January 2015

"A Time of Transformation for Us All" by Dennis Sergent

This time of year is a time of transition for most people and it is a time of transition for the Michigan Lean Consortium too. The MLC has made progress on our Lean journey and we are transitioning from our original goals and objectives while we keep our long-term objectives in sight. The board has been moved by the feedback we have received from you, our members.

The founders of the MLC had a purpose and vision; if every Michigan Organization used Lean principles, the state's economy would rebound. Their goal was to spread lean practices and tools throughout the state to make Michigan the best place in the country to live, learn, and earn. With their vision and the hard work of a number of MLC volunteers like you, we see progress on that journey to a shared future. Michigan’s economy is beginning to improve. It is time however, to think about moving from the start up mode to a sustainable mode as we continue that journey with you.

Let’s remember that the transition must be overtaken by transformation, both in the MLC, as well as in our practice of the Lean philosophy, principles and practices. Masaaki Imai said: “If management is successful in improving the culture of the organization, the company will be more productive, more competitive, and more profitable in the long run.” This works for each of us as it works for the MLC and the board is paying attention to our culture.

Every one of us today is engaged in a challenge that defines our personal and professional transformation. The same stresses which people like us have faced before remain present and the progress made so far can lead to complacency when we use the prevailing system of management instead of Lean as our philosophy. The challenge and crisis of our times is nonetheless a persistent problem to us all as we struggle to meet the complexities of our modern way of life. In organizations and workplaces in private, in public, in our professions we experience the stress in our globalized workplace.

W. Edwards Deming said something too about this cultural transformation. “We pause here to ask what is the effect of hard work and best efforts? Answer: We thus only dig deeper the pit that we are in. Hard work and best efforts will not by themselves dig us out of the pit. In fact, it is only by illumination of outside knowledge that we may observe that we are in a pit.” “There is no substitute for knowledge. Hard work, best efforts and best intentions will not by themselves produce quality nor a market. Transformation of management is required – learning and application of profound knowledge.” The challenge for each of us is not about when someone will make it better, but it is about how we can make it better. You, me, we, yes it is our responsibility to solve our problems and make our world better. There is really no one else to do it.

This is a problem humans have had since the times of the Romans, if not before. During the time of Augustus, the Emperor of Rome, Hillel the Elder said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if not now, when?”

At a crucial time during the American civil war, President Abraham Lincoln said - "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We . . . will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation. We . . . hold the power and bear the responsibility."There is a different type of stress and fear at work in our modern times, and it echoes from our past. Again, Lincoln said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.

In the mid-to-late twentieth century, many icons of quality and Lean created a narrative quite similar to Lincoln’s. There was a different type of fear at work in the western world in this time, and in particular, at work in America in our country, our industries and our institutions. This fear continues today. Here we are in the early twenty-first century, facing the problems that the ancients, and international icons such as Imai, Lincoln and Deming described. There are solutions from their wisdom and profound knowledge that stands the test of time, yet we as a culture do not often use that knowledge wisely, if at all. As Hillel the Elder pointed out thousands of years ago, we must depend upon our own action to make our way out of the crisis. We should listen to and see the wisdom of our teachers, it can guide us all today, whether in public or private organizations, for profit or not-for-profit. The year ahead is full of historic choices, and we get to make these choices, one at a time as the year 2015 unfolds. We get to choose fear or knowledge to inform our choices, and I urge you to choose knowledge.

So, here I tell you that there are solutions to this crisis we face. To me, it is simple to use the wisdom of Lincoln, Deming, and others who continue to expand profound knowledge. It resonates in my thoughts as I learn and understand it more, especially when I help others like you in your own transformation. Together, we can expand upon the foundations of wisdom and knowledge and overcome the fear created by the "prevailing system" of others and replace it with a system of our own invention. W. Edwards Deming said, “We are living under the tyranny of the prevailing style of management. Most people imagine that this style of management has always existed, and is a fixture. Actually, it is a modern invention, a trap that has led us into decline. Transformation is required.”

He went on to say - “It is a prison created by the way in which people interact. This interaction afflicts all aspects of our lives – government, industry, education, healthcare.” We know what has worked before and we also know what didn’t work. We have all seen the wreckage of companies, organizations and institutions that were once vital and no longer exist. These were managed by a style of management, oriented around the latest fad, the flavor of the month, and the latest managerial “secret” by some author who sold lots of books. There are always “others” we can blame and our political parties would like to blame this on each other, yet we know that we are all part of the problem. A phrase of Lincoln about “self evident truths” is that we are all taking credit to manage and lead the organizations we are part of. Though it is an awesome responsibility and burden, we are all responsible. We all put in our best efforts, work hard and do our best, but that alone is not enough. We must get better together.

In the context of this theme, I find a close similarity to words from Martin Luther King: “Let nobody fool you, all the loud noises we hear today are nothing but the death groans of the dying system. The old order is passing away, the new order is coming into being. But whenever there is anything new, there are new responsibilities. As we think of this coming new world we must think of the challenge that we confront and the new responsibilities that stand before us. We must prepare to live in a new world.”The power of this common purpose of individual people united in a shared responsibility is awesome and part of our country’s motto; “E Pluribus Unum”, or “out of many, one.” This common thread runs from the founding of our country, through Lincoln, to Deming, to King and to all of us who are part of the MLC. Let us encourage each other by challenging our team members and ourselves to accept responsibility to a common future, a future we create by each of the choices we make together. Let us engage in learning together and uniting in a common purpose to make our selves and our organizations better than we ever imagined. I ask you now to consider that this is the time and place for you to begin anew your own transformation. If not now, when? If not you, then who?

