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Just-In-Time Cafe Podcast, Episode 5 - Journey Into the Lean World With Lean Expert and Author Mike Osterling -

This month we’ll visit with noted Lean author, and reluctant star, Mike Osterling and find out how he got his start in process improvement.

We’ll tell you about a game that actually makes you smarter. We’ll find out why a North Carolina municipality is winning awards and, finally, we’ll tell you about one of the best “How To” books in the Lean world, The Kaizen Event Planner, which provides all the guidance and tools you could possibly need to run a Rapid Improvement Event. Skip the decaf and join us at the Cafe for some full strength Lean java!

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Tools Referenced

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Just-In-Time Cafe,’s official podcast, where we help you build your problem solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500, to small and medium size business, to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Elizabeth: Hey, Tracy. We’re back.

Tracy: Hey, Elizabeth. How are you?

Elizabeth: I’m good. I’m good. I’m psyched because I know there’s a new menu today.

Tracy: Yes, there is. So how about we talk about what that is going to look like our little menu?

Elizabeth: Let’s go to the private dining room which we love. And I already made two coffees for us so I’m going to bring those. Can you grab the menu?

Tracy: You are so efficient. I already have two menus.

Elizabeth: I’m not efficient. I’m kind.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Tracy: OK. So let’s look at what we’ve got going over today. We have a few really cool things coming up. We’ve got a game that makes you smarter.

Elizabeth: Those are always good.

Tracy: We’re going to find out why a tiny North Carolina municipality is winning awards.

Elizabeth: Cool.

Tracy: Yes, that’s a good one. We’re going to cover a foundational Lean book that gives us the secrets to rapid improvement events otherwise known as Kaizen.

Elizabeth: Cool. Very nice. Everybody needs those.

Tracy: I know. I love them.

Elizabeth: And then today’s Q&A leads us to say that rules are meant to be broken. What do you think of that?

Tracy: I think we should all enforce that.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: Enforce breaking rules.

Elizabeth: And lastly, today’s special is an interview with a quality hero who is so humble he’ll probably make us erase the word hero.

Tracy: I know. He probably will. He does not want to be considered a hero. He’s just here to have fun.

Elizabeth: You’re so right. You’re so right.

Appetizer: Quizlet

Tracy: All right. Well, let’s hear what’s on the menu for our appetizer.

Elizabeth: OK. So this is a new app. As I said, it helps us learn and it’s called Quizlet. And what’s interesting about this is this came initially when I was reading the book, How We Learn by Benedict Carey. We’ll have a link to that. But that was a fascinating to me because it kind of dispelled a lot of beliefs that I had about learning, some simple ones like if you read a book then you should know the topic or if you underline.

Remember highlighters? Highlighters from school, if you highlight your text, that helps you learn it. And all of these were dispelled. He did a lot of tests. He drew on other people’s tests and he found that what really works is testing yourself. So being able to quiz yourself to test whether you understand the topic actually embeds the topic and gives you good and better recall.

So if you really want to have content recall, you’ve got to quiz yourself. And that’s where this app is really helpful. This basically allows you to create your own flashcards, these online flashcards. And then you just quiz yourself. And we’ve got a version of it up online. It’s free. Always a good thing about apps, this one is free.

If you really want to have content recall, you’ve got to quiz yourself.

We’ve got it online on our site where we’ve loaded it with all of Lean Six Sigma vocabulary so that you can quiz yourself either looking at the definition and guessing the term or looking at the term and being able to describe it. Either way, you can use those to embed Lean Six Sigma concepts. You’ve checked that out, right?

Tracy: Yeah, I love them too. And I think what’s really great is, people learn differently. Everybody learns differently. I just have this discussion with my seventh grader because he doesn’t really know how to study for a quiz yet. He is learning that. And it’s kind of interesting to watch him process how he’s going to actually study for a test, believe it or not. And it’s things like these that really make it fun and a lot easier to learn the concepts. And the quizzing yourself part of it is a great tool for anyone, not just seventh graders obviously but for adults too.

Elizabeth: Yeah, and faster. So this is like embeds the topics fast. And obviously, this is big in education. They’ve got another app I was reading about called Kahoot! And this is really cool because you can have multiple choices. You can add videos, images, diagrams so you can up the engagement. So good tools, good for the mind. It’s great.

Tracy: Yes.

