My Journey

“The master has failed more times than the novice has even tried.”

While I don’t consider myself a master, I have been around a while and learned my fair share of lessons.

Having worked with over 300 locations it's impossible to remember all the dates, but these are key dates in my journey. I've always seemed blessed to be in the right spot at the right time.
Began work at Boeing Military Airplane Company, Wichita division as a sheet metal mechanic
My first continuous improvement team was a Quality Circle at The Boeing Company Wichita Division in October 1982. For the next seven years I was roped into every “flavor of the month” Boeing tried including working closely with W. Edwards Deming. They all had isolated pockets of success, but none of them seemed to change our performance trajectory or really stick.
First Quality Circle
Operations Total Quality Planning Commission.
When Boeing brought in Shingijutsu Consulting of Japan in 1989 I was introduced to The Toyota Production System. For the next ten years I was tutored by Shingijutsu Sensei almost every month in my roles as General Supervisor, Lean Implementation Specialists, Air Force One Production Manager, Product Line Manager, and Lean Promotion Office Manager.
Air Force One Production Manager
As a Sub-Assembly Product Line Manager, I had almost 600 direct and indirect team members building 737 and 757 floors, doors, bulkheads, side-panels, fins and stabilizers. It was a cost center, and I was responsible for day-to-day operations while continuously improving both operating and financial performance. Under Shingijutsu tutelage my people achieved improvements in safety, quality, flow, and cost never thought impossible.
Oba San put me in my first of many Ohno's Circles.
I look back fondly now on the day Oba San introduced me to Ohno’s Circle, but it was not a pleasant experience at the time. I was a General Supervisor in the Sub-Assembly Business Unit at the time with dozens of assemblies to deliver to major assembly that day. I had part shortages, tool fixture problems, absenteeism, and quality issues to deal with to make those deliveries. I certainly didn’t have time to waste with a Toyota guy from Japan who didn’t speak English, or so I was told at the time. Oba planted me in an Ohno’s Circle in the middle of the 737 Cab Assembly Shop. He told me he would be back in an hour and wanted me to identify 50 small improvements to review with him at that time. An hour later I only had seven and none of them were small. He was not happy. Oba left me in that circle all day, I was not happy. I eventually got pretty good at seeing The Seven Deadly Wastes and try-storming multiple small improvements to eliminate them.
Commercial Assembly Lean Leader.
Then there was the day Nakau San chewed me out for being late to an event Friday Report Out. He did this in front of about 60 people including my boss and the Division GM. Making excuses I told him I was putting the finishing touches on kanban system we had worked on that week. He told me not to use that word, said I wasn’t smart enough to use that word. We went back and forth a bit and I said kanban several more times. He finally told me to shut-up and never say kanban again till he gave me permission to speak it. He never did give me permission. It was a dozen or so years later while reading Ohno’s little red book that I figured out what he was talking about.
Wichita Division Lean Promotion Office Leader
Shingijutsu sometimes referred to themselves as “insultants”. It was common for them to call middle-managers “concrete heads”. I had distinct honor at the time of being the only one labeled a “titanium head”. When I asked Iwata San what was the difference he told me concrete was porous. I was one of the Divisions representative to the Lean Aerospace Initiative, a joint venture with other aviation OEM’s, the Shingo Prize, and MIT. During this period I grew very familiar with the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence.
First Japan Study Mission
With three tours of the Division Lean Promotion Office, two Japanese Study Missions, a stint in the Boeing Supplier Development Network, and almost 100 events under my belt I left Boeing on my twenty-year anniversary to join Simpler Consulting.
George Koenigsaecker took me under his wing.
I was the seventh person to join the Simpler team. For the next four years I was blessed to work with Ed Constantine, George Koenigsaecker, Art Byrne, Bruce Hamilton, John Kim and other leading edge Lean Practitioners. I worked with Altec, the US Air Force, Army, Navy, Royal Air Force, Adapto, Southwest Research Laboratories, Anteon, and several others. I was at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center on 911. As DefCon escalated and my team began evacuating I received a message from MAJ GEN Denny Haines. “Stay close” the message said, “we’re going to need you now more than ever.” After 911 I became Simpler VP of Government Applications and quickly pulled together a team of twenty-two pretty salty Practitioners supporting all branches of the DoD.
