Podcast #214: Michael Ballé, Lead With Respect, His New Lean Management Novel




Today's guest is Michael Ballé, an author of many novels about Lean management, published by the Lean Enterprise Institute. He joins us for this episode from Paris (he shares many photos of “Paris moments” via his Twitter account @Michael_Balle).

Michael and his father, Freddy, have collaborated on these books and have learned about as directly from Toyota as anybody (Freddy was CEO of the French automotive supplier Sommer-Allibert and was coached by Toyota there).

The three novels are:

See all of his books via Amazon

As we joke about in the podcast, I'm not a fiction reader, in general, so I don't care for business novels. But, many people do!

I read Michael's non-fiction essays and articles, including:

Michael is a first-time podcast guest (which we were both shocked to discover), but I did host a four-part written Q&A with him back in 2009.

For a link to this episode, refer people to www.leanblog.org/214.

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts.  You can also subscribe and listen via Stitcher.

Podcast eBook:

Feedback & Comments:

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

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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. Balle’ sees things much differently than most with his anti-implementation approach to Lean although I think there are a hand-full of notable organizations in healthcare that are really doing Lean well with an implementation approach. These organizations are characterized by dogged determined and capable leaders that have learned how to solve problems.

    There are other institutions, some that have even published books about their success, where Lean is a thin veneer or where real Lean exists in a few islands. How do I know? I have seen their senior leaders in action and they are definitely not problem solvers the way Balle’ describes and if you walk around clearly there is a tolerance of bad processes and little improvement is being made in spite of an attractive and organized huddle board.

    I think he has another great point about people (leaders) not being able to learn Lean unless they really want to learn Lean. Does anyone know of a great Lean healthcare organization where the senior leader(s) are not really good problem solvers (A3, PDSA, PDCA) and really know how to understand root causes?

    I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to doing front-line Lean implementations, although some do more harm than good. It’s just that the big impact decisions and direction have to come from people in the corner office and if they don’t get it, their organizations will fall far short and the rest of the organization know it.

    • Yeah, there are definitely situations with “superficial Lean” where you see the artifacts of Lean, but maybe not the thought processes. That said, nobody changes a culture or personally transforms over night. Senior leaders KNOW they aren’t supposed to blame people, but they slip up and still do it. They occasionally jump solutions, but hopefully that becomes more rare over time… if they’re getting coaching and they’re being mentored (and that often doesn’t happen).

      If senior leaders think “we’re perfectly fine as leaders, but the organization needs to get Lean” then that might be a huge red flag. Some leaders are naturally “Lean leaders,” I appreciate that. But it’s rare.

      Lean management is a countermeasure to a problem. If leaders don’t understand that they’re at least part of the problem, then how are they ever going to want to learn and change? It’s a hard sell to convince people they need to change. John Toussaint, who went through a very personal transformation as a leader had a BOARD challenging him and mentoring him.

      How often does that happen?

      Gary Kaplan has a very engaged board at Virginia Mason with retired Boeing executives and the like. I bet they challenge and mentor him too.


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