expecting this firebrand to come in and just start poking people in the eye, and find that I’m actually a pretty nice guy.

Ron:  A big teddy bear. [laughs]

Bill:  I realize that that stuff is intended to take an extreme position to get people thinking, to stimulate discussion, but to get the brain cells working early in the morning.

Ron:  Yes.

Bill:  It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if they agree with me or disagree me. If they’re looking at the topic and thinking about another point of view…

Ron:  Yeah, exactly.

Bill:  …then something good’s going to come from it. But, you can certainly find me through the Manufacturing Leadership Center.

Ron:  Yes, and we’ll link to everything over on the show notes page, which everyone can find at gembapodcast.com/06… so…

Bill, thank you again for taking the time, and hopefully we can do this again down the road. I always enjoy learning from you and reading your work. Keep up the good work my friend, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Bill:  I look forward to doing it again, Ron, and thank you for having me. And good luck on your lean journey.

Ron:  Yes, absolutely.

Bill:  All right, well take care, Ron.



What Do You Think?

What are your thoughts on Bill’s thoughts and advice?  I’m specifically interested in hearing whether you agree that publicly traded companies have it harder than private companies.

  1. Ian Johnson Infinite Group

    June 4, 2014 - 5:28 am

    My takeaway:

    There is no fixed rule in deployment. One thing unique about the deployment is that top management initiate the program, then cascade it to the employees. After which, they involve the middle management.

    What’s important is commitment to process improvement.

    Investing in continuous improvement training brings in unprecedented results.

    Diverse services and client base are not hindrances to performing well. The key is to have a clear goal, well-oiled processes, and an efficient training program.

    Wonderful Post!

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