Bulletin Board

Elizabeth: So up next, we have our bulletin board. Tracy?

Tracy: Yes. So in the news, we have some really exciting stuff. We are both reading about this and we both said, “Oh, we should really talk about that as part of our podcast.” And it’s about a little municipality in Pinehurst, North Carolina. And what’s really exciting about this municipality is that they’ve actually received the second highest honor for overall performance with the National Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award.

And so, for those of you that are not familiar with that, it’s basically a program that recognizes organizations in business, in healthcare, education or nonprofit and government for performance excellence. And it was created actually in 1987 by the Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige. And it’s a highly coveted award in terms of quality and it’s not easy to get this award. It’s actually pretty difficult.

And so, this municipality, Pinehurst, actually has received what they call Level 3. It’s pretty extraordinary. And it’s very rare as well for a municipality of this size to get such an award. So it’s pretty exciting that they’re doing. My favorite is continuous improvement in government because I think there’s a lot of Americans, let’s say, who feel like there’s a lot of let’s just say, it’s a target rich environment for process improvement.

So I think it’s great that they’re actually making strides to do continuous improvement. And obviously, something that’s measurable. It’s not necessarily – Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award is something that – it’s just not like, “Oh yeah, sounds good to me!” They have pretty measurable objectives that they’re looking for. And so, it’s really exciting to see that they’re doing some of this work.

Elizabeth: I’m with you. And I think we recently talked about the city of Louisville is doing this, not this particular award but they’re applying process improvement to the whole city. So it is amazing that a little tiny municipality of 15,000 people is doing it and winning awards. But also, it gives me hope. I mean back to, I know it’s your favorite topic, applying government, but this affects all of us. And the more of this that happens, the better for us as human beings.

And I think about in my little town, some of our frustrations, I talked to a neighbor who said they got a call from the Conservation Commission basically saying they’re going to fine her because she had cut a lot of brush close to the water without getting permission. And she said, “Actually, that was done by mosquito control and their office is next door to you.” So they’re not talking. There’s no handing glove there.

And another recent example, a young couple starting up a new restaurant and waiting weeks for an appointment they had to get their last certificate approved and nobody showed up. She ran down to city hall. She ran from room to room to make sure that they could launch as planned. So because she made the diving catch and played the hero, she got through. But that shouldn’t happen. That shouldn’t happen in the town. So I am inspired by this, Tracy. The more I see – my town is only twice the size of Pinehurst. If they can do it, we can do it, right?

Tracy: Absolutely. And I think the only thing that I was a little – I thought, “Well, maybe they can improve that,” is the application is 50 pages long. So I’m hoping that maybe they improve that as part of the process so that others maybe would – I think there’s a lot of things going on. I just think that sometimes people don’t want to take the time to actually apply.

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: So hopefully, that could be a possible process improvement as well.

Elizabeth: I agree with you. And that was one of the things that was interesting because looking for specifically what it meant because as you say, this is Level 3. They’ve just put the infrastructure in Pinehurst. They haven’t completed. They are going for the next level award, which is going to be tougher. But they’ve already discovered things because they are using objective data to make decisions.

So one thing was they had an assumption that they were retirement community. That’s just who they were so they operated and made decisions based on that. But the date showed the total influx of young professionals and their families. And that’s going to change the kinds of things they offer and what they do. So they are already sort of changing their mission, changing their direction which is really cool to see.

Tracy: That really is. It’s exciting to hear about that kind of progress in government.

Elizabeth: In government.

Tracy: Yes. So we share and publish fresh weekly information and news in our blog section on our website at So just go ahead and check it out.

Elizabeth: Yeah, these are good articles. I love going over these. So up next, we got tools of the trade. Tracy is going to start us off with a new book or with actually an established and great book, The Kaizen Event Planner.

Tools of the Trade: The Kaizen Event Planner

Tracy: Yes. I’m really excited about this book. As a matter of fact, this was the book that actually introduced me to the authors, Mike Osterling and Karen Martin. And I was reading this book in a hotel and I loved it. I actually loved that it’s so – there’s a lot of standard work for Kaizen events in this book and they really make it concrete in terms of how organized that you need to be and should be and how much work it takes to actually be very planned, have a very well-organized event.

