Although The People Side of Lean Thinking was written for leaders and managers, anyone, no matter what their corporate level who wants to positively impact how well the work gets done and how to ensure an engaged workforce, will benefit from reading this book.

The author spent the summer between high school and college working at the historic Ford Motor Company Rouge assembly plant in Dearborn, Michigan making Mustangs. His motivation to succeed in college was greatly enhanced from this experience. At the same time, however, he was productively exposed to the rigors of manual labor, fast production schedules, mandatory overtime, the dance of management and labor, dirt, noise, darkness and grime, and the high cost of mistakes (he once welded a part to the assembly line rather than on it).

Since then, he has been a front-line worker, manager and leader, and an independent performance enhancement consultant. What Bob has learned about people, about Lean Thinking, and about leaders and followers will provide you with considerable insight into how people work together to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Learning and using the tools and concepts presented here will help you to become the kind of leader the world needs you to be.

The book is divided into four parts. The first, Prepare the People, is focused on what every business should be doing to enable employees to thrive in a supportive environment.

Second is Respect the People. This section covers the importance of paying attention to the human element as process improvement change initiatives are being put into place.

The next section is Grow the People. Continuous development of employees should be taking place in concert with continuous process improvement. When employees are growing, the business will be growing.

The last portion is More to Do. These are topics that will round out your people side skills for the benefit of your employees and your paying customers.

Each section is further divided into stand-alone topics. You can extrapolate this information to your business and see with your own eyes what can be accomplished. You will also learn how to productively enlist the eyes of others to help everyone find and eliminate waste and create new ways to increase customer value.


Customers believe that the products and services you offer have value. They are willing to drive through the rain, wander up and down aisles, stand in a checkout line and open their wallets. If your customers are patients, they’re willing to put even their lives in your hands. Truly understand what your customers value and your business has a good chance of success.

Similarly, employees are willing to endure bumper to bumper commutes, interminable meetings, a gulped-down lunch and at times obnoxious co-workers to pocket that paycheck at the end of the week. Understand what your employees value and your business has an increased chance of success.

The theme of this book is that employees are customers too; that they are just as important for success as paying customers and that treating them as well as paying customers will significantly improve business. This philosophy can be put simply:
The company is loyal to employees.
Employees are loyal to customers.
Customers are loyal to the company.

A sub-theme of this book is a Lean Thinking rule-of-thumb: Most processes contain at least 50 percent waste. If we apply this rule to day-to-day management, you can see the issue. This management waste is magnified when implementing any change—but especially with a quality change like Lean Thinking. Ordinarily, we pay people to do their jobs, not focus on improving them. We will strive to make every employee a change agent, someone who is on the constant lookout for ways to eliminate waste and to add value.

The general focus of this book is Lean Thinking, although it could have been any change effort. Change adds wide-ranging pressure on all leaders and managers exacerbating everyday errors and omissions. If and when recognized, these missteps can be addressed, but more likely they are missed and mistakes multiply.

Anyone working with others can use the ideas, tools and concepts covered here. However, the book assumes some familiarity with Lean Thinking and the Toyota Production System. If you don’t have working knowledge of this area, Google will be your friend; use it often. You may have to do the same with other topics we will cover by accessing some of the references along the way. Terms with a different font when first used can be found in the glossary.

Lean experts abound who believe that implementing Lean is most effectively begun during a crisis. The idea is that management rushes in when a platform catches on fire, teaches the tools of Lean, applies them and achieves fantastic success; then this new way takes hold. Implementing Lean during a crisis or to avert one is usually a good idea. However, this approach is unnecessary and may cause additional problems such as resistance to the changes, conflicts and good people leaving.

Lean Thinking does not depend on a burning platform, a siege environment, a “for us or against us” mentality or roaming the halls looking for late adopters.

Lean and other change efforts can work without such dramatics if you include employees in the right way. This means enlisting their help to define a grander and more emotionally compelling future and together finding the best ways of getting there.

Motivation is a dual concept; on one hand motivation is moving away from a negative and on the other it is moving toward a positive. Psychosocial research clearly supports that it is more motivating to move toward a positive goal than it is to avoid a negative situation. If that motivation is intrinsic as well as extrinsic, then all the better.

Change guru John Kotter emphasizes creating a sense of urgency to promote change. This is accomplished best when employees understand the problem and focus on the positives of the opportunity rather than the negatives of the problem.

Since human interactions are multi-faceted, a second sub-theme of this book is to make the invisible visible and the complex transparent. We will examine clearly defined, concrete, step-by-step behavioral models and tools to manage employees, including problem-solving, directing, team building and discipline.

An important Lean Thinking concept is visual control. We will apply this to leadership by using lists, formulas and models whenever we can.

Implementing Lean Thinking poorly will result in employees feeling that their work is not currently adequate, that it may never be adequate, and that if this change effort continues, they will eventually lose their jobs.

If you manage the process well, however, implementing Lean Thinking will enable every employee to know that their work has value. Managing well means that employees define their work as adding value for the customer, value for their coworkers and value for themselves. An added benefit is that they will enjoy their jobs, identify waste and continually improve how the work gets done.

However, many people dislike the term “waste” for non-value added activity. Even the term “non-value added” is irritating and frustrating when applied to the work someone has been doing for years. Although for the most part in this book I have retained the classic terms to ensure clarity, together we could begin the convention of using “L activities” for any behavior that has been designed to add value for paying customers and employees and “NL (for non-lean) activities” that would fit the current definition of non-value added, waste or any action that hasn’t focused on customer value. Word usage can be critical. It’s all about people.

Our goal is that you become a better leader and manager by constantly eliminating your NL activities and helping employees add value with theirs.

Finally, the ultimate goal of the people side of Lean Thinking is fulfilling human potential, congruent with the goal of perfection for continuous improvement. What would fulfilling human potential look like? How would you do it? Do you think how you lead today could get close to fulfilling the human potential of your employees? Make some of the changes suggested in this book; you may be pleasantly surprised.

Seek perfection in your processes, in your employees and in your leadership no matter what your level.