Who is in a better position than you and when is better than now to begin the transformation, to manage and lead by these timeless principles spelled out by Deming, Imai, King, Lincoln and so many others? Please join the MLC Board and volunteers to make a transformation for Michigan’s economy in 2015 and support our vision and mission: “Develop and support lean systems thinkers to transform Michigan’s organizations and economy.”

Calling All Young Professional MLC Members!

We are looking to form a Michigan Lean Consortium Young Professional Group so that we can network and talk about unique challenges facing young professionals.  This is in the beginning stages and we’re looking for ideas and suggestions!  If this sound like something you want to get involved in, please contact Christine Muscat ( or Lauren Stewart ( for additional information! We look forward to growing this group in 2015!


If you haven't already, Like us on Facebook and Linkedin for continuous updates!

Also... we are currently looking for volunteers for our committees! If you're interested, please reply to this email.

If you are interested in having us feature your company's lean journey in an upcoming newsletter, please reply to this email as well. 

Upcoming Events

January 16: U of M Tauber Factory Tour in Ann Arbor

February 27: How to Stop Whack A Mole Safety Management in Lyon Township

March (TBD): Lean for Government/Safety
May (TBD): 4th Annual Healthcare Symposium in West Bloomfield

If you're not a member, don't forget most events are cheaper if you join and pay as a member! Share this with your colleagues who might be interesting in the MLC!

If you have an idea for an event or would like to host an event, please email our Event Commitee Leader Dave Kippen at Thank you!

Click to Register Now

The Leaning Edge
The Leaning Edge Radio Show, led by MLC Co-Founder Debra Levantrosser, airs every Friday and Saturday on the Michigan Business Network. 

Tune in on Fridays at 11 am, 5 pm, 11 pm and Saturdays/Sundays at 5 am, 8 am, 1 pm, 6 pm, 11 pm. You can also listen to and download past episodes on the website. If you are interested in being a guest on the show email Debra at

Please note that hits on the radio show determine whether or not it stays on the air. Thank you for your support. Please listen and email the station with your positive feedback if you love the show!


Post your Company's Job Openings with MLC!

Just a reminder that you can post your company's job openings on our website if you are an MLC member! It is just one of the benefits of having a membership with the MLC! If you have some job openings and would like them posted, please email them to

Here is an example of an opening with Henry Ford Health System!

"Lean as a Change Platform" by Donna McDowell

I caught up on some reading over the holiday, and came across an article that generated some reflection on lean as a platform for change in organizations.  The e-article from McKinsey & Company, Build a Change Platform, Not a Change Program by Hamel and Zanini, points out that large-scale change programs, initiated and managed by top executives, have a dismal track record.  What’s needed, say the authors, is a different approach to change where “the leader’s job isn’t to design a change program but to build a change platform – one that allows anyone to initiate change, recruit confederates, suggest solutions, and launch experiments.” 

The authors invite organizations to look at change management in a different way with this question, “How do you create platforms for sustained company-wide management conversations that can amplify weak signals and support the complex problem solving needed to address core management challenges?”  They answer that question with three recommended shifts in approaching change:

  • Moving from top-down to activist-out.  The responsibility for initiating change is implemented throughout the organization.  Individuals are encouraged to take personal responsibility for initiating change and provided the resources and tools necessary to spur their thinking.
  • Moving from sold to invited.  Transformational change is sustained through genuine commitment on the part of those who will be most affected.  The “how” of change initiatives is achieved by opening involvement in the process to everyone throughout the organization.
  • Moving from managed to organic.  Constant experimentation – moving from freeze and refreeze to “permanent slush” – means placing less emphasis on controlled project management and more on supporting “self-organizing communities that identify, experiment and eventually scale new initiatives.”

As described in McKinsey’s article, shifting leadership from “change agent in chief” to “change enabler in chief” is a pretty radical approach to organizational change.  Moving organization practice to rewarding widespread experimentation and making it safe for all employees to be change leaders takes courageous patience and commitment.  Yet as I reflect on how lean is fostering change in the public sector organizations in which I work, I am witnessing lean shaping “change platforms” that are both organic and compelling.

Debra Levantrosser’s recent MLC article and End of Year Event presentation, 
Lean is Not Process Improvement, captured this for me by advancing a comprehensive view of lean that is not defined solely as process improvement.  Debra’s description of seven components of lean– the lean pie – struck me as distinguishing the lean platform that can bring about deep change in organizations.  I’m hoping that we will continue discussion on this important topic.

By broadening the focus on the culture and philosophy of lean, along with process improvement, organizations can create powerful change platforms that yield sustainable results.  Here’s to not only promoting lean practice, but also building lean “change platforms” in 2015.

 Donna McDowell is a Director of Community Resources for the City of Livonia, and continues her work with the Livonia Public Schools in organization development.

You are receiving this email because you are a member of the Michigan Lean Consortium or you have attended one of our events. If you no longer wish to receive emails from MLC, please click on the unsubscribe link above and you will be removed from our mailing list.