And I think often, people don’t take the time to be this organized. So I really like that about it. But I have to say, I read the book, I was in a hotel somewhere in the country. I don’t know where. And I go to the back and I say, “Oh my gosh! The authors live in San Diego, my hometown.” And I said, “You know what? I’m calling them. I’m going to give them a call.” And so I called Mike Osterling when I got home and I said, “Hey, you don’t know me from Joe but I would love to have a cup of Joe with you.”

So I thought, “Oh, this guy is not going to call me.” So he calls me and I said, “I’d love to meet with you. I’m a Lean person. I’m in process improvement. I’d love to have a cup of coffee.” And he said, “Sure. Let’s meet.” And I got to meet him for the first time and we’ve had a great professional relationship since then. And of course, I did bring my book for him to sign. So …

Elizabeth: Oh, super fan trick.

Tracy: And now, I just – I teach, I co-teach with Mike at San Diego State in the Lean Enterprise Program and he is a great guy and I also know Karen Martin and she is wonderful, very organized and such driver of process improvement all over the world.

Elizabeth: You’re good. You’re brazen, Tracy. I can’t believe you just called him right up and went and met. But look at that. What an incredible legacy that led to all kinds of connections and great work that affected your hometown. So that’s nice.

Tracy: Yes.

Elizabeth: For me, it was a first. It was my first book report, which sounds totally dorky but what I found and this was also back to how we learn that I would read books and I would have no ability shortly thereafter to describe what the heck I got from that book to somebody who asked me, which was depressing. I spent a lot of time reading that book. I want something to show for it.

So I said I’m going to write a book report when I finished a book. And during the book, I’m going to keep notes when things strike me, a quote, kind of looking at the overarching structure of it. So here’s what my first book report and I took great stuff from that. It also meant that I’ve really held that learning and I appreciate it because I feel like the Kaizen and rapid improvement events are very basic to our world, having these, these have been powerful forces for good for, I don’t even know how many companies, nonprofits everywhere.

So great detail. I love his focus as you said about upfront planning. I love some of his quotes and I’ve heard you used this one differently but, “Creativity before capital.” Use your brain. Use the technique before you apply cash. You always say, “Creativity before cash.” But this is the first time I read that and it really struck me. So he gives you this detailed roadmap which I really appreciate.

Use your brain. Use the technique before you apply cash. You always say, “Creativity before cash.” But this is the first time I read that and it really struck me.

He also gave a great example that struck home with me. He said, “Here’s an example. What if each employee wastes 10 minutes searching for documents on a shared drive?” And man, that struck home. I can remember so many times working with a class, working with a team and we’ll say, “Where’s the documentation for this?” And they’ll say, “Oh, it’s on the D drive.” And everybody’s eyes roll or they groan and go, “Ugh! We’ll never going to find it.” Because there’s no way to find anything on that shared drive, so I really know that this is a common problem.

You add that up, that’s 41.7 hours per employee per year. So if you then take that and say, all right. $22 an hour on average, 1,500 employees. That’s $1.4 million of potential cash avoidance in a year. That’s huge.

Tracy: Yes, that is.

Elizabeth: And that spoke volumes to me. I realized there are such nuggets everywhere that you think are inconsequential but when you add them up make a big deal. So that was a big learning for me and I appreciate it and that’s all started with The Kaizen Event Planner.

Tracy: Yes. And I read a lot of books. I have to say I’m a pretty avid reader for as busy as I am. I’m always reading something and I’m a fast reader too. So, I’ll finish a book on an airplane, a flight home or what have you. But I think what stands out for me for this book as well is out of the books I’ve read, there have been two books that I just went to over and over and over using the tools and the templates, and this is one of those books.

The other one I have to say was the Six Sigma Way Field Handbook by Pete Pande. And I was just using that in a lot of my clients to say, “Oh, you should read this book.” Or I would just reference it. I go, “Well, here’s a great workshop if you need help with facilitating a fishpond diagram. It has step-by-step what you need to do.”

The Kaizen Event Planner, I found I did the same thing. People would say, “Oh, we’re going to have a Kaizen event.” And I would ask them, “Have you heard about The Kaizen Event Planner? We should look at some of these tools,” because a lot of people didn’t have the standard work ready. And I just found that it was one of those books that I was constantly leveraging with my clients to use the templates and to be more organized about Kaizen events. And so, I have to say only two books out of literally hundreds of books that I read.

Elizabeth: Yeah, that speaks volumes right there, volumes being another name for books. OK. That was great. So up next, we’ve got our special request. Tracy, what question are we answering today?

