/Planet Lean editor looks back at the best articles of 2016
planet lean content 2016

Planet Lean editor looks back at the best articles of 2016

planet lean content 2016EDITOR’S LETTER – What a year 2016 has been! Many of us will be happy to see it go, but with challenging times comes an opportunity to reflect. We look back at the best lean management content from the past year.

Words: Roberto Priolo, Managing Editor, Planet Lean

So, 2016 is drawing to a close. Thank goodness, many of us will say.

This year, more than others, seems to have tested our resilience as humans. We have witnessed unfathomable destruction in several parts of the world. Terror attacks have become a semi-regular occurrence on the streets of Europe. The migrant crisis has reached a new level of severity. We have had some of the most polarizing elections and referendums in recent history, which have left many of our societies deeply divided. Our economies are still reeling. International relations are more complicated than ever, and inequality is still alive and well both within and between our nations. We are also about to say goodbye (or good riddance) to the warmest year in history, courtesy of man-made climate change.

Yeah, things are looking pretty grim. We cannot predict what 2017 has in store for us, but if 2016 is any indication… boy, are we in for a treat!

As always, however, we have a choice. George Bernard Shaw once said: “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” We can choose to focus on a bright tomorrow rather than dwell on a gloomy yesterday, to learn from what went wrong in order to not to make the same mistakes again rather than crying over spilled milk. As far as I am concerned, this is the only way we can cope with the world we live in right now.

I am fortunate to be the editor of Planet Lean, which gives me the opportunity to constantly meet with and talk to inspiring and forward-looking people from around the world who have made the improvement of themselves, their companies and society one of their life missions. It is humbling and empowering at the same time.

While 2016 has arguably been a tumultuous year for Planet Earth, I really can’t say the same for Planet Lean: our readership has almost doubled in the past year, and we have had contributions from incredible lean practitioners. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your on-going support, as readers and contributors!

The last few days of the year are always a time for hansei, and Planet Lean is no exception: as I continue to think of new ways to communicate lean thinking and spread knowledge on it through our publication, I find it useful to look back at the content we ran in the past 12 months and highlight some of my favourite articles.

One of the most enjoyable things about asking my interviewees about the lean transformations of their companies is that, more than anything else, the change they are trying to bring is about people. I love to hear people’s stories, which is why I was delighted to publish lean leaders’ profiles throughout 2016. Some of my favourite articles in this series were the profiles on Terry O’Donoghue, a former VP with Toyota South Africa who is now using his 30-year experience to turn around a chain of car dealerships; Rosa Simon, Quality Director at the Garraf hospital near Barcelona (one of the best examples of lean healthcare I have come across); and Carlos Frederico Pinto, the CEO of a cancer treatment center in Brazil, whose commitment to learning at the gemba is truly galvanizing.

As you know, Planet Lean strives to share gemba-based stories full of practical advice that, we hope, people can apply to their work. Catherine Chabiron’s new series Notes from the Gemba is a perfect example of this: here, she shares her account of a recent gemba walk at a crane manufacturer in Germany.

I have also loved our case studies this year: they were testament to how far lean thinking has come since it first appeared two and a half decades ago. We have featured so many companies this year that selecting my favourite was really hard: I would have liked to pick them all, but forced myself to stick to three. Eventually, I went for a mine, a hospital and a broadcasting company!

The team at Kinross’ gold mine in Round Mountain, Nevada were able to undertake a successful transformation in an absolutely unique setting with unique challenges.

Siena’s university hospital in Italy was completely turned around thanks to the extraordinary commitment of the front-line to bring local improvements that, put together, had a huge impact on the overall organization, transforming its culture. I was lucky enough to be invited to their Lean Day two weeks ago, a celebration of the work people have done to improve the hospital and the outcomes for patients. Spoiler alert: in 2017 Planet Lean will run a series in partnership with the hospital, in which the practitioners will tell us about the projects they have run.

For the third case, we need to travel north to Finland, where national broadcasting company YLE has been able to scale up agile by leveraging lean thinking. This is a great example of how approaches and ways of thinking that are seemingly far from one another can actually come together to create incredible results. Read about it here. For more on how lean can be used to fuel a digital transformation, you might also want to read Regis Médina’s article.

This year also marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of Lean Thinking, by Jim Womack and Dan Jones. Back in September I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Jim and Dan to ask them about the creation of the book, the research work they did, the impact the publication has had and a few secrets from behind the scenes. Find the interview here.

I believe that Planet Lean’s content variety reflects the diversity of the lean community, while demonstrating how much lean thinking has spread around the world and across industries. Two of my favorite articles in this sense are: Re-Engineering Engineering by Stéphane Moreau and Frédéric Masson, which told the story of how French automotive supplier ACS transformed its engineering department (a complete turnaround, during which the organization was able to develop a full-fledged process for innovation); and Navigating Lean Change in a Financial Department, an interview with former Wiremold CFO Orry Fiume, who gave us the lowdown on lean in accounting.

