Podcast #297 – JJ Villarreal, Ed.D. on #Lean in Public Education


My guest for Episode #297 is John (JJ) Villarreal, Ed.D., the superintendent of the Rockwall I.S.D. here in the Dallas, Texas area. You can find him on Twitter as @villarreal_jj and you can read his full school district bio.

I was first introduced to JJ by a former healthcare client of mine who has a child in the Rockwall schools. JJ and my former client share a strong interest in Lean, leadership, and culture. I enjoyed JJ's enthusiasm, hearing about the reading and learning he had done, and it was great walking “the gemba” at a school with him to hear about how he wanted to make a difference (it was his first year as superintendent and he's now into his second year there).

Dr. Villarreal (or Dr. V, as he's known) holds a Doctor of Education in Educational Administration from Tarleton State University, a Master of Education in Educational Administration from Tarleton State University, a Master of Education in Counseling and Human Development at Hardin-Simmons University along with a Bachelor of Science from Hardin-Simmons University.

In this podcast, we talk about the applications of Lean in education, how to move beyond what JJ calls “the behavior waste of judgment and blame,” and how visiting a factory was inspiring and helpful, among other topics.

Even if you don't work in education, I hope you'll be inspired by this podcast.

Listen to the Episode (Run Time 45:23)

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For a link to use for this episode, refer people to www.leanblog.org/297.

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

  • Please introduce yourself, your current role, and a bit about your career path
  • How and when did you first get introduced to Lean? Why did Lean appeal to you?
  • How do you apply Lean methods, concepts, or leadership approaches in your role as Superintendent? What do you expect of other administrators, principals, and teachers?
  • How do teachers react when they start looking to find waste?
  • What metrics do you expect to affect? How will Lean affect the culture?
  • What does a “Lean school” look like?
  • What do staff bring up when you ask them “if you could improve one thing, what would it be?”
  • How does Lean apply for the students? Are they being taught Lean principles? Like problem solving? Are they applying it in the classroom?
  • What's an example of “5 whys” and problem solving in healthcare?
  • How widespread is Lean thinking and practice in education?
  • Now that Toyota's N.A. headquarters is nearby in Plano, have you reached out to TSSC to provide some assistance?
  • How would you invite other superintendents to learn about Lean?
  • His book recommendations:

Video of JJ:

The three principles he says are important are:

  • Relationships
  • Open and honest communication
  • Continuous improvement

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

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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. This was a very serendipitous podcast for me yesterday at Franciscan Children’s in Boston, as our pediatric system uniquely includes an accredited day school (Kennedy Day School) for 60 kids with complex medical conditions. I was told before hand that they would be sensitive to how well I oriented the material and delivery to the field of Education rather than Healthcare, since they’re a school not a hospital. So in preparing to deliver an Intro to Lean class, I searched for examples of lean application in education and didn’t find much beyond an increasing use of PDSA. My wife works in the education field in school health administration, so we have talked a lot about improvement principles and lean. One of my observations has been, there are no ThedaCares or Virginia Masons or Denver Healths (yet) in the field of education to demonstrate the “why” and the pathway to results. Perhaps JJ and and Rockwall will be a start. I’m very thankful to have this example to learn from and share with others here.

  2. Re-reading my comment I see the chronology is confusing. I was preparing to teach Intro to Lean to a group from our school, looking for ways to make it relevant to education (vs. healthcare). JJ’s story of learning about lean and pioneering it’s application it in the Rockwall public education system is inspiring and thought provoking. I’ve recommended it to our school and system leadership.


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