Special Request

Tracy: So today, we had a question on our website and I’m going to go ahead and read it because it is a little long but it is I think related to some of the topics we were talking about with government. So this inquiry says:

“I’m working for a large nonprofit agency in Philadelphia, serving the elderly. We are highly influenced and/or obligated to follow state and federal regulations that we cannot change, control, or even influence. So how does one restructure an agency to incorporate the Lean portion of Lean Six Sigma while adhering to current regulations which can at times be counterproductive to eliminate waste and other initiatives?”

So it’s kind of a long question but I think the reason why I picked this is because I do get this a lot because I’ve been spending a lot of time in government and people feel a little immobilized at times to say, “We are highly regulated. We can’t apply process improvement.”

But I have found that in a lot of instances, there can be a lot of application because people have been saying that for years, “We can improve it. We can improve it. We’re tied. Our hands are tied.” But what I have found is where there’s big opportunity is how people believe they can fulfill those requirements.

So often, someone will read a compliance code and say, “Oh, this is how we have to do it.” And they’ll create a 20-step process that they have to follow. But in actuality, if you really look at the code, only four of those steps are needed but 20 process steps were created. So often, we can challenge how we choose to fulfill a requirement or a code or some sort of compliance and we don’t do that enough.

They’ll create a 20-step process that they have to follow. But in actuality, if you really look at the code, only four of those steps are needed but 20 process steps were created.

A great example is, I was working with a county organization who is a group that we’d have fictitious business name certificates filed and they were having a 55% rejection rate. So, people would submit a request, an application for a fictitious business name and one out of two times, more than one out of two times you were going to be rejected. So they were spending a lot of time sending the forms back. Their staff were spending hours looking at rejects and reprocessing them. And they really felt like, “Well, our hands are tied. We can’t do anything to improve that.”

But in actuality, what happened is the new supervisor came in and said, “You know, I think we can do something. Let’s look at the application.” I was like, “No, no, no. You can’t change the application.” Well, guess what? There were some pieces of the application that they were able to change so they changed those pieces that they could control and they actually implemented a new form and their reject rate went down to under 5%.

Elizabeth: Wow!

Tracy: So like that’s a great example of make sure you fulfill the code and the compliance or the requirement. But how do you also make it efficient and effective? But there’s a lot of opportunity but I think most people just – they don’t want to touch it so they don’t think you can actually improve it.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I feel like people are so driven by forms. And I know that especially in government processes, there are regulations. But they’ll often just – and sometimes everyone knows the regulation. They’ll say, “Oh, Reg. 22. No, we can’t do the Reg. 22.” And it’s a new thing when you say, “Can we actually take a look at Reg. 22?”

Tracy: Exactly.

Elizabeth: Have we looked at that in the last year or ever? So yeah, it comes almost mythic that people just assume that can never happen. And as you found, well, some of it couldn’t and some of it could that made a humongous difference. So that’s great. That’s a great example. I love it.

Tracy: Yeah. I mean the favorite question that we started having at this one organization was, what was the code actually say?

Elizabeth: It’s a trigger question, right? What does it really say? That’s great. Nice example. Thank you for that one, Tracy.

Up next, we have today’s special. Tracy, this is an interview with Mike Osterling. Tell us a little bit about that.

Tracy: I know. I was so excited that Mike Osterling accepted our invitation to interview for our Just-In-Time Café. So again, he’s the author of three books and obviously, the author of The Kaizen Event Planner with Karen Martin. And I really like him. He’s an all-around good guy and he’s going to talk a little bit about how we got started. And also, he was one of the founders of the San Diego Lean Enterprise Program that has now been running for 16 years. So he talks a little bit about that too. And I’m really excited to hear him and just have him join us in the café today.

Elizabeth: Awesome. Stay tuned.

Today’s Special: Interview with Lean Expert and Author Mike Osterling

Tracy: Hi everybody! And welcome to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Tracy and I’m here with one of my most favorite people today, Mike Osterling. Do you want to say hi?

Mike: Hi! Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, wherever you may be. Tracy, it’s great to be here. Thanks for the opportunity to share and talk.