Indeed, we now have dozens of examples of companies that are trying their best to change and improve, and their work is worth celebrating.

At the same time, however, we don’t want to get complacent. It’s important – I think – to reflect on the things that don’t go well. In fact, that is often where the greatest learning’s are to be found. It is a sad thing when a company fails to deliver on a promise it’s made to its customers, and when that happens it’s important to understand why – which is what Boaz Tamir tried to do in his column on the recent Wells Fargo scandal. In another important article for Planet Lean in 2016, Dan Riley reflected on a failed lean transformation. Read it carefully to avoid making those same mistakes! Trying to replicate success without analyzing failure will lead you nowhere.

On a similar note, we asked five lean practitioners to tell us about the biggest lean mistakes they have ever made. Check out their interesting answers here, for the first article in the new series we launched this year – One Question, Five Answers.

There is a pattern I have been observing, and a word that (thankfully) is increasingly used in the lean world: learning. The companies that don’t focus on it soon find out their improvement efforts will not be sustainable; those that do will be able to build an ever-stronger foundation for their transformation. In this powerful article, Professor Dan Jones explains why learning should be the core of our lean strategy (because lean is a strategy – not a program, not a project, not a tool, not a tactical move) to develop better products. Look out for Lean Strategy – Using Lean to Create Competitive Advantage, Unleash Innovation, and Deliver Sustainable Growth (co-written by Dan Jones, Michael Ballé, Jacques Chaize and Orry Fiume), out in the spring.

Without leadership, however, we know none of this is possible. We always talk about developing people at the front line, but what should managers do? How should their behaviors change? This year, Wiebe Nijdam offered a step-by-step guide to developing teams and leaders. Changing the interaction between them can truly ignite your transformation.

Some more invaluable insights came from Art Smalley, whom I interviewed in Las Vegas back in March. Art and I discussed leadership at Toyota and the role of management in a lean transformation. Get the scoop here. (In a few weeks, Art is also publishing a new book on problem solving.) For more on how Toyota originally did it, you might want to read Ian Glenday’s series on levelled production – one of his best pieces here.

In another fundamental article, Michael Ballé and Klaus Beulker deconstructed the meaning of “lean culture” and discussed the conditions and leadership behaviors making it possible. Don’t miss these insights – here.

A successful lean turnaround can change lives – you’ll have a taste of this when we take you to a car dealership in Maun, Botswana early in the new year – and I find it particularly satisfying to share this sort of stories on Planet Lean. In 2016 alone, we have featured LEANGO (a NGO that teaches lean thinking and the principles of the circular economy to SMEs in developing countries); a Michigan-based not-for-profit that facilitates organ donation; and a Brazilian hospital that has been using lean to fight dengue epidemics.

These are incredible examples of our way of thinking applied to where it matters most. They make me hopeful for the future, too.

As a year ends and another one begins, feeling hopeful is perhaps the most human of feelings. This begs the question – what is next for lean, then? Sky’s the limit! We have already demonstrated that lean thinking can be applied to any human endeavor with great results, so our next step should be, as ever, to understand the problem(s) we are trying to solve. There are so many! In 2016 we have already started to discuss some of them: back in July, for example, we interviewed urban strategist Boyd Cohen, who talked about running cities as lean startups (cities will be home to 70% of the global population by 2050, which means they already represent one of our biggest challenges). Another issue – “internal” to the lean world – is how we can make ideas like lean spread faster. In this Yokoten column, Jim Womack discussed this critical topic at length. We’ll have to find an answer if we are to reach new horizons as a community. Finally, we are experiencing change that until a few years ago was unimaginable. Drones, driverless cars, digitalization… “Are we approaching the end of work as we know it?” Jim wondered in another one of his columns. Perhaps, and this means that as lean folks we will have to remain aware and open to change.

There is reason for optimism. As long as there are people committed to improving themselves, their workplaces and societies, we have a way of believing that things will gradually get better the world over – no matter the challenges we face. Spreading a mindset based on solving problems using facts (something that people seem to be less and less interested in, now that we are living in what’s already been called the “post-truth era”), on communicating better and on respecting people is the only way forward.

In inviting you to come back to Planet Lean in early January for another year of lean content, I would like to wish you happy holidays, and a 2017 in which all your dreams come true.

Roberto Priolo


Roberto Priolo is a London-based journalist and Managing Editor of Planet Lean. Prior to joining the Lean Global Network and launching Planet Lean, Roberto was editor of Lean Management Journal and associate editor of The Manufacturer magazine. He holds a degree in Political Science from the Università Cattolica in Milan, Italy, and a postgraduate diploma in journalism from the London School of Journalism.