Some Positive Lean Tales


So here's a palate cleanser after talking about GM and the failed “lean” efforts that led to a strike at Conn-Selmer (see below).

Here are two positive stories that prove lean doesn't lean to unhappy workers and strikes.

One is from Wisconsin, a state that has proven to be a leader in lean success stories (along with Iowa, it seems.) Oshkosh Truck is growing and doing well thanks to lean.

[Oshkosh CEO] Bohn is a big part of the company's success, but he points to the workers on the line and the cadre of managers developed within or recruited or added via acquisitions to explain Oshkosh Truck's rapid acceleration. “It's not me; it's the people here,” Bohn said. “I listen and lead and coach,” but they get it done.

Now that sounds like a lean CEO. That sounds like comments that Gary Convis, from Toyota, and other true lean leaders would make. The company reduced delivery times from 12 to 16 weeks to 7 days!

Specialists in lean manufacturing systems were hired to help at Oshkosh Truck, including ones from General Motors and Ford Motor, among other big-name companies.

I guess this proves there are no shortage of good lean people at GM and Ford (I learned from some great lean people back at GM), but they're constrained by the system that they're a part of. They appear to be doing much better at Oshkosh. Check out the article for more examples of their growth and success.

Here is an article about an aerospace supplier from Connecticut, Whitcraft LLC.

Whitcraft has converted about half of its Eastford workplace into manufacturing “cells” staffed by two to 10 workers. In those areas, pieces are fabricated one by one, from start to finish, by workers who collaborate as a team.

Paul and Cooper have added 60 employees during the past year and a half, a 25 percent increase. They are considering an expansion of the 65,000-square-foot plant next year. They have also made key acquisitions in response to an aerospace market that has rebounded after the three-year, post-9/11 slump.

Now there's an ideal situation, where you can use lean to expand and use cash that you've freed up for acquisitions. That's the story for Oshkosh and Whitcraft. That's got to be much more fun than being in a death spiral company that's cutting costs until they die. The model of using lean to drive acquisitions and growth isn't a new one, it's been used by Danaher for many years.

“It's imperative for those companies that can implement lean manufacturing to do it,” Johnson said. “The only way companies in Connecticut can compete, with the high cost of doing business here, is through productivity gains. The objective is to put more pieces out the door than you did last year, and do it with the same number of employees.”

I wish the leaders at Conn-Selmer could take that to heart. Don't antagonize and threaten workers, do lean the right way!

There are many good examples in that article of Whitcraft using different lean methods, including layout changes and setup reduction to improve performance. In reference to reducing employee walking time (by 400 miles a year, walking to get parts!) there was a funny comment:

By reorganizing the workstation, the owners now have the laser operator standing still most of the day and the laser doing more cutting. Paul said the man recently joined a health club to make sure he gets enough exercise.

Please check out my main blog page at

The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

, , , on the author's copyright.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleNot Tooting This Horn
Next articleWhich Albatross Needs Dumping?
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. in my limited experience working with lean, the moment people associate it with job cuts you are dead in the water.

    The problem is that some cuts will always happen as part of the normal business cycle, I know Toyota have cut in the past. When reading ‘Lean Thinking’ by Womack and Jones I noted that the case study organisations cut jobs before starting lean work – the question for me with this is how did these companies stop people associating the two things in their minds?


  2. My understanding is that Toyota had a major layoff in the 1950’s and that was their motivation to never go through that again. The NUMMI plant in California (basically run by Toyota, with GM standing by) hasn’t had a layoff in 20+ years. That speaks to the power of lean and TPS. The general thinking goes if you HAVE to do layoffs, do them upfront and get them out of the way. Then tell the remaining crew that they are secure (maybe easier said than done). You can’t have a steady trickle of layoffs though, cycle after cycle, that’s the death spiral.

  3. What exactly has Oshkosh done to make them so “lean?” My big questions it that when you are talking about companies that produce very diverse products, how can they switch so quickly from one to another? What type of tooling must this require?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.