Tracy: Yes, good. So, let me tell you a little bit of how I met Mike. So I actually read one of his books. It was called The Kaizen Event Planner. I was on a business trip and I was reading this book and I discovered that Mike Osterling lived in San Diego, my hometown. So, I read the book and when I got home, I called him on the phone and asked him if he want to meet for a cup of coffee. That’s how we got started in working together and getting to know Mike.

So Mike, that’s just one of your books that you’ve written. You’ve also written the Value Stream Mapping. And you’ve also written the Metrics-Based Process Mapping book too.

Mike: Right.

Tracy: So, tell the audience a little bit about yourself because you’ve done a lot of things and I couldn’t even do it as well as you.

Mike: Sure, I love to. Well, I’m a husband. I’m a father of two boys. I’ve actually been doing this Lean stuff for as a structured way of thinking and working and getting through life for about 20 years. So my two boys have had the fortune or misfortune of growing up with a Lean daddy although I try not to do this too much to them at home. But they’re 18 and 20 years old and they’re in college. So that’s a little bit about myself on the personal side.

From a professional side, I’m an independent consultant. I’ve been at it for about 15 years. Before that, I work for a company called Square D or Schneider Electric in a bunch of different roles over 18 years. I think I worked in five different facilities and got to dip my toe into a lot of different parts of the business. So that’s kind of my background as a consultant.

I’ve been helping companies on their process improvement, operational excellence, Lean journey, whatever label we want to put on it but just helping organizations get better. And I’ve been lucky enough to play around in a whole bunch of different environments.

Tracy: Yes. So what do you do for fun, Mike?

Mike: What do I do for fun? I mountain bike. I enjoy rocket ball. I love music. I love spending time with my family. Actually on the music front, just a couple of weeks ago, I pulled out my turntable. I pulled out all my old vinyl and I got everything all hooked up. So I’ve actually been enjoying listening to some blown that dust off some old vinyl and listen in to music from my pre-CD and pre-MP3 days.

Tracy: Wow! That’s impressive. How many albums do you have?

Mike: I think somewhere around 300 or 400 and I don’t have them on digital. So it’s actually been kind of fun just spending time with friends and reminiscing.

Tracy: Cool.

Mike: Yeah.

Tracy: And are you kids into it to?

Mike: My kids have always been into music. They’re not musicians. I’m not a musician. But they’ve always been into music and seems like it goes through waves when they like dad’s music and when they like their stuff. But as long as they enjoy music, that’s what’s good for me. And they like listening to the old stuff too, so that’s good. Yeah.

Tracy: So they know what when you say you sound like a broken record, they really actually know.

Mike: Yes, they know that on both fronts with what a broken record is dad and what hip and what scratches and pop sound like as well.

Tracy: Alright. So you said you got started in process improvement at Square D.

Mike: Right.

Tracy: Right. So tell us a little bit about how that happened?

Mike: It’s actually pretty interesting. I’m going to say I actually got into this Lean stuff long before that. My dad is a civil engineer. I’m one of eight kids and I feel like I grow up in an environment of cheaper by the two-thirds of a dozen because there were so many things growing up that my dad did. I mean believe it or not, he had shadow boards.

Believe it or not, we had visual management in the house whether it was tasks or where we were or what our responsibilities were. And so this stuff was kind of latent in me. Of course, as soon as I moved out of my parent’s house, I left all that stuff behind until I got into a professional work type environment.

And I got my undergrad degree in Production Operations Management. I got my Master’s degree in International Management. And one of my professors, Dr. Chen, at San Diego State University was really into this Japanese production techniques and this is in the early ‘80s. And I was working at Square D when I was getting my Master’s degree and it was kind of cool because I was taking some of these tools and I was definitely thinking of it as in terms tools. I was taking some of these tools and putting them to work or putting them in place at work.

And so, I think I did my first kanban system probably in 1985 or 1987 or something like that. But it was just a kanban system and it wasn’t a way of running a business. It was a way to execute a task.

And so then in the late – well actually, the mid-‘90s, one of the VPs at Square D was out visiting us and he has asked if we’d ever heard of this Toyota production system stuff. And long story short, he said, “You guys should check this out.” We went out on a field trip, a handful of us from the operation, from the leadership team, went on a field trip, saw some facilities and just – it changed my life. I think that was in 1995, 1996. Totally changed my life.

And in a period of a week, I was like, “Holy cow! We’ve been working hard. We’ve been doing some really good stuff. But we’ve been missing the boat.” And I came back and talked to my boss, Ed Breckie, who ran a couple of the operations in the area and said, “Ed, if you want to do this stuff, I’d love to be on board.”

