A Wisconsin Lean Story


    Metal expands when it's hot

    Here's a story from a small company that's grown from $3m to $10m in revenue, in part due to Lean methods, but also due to apparent notions of “respect” for employees and customers. There are always a lot of Lean examples from Wisconsin.

    The CEO of the family-owned company says:

    “I'm only 1/70th of the success,” said Isbister candidly. “Our focus is on employing the best people, treating them well and giving them the opportunity to use their brains.” That approach has helped build long-term relationships and respect with customers, an identified top priority for the company.

    They talk about Lean methods the company used:

    Ongoing education is part of being a General MetalWorks employee. All employees are instructed in Lean Manufacturing training, and the company uses Value Stream Mapping initiatives.

    It's instructive that ALL employees are trained in Lean, not just the managers. I'm reading a lot into a short article, but it sounds like the folks at GMW understand not just Lean tools (like VSM), but also the people and leadership sides of Lean and the Toyota Way.

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    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. Great story. The respect for people side of Lean and continuous improvement in general is too often forgotten. I don’t care how well tools are applied… if you don’t win the hearts and minds of the people you are working with and impacting you will almost certainly fail in the long run.


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