That point in time, I was running the facility that had about 200 people in it. Two months later, Ed goes, “Mike, you asked for it. You got it. You don’t have the plant anymore. Figure out where we’re going.”

Tracy: Wow! That’s impressive.

Mike: Yeah. It was fun. It was a lot of fun. And I give Ed all the credit in the world because for the next six years, he led but he gave up a whole lot of freedom and also latitude to myself and the rest of the team to figure out what we were doing, how we could do it better, and let us do it. And we just totally transformed the business.

I remember joking with Ed one time and says, “It seems like we spent the last five years on doing what we did the previous ten.”

Tracy: So, what was it that blew your mind? I mean obviously, there are a lot of concepts about Lean and there’s lots to learn, but what was it that really resonated with you when you did that visit, you went on that tour?

Mike: So we went to a Black & Decker facility in Carretero, Mexico. And we saw, and this is a facility that was making irons for consumer products like for ironing clothes. And they did everything from casting. I forget what they call it. It’s like this whole plate, the hot part of the iron. They actually cast those in the operation and then did final assembly.

And what we saw was what they had done in the previous I want to say nine months, where they’d freed up probably half of the space of the operation. And we heard the operators described to us how they went through that transformation. And mind you again, this is not derogatory at all, but this is in Mexico. It’s in a large facility. And in our mind, lots of times we think of, “Okay, so it’s a very autocratic work culture. The boss tells everybody what to do.”

And then I had worked in Mexico and so I was kind of familiar with what that tradition or style of running an operation was. And to hear frontline operators described what they’ve been doing and the excitement and the passion in their voice was just like, “Holy cow! This is so different. It’s not what I learned in school.” Even though we’ve integrated some things that I had learned in school but it was just a completely different way of running a business. I came back and literally that week changed my life.

Tracy: Wow! So what I want to know is, how did you make the transition from working at Square D to become a consultant? Was that your next step in the path?

Mike: Well, I was very, very lucky. Again, Ed Breckie was – I have incredible amount of respect for Ed. We started getting into this Lean stuff. I feel like the first six months that I had my new job title, Ed basically was putting me on sabbatical almost because he said, “Go figure this stuff out.” And I went to different operations. I was trying to pull companies out of the woodwork. So mind you, this is 1997-ish. And I’m trying to find companies in Northern Mexico and in Southern California that are doing this stuff.

And so, I actually connected with one of the local MEPs, which was Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is part of the NEST Program and at that point in time, there was one of the MEPs located here in San Diego and they agreed to sponsor what we called a Special Interest Group.

And so, we were getting together once a month and I was finding speakers and it was very informal. It was free. The MEP sponsored the meetings, which was very generous of them. And we were just – as I would find people, it’s in the early days of email. I mean the internet was kind of there but it was hard to find anything on the internet but you could stay connected through email and stuff. And so, we started a user group and we were having 40, 50, 60 people show up every month to listen to different company stories.

And so, I’m still working. I’m doing the Special Interest Group, the SIG thing on the side. It can take that much time and energy but it was pulling people out of the woodwork. And at one of these meetings, somebody from San Diego State showed up. And they were from Extended Studies. And they asked myself and this other gentleman, Raju Deshpande, a guy I have an incredible amount of respect for. I learned so much from Raju. They asked us if we would put together a certificate program for Lean at the Extended Studies at San Diego State.

So that was 1999 at this point in time or 1998 at that point in time. And so Raju and I put that together. I asked Ed if I could teach and take time off and teach and he said, “That’s fine. You can do that.” Because it was a daytime program. And I started getting exposed to different companies and companies were asking me for help because I had some experience. And so, Ed let me go part-time. And I was three quarters time at Square D and a quarter time on the side. I was helping other companies.

So long story short, another very long story, but I gradually kind of eased out of working at Square D and going into consulting. So I don’t think most people have that luxury but I was very fortunate, worked for a great guy. Ed had the mindset, “Boy, if you’re doing that stuff and helping other companies, there’s so much you’re going to learn. You think you’re teaching? You’re learning.”

Tracy: Right.

Mike: Just bring it back.

Tracy: So you mentioned the San Diego State Lean Enterprise Program and that is still running. As a matter of fact, I hear that is one of the most successful longest running programs for Lean because it has been going what? Sixteen years now.

Mike: Sixteen years.

Tracy: And your role in that is you’re running it right now.

Mike: Well, I would not say I’m running it. I’m a faculty adviser, a Lean instructor or something like that. Marc Myers runs it. You know Marc.

Tracy: Yes.

Mike: And it’s actually a collaboration of a whole bunch of us. I mean there’s about 4 or 5 different instructors which is great because you get all these different perspectives and we contradict each other, which is fantastic because we get people thinking. We don’t want people to just come in there and say, “I’m going to do this because Mike told me to do it or Joe told me to do it.” They kind of go through and say, “Well, Mike said this and Joe said and Rick said that.” And they’re going to figure out, “How do I apply that in my own environment?”

We don’t want people to just come in there and say, “I’m going to do this because Mike told me to do it or Joe told me to do it.” They kind of go through and say, “Well, Mike said this and Joe said and Rick said that.” And they’re going to figure out, “How do I apply that in my own environment?”

In addition to that core of instructors and of course the support crew behind the scenes at San Diego State, there’s a really wonderful advisory board that represents a bunch of different industries in the region. So it’s a fun program. People love it and we got graduation this week for the current semester and we got people there from the San Diego Zoo. We got people there from some traditional manufacturing companies. We got people there from a large commercial construction, and that’s a really cool cross-section. You know all of this.

Tracy: I know, yes. And it’s sold out again.

Mike: It’s a sellout.

Tracy: It’s a sellout. So that’s great.

Mike: And we think it’s for a good reason. We evolved with the times.

Tracy: Yes.

Mike: It’s a very different program than it was 16 years ago.

Tracy: So tell me, when did you get the book authoring bug? Or how did that go? Because you’re now an author of three.

Mike: Right.

Tracy: And are you – do you have any books that might be coming out? What you missed is he put his hand to his head like he was shooting himself. So I guess that’s a no. So tell me about – tell me a little bit about the whole authoring process, writing the books, publishing the books. I mean you are a successful author. You’ve got some great books for the Lean community and industry and I’d love to hear about how that went.

Mike: Sure! I mean authoring books is a very interesting process. Number one, foremost, I want to share that I really don’t think of myself as being the author of these books. I think of myself as being the co-author. Karen Martin gets the credit for conceiving the ideas, for twisting my arm and getting me to do this. Karen is an incredibly passionate writer and she is really – she is a deep thinker. She is an incredibly intelligent lady.

And writing the books has been a really interesting process. The first book that we put together was The Kaizen Event Planner. And Karen ran a bunch of Kaizen events primarily in the office side. I had ran a bunch of Kaizen events primarily on, I want to say, about 50/50 between manufacturing and business process type stuff. And writing the book forced us to really think deeply about what worked and what didn’t work in facilitating these events. And I think we had two or three restarts on writing that book because we were trying to think of, so how do we memorialize – what’s the standard work for putting together a Kaizen event?

Tracy: Yes.

Mike: And we had notes and we had checklist and we each had our own things and all of that. But we really hadn’t thought through everything. The mechanics, yeah, the preparation, the thinking, the how do we change mindsets, we kind of knew it. We believed we knew it.

Tracy: Yeah.

Mike: But boy! Writing the book forced us to really have a lot of deep conversations.

Tracy: I bet.

Mike: Yeah.

Tracy: And it’s a thick book. I mean it’s very robust I think. I’ve used it myself and of course, that’s how I found you. So I love it. And you’re right. I think being a consultant and doing all that work, separating style from the actual work and then how important it is to have that standard work, so important.

Mike: Yeah.

Tracy: So it helped me in a lot of places.

Mike: That’s great to hear. And thank you. And we still hear from folks that it works and the Value Stream Mapping book was really interesting. I should point out that both The Kaizen Event Planner and the Value Stream Mapping book, we tried to write them to fill a void. And one of those voids was there’s not a whole lot out there that looks at things from the front office, back office, knowledge-work type perspective. And there is a lot of stuff out there from a manufacturing perspective. And so, we wanted to look at it from those – from that point of view to help people that are facing those types of challenges and those types of environments be more successful.

Tracy: So, I did mention earlier that Mike is one of my favorite people. And the reason why is because you’re so humble. I mean you have so much knowledge and you’re always this forever student. You’re always looking at things from a student perspective and I can learn from this and I love that. And so, what I want to know is what – you’ve mentioned already people that have come in your path that you really appreciate, Ed, Karen, Raju. Is there anyone else that you feel like really influenced you on the path of learning Lean and applying Lean or had a really big impact on you?

Mike: Not a single person I can think of.

Mike: Of course, there are countless people that we get influenced by. I get a lot of my influence from books and it seems like it’s not every book that I read trips a trigger. A lot of the books that I read reinforced things, which is really, really good because I don’t retain everything I learn so it’s good to have those things reinforced or put in a different perspective and a different – and it adds to what we know and it adds to what we can share with our clients.

But I’ve read a couple of books I just off the top of my head maybe eight years ago when Managing to Learn came out. That was just whoa! It twisted my mind in a very, very good way. There was another – actually, there was a video from Shayari of manufacturing engineering called Right-Sized Equipment which was really cool, different perspective on what are the considerations that we take into account when we’re designing equipment. And it has some good, interesting history on Toyota and the guys coming over in the ’40s and the ‘50s, going to the steels of West Virginia to learn this concept of moon shining.

Tracy: Really?

Mike: And now, they actually look at equipment design and what they put the teams through in coming up with equipment design. I saw a speaker two years ago, Jason Dorsey at the AME Conference, Association for Manufacturing Excellence. And there’s a guy, a gentleman named Jason Dorsey. And he talks about Gen-Y’ers or the millennials.

And even though I have two millennials sons listening to his talk and listening to the research that his organization has done, gave me an interesting perspective on how people will look at my boys when they enter the workforce and how things have changed.

Tracy: Yeah.

Mike: And it doesn’t mean that – it is not even a value or an opinion of are millennials lazy? Are they unprepared? It’s not even about that. It’s just, hey, everything else in the world has changed and for us Gen-X’ers or Baby Boomers, we need to understand and recognize those changes and maybe it’s a good idea to kind of go with the flow and learn how to adapt as opposed to resisting.

Another book that I just read recently is called The Coaching Habit.

Tracy: Oh yeah, I heard about that.

Mike: Yeah. It’s a quick, short read. The author’s name is Michael – I’m trying to think of his last name, Michael Stanier. And that’s a good read.

So I mean these are the books or some of the examples of some of the books that just really brought me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to look at things from a different perspective.

Tracy: Neat.

Mike: Yeah.

Tracy: Well, so if someone wanted to see you speak or find out where you’re headed these days, where are you physically going to be in the next 12 months? I mean I know you look nervous like oh no, probably lots of places. Are you going to be speaking at any conferences?

Mike: Yeah. Actually, I’ve got a small handful of things lined up. I’ll be facilitating workshop at the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, the AME Conference in Dallas in October.

Tracy: October, yeah.

Mike: So that’s a workshop that I facilitated there for the last 7 or 8 years. Always a fantastic crowd. If you’re a Lean and you haven’t been to the AME Conference, hit it. There’s 2,000, 2,500. It’s kind of a not a group thing but boy, you got a bunch of Lean zealots there and there’s a whole bunch of learning and networking opportunities.

Tracy: Cool.

Mike: And I’ll be speaking at the local AME Consortia in September. I’m doing a workshop for them. I’ve got a handful of just local professional development meeting type things that I do. I’ll be at San Diego State Program in the fall. And I end up guest speaking at a number of different classes.

Tracy: And what’s your website if people want to learn more about you, Mike?

Mike: They can reach me at So it’s

Tracy: So thanks for joining us today, Mike. I could spend all day talking to you but we only have a certain amount of time with our listeners so I really appreciate you coming and talking with us at the Just-In-Time Café. And I also want to thank our audience for joining us today at the Café and we’ll see you next time.

Mike: Thank you, Tracy. And thanks for what you’re doing to help the community. That’s a great resource and it’s cool to see people take time and energy to do this.

Tracy: Thank you.

Mike: You’re welcome.

Tracy: Well, I’m sure we’ve got some anxious listeners too. Take care. Bye.

Mike: Adios!


Tracy: We hope you enjoyed this episode and you found it valuable. We’d love your feedback so please visit us and review on iTunes or website and don’t forget to subscribe. Enjoy your coffee and we’ll see you next time.

Elizabeth: Bye guys!

Thanks for Listening!

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.