USAF Lean Depot Repair Project.
Simpler asked me to work with The Shingo Prize, The Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the Association of Manufacturing Excellence to help develop the first and only nationally recognized Lean Certification Program in the US.
Certified as a Shingo Prize Examiner
Unlike many of those out there still to this day, the SME/AME Lean Certification requires immersion in the process and demonstrated proficiencies in the application of tools and principles to transform processes, value streams, and organizations.
Began transformation of C5 overhaul to 12-day pulsed-flow. Wheels down to wheels up fell from 339 days to 159 days.
You don’t just take a course and pass a test. I’m still an advocate of the SME / AME Lean Certification process today.
Humvee" transformation led to six more Shingo Prize awards, saved the Depot, helped create thousands of jobs, and persuaded US Army Material Command to adopt the approach command-wide.
General Paul Kern presented me with this award for planning and leading the roll-out at all the depots, six of which were recognized by the Shingo Prize. The shaving is from the bore of a 155mm Howitzer produced at Rock Island Arsenal, another Shingo Prize recipient.
Harrier value stream mapping and analysis and subsequent transformation saved the RAF over $100 million.
Though I left Simpler in 2003 to start my own business, I continued to work with the DoD for the next ten years. If it flew, hovered, floated, submerged, rolled on wheels or tracks, was launched or fired I had my hands in it. During that period I was blessed to work with some very talented and dedicated people to transform maintenance, repair, and overhaul value streams on all those weapons systems to return the equipment to the front lines safer, with better quality, faster and in higher numbers, at lower cost. Safer, easier, better, faster, cheaper; something my Shingijutsu Sensei spent ten years drilling into my thick head.
Over 400% productivity gain on USS Abraham Lincoln tank value stream achieved by "flowing" the people to the work.
Warner Robins Air Logistics Center became the first government recipient of the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence after reducing C5 overhaul turnaround time from 339 days to less than 160. Red River, Tobyhanna, Letterkenny, Corpus Christi, and Anniston Army Depots, Rock Island Arsenal, and Port Hueneme Naval Surface Warfare Center were all recognized multiple times by the Prize for performance improvements on the systems they supported. Red River and Letterkenny were both removed from the Base Reallocation and Closing (BRAC) list and named a DoD Centers of Excellence after quadrupling HMMWV (Humvee) productivity and reducing end-to-end time almost 90%. “Good enough for government work” was taking on a whole new meaning.
F-22 "pulsed-flow" final assembly line.
My wife and I started Better Enterprise Solutions Corp., d.b.a. BESCORP in 2004. What a horrible name. For the next 15 years with a small group of hand-picked Lean Practitioners I supported engagements in the defense and energy sectors, healthcare, and a number of traditional manufacturing and service organizations. The first two contracts landed were for US Naval Sea Systems Command and The Saudi Arabian Oil Company. Later came the US Navy Regional Maintenance Centers, Cobalt Boats, Progress Energy, Duke Energy, Arrow Energy, OneSteel, AEP, Vectren, Luminant, Hawaiian Electric and The USS Missouri to name a few.
I had my two most unnerving experiences on the road during this period. On May 29, 2004 I was just a few miles from the Al-Khobar massacre. That was my last trip to the kingdom.
First two clients are Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Saudi Aramco.
First year tangible cost reductions over $500 million.
Still prohibited from talking about this one.
US Navy Lean Six Sigma College.
US Joint Forces Command
US Naval Regional Maintenance Centers.
In my spare time I started an educational internet broadcast called RadioLean. As host I was blessed to interview well known authors like John Shook, Steven Spear, David Mann, and Jeffery Liker. AME Australia asked me to keynote a number of their gatherings. The last set was Sidney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, and Brisbane all a seven-day window. They were fantastic hosts, but the travel was a killer.
Vectren Energy, Arrow Energy, OneSteel, and Miller Pipeline
On March 11, 2011 I had just walked into the Admirals Club at Narita Airport when the earthquake started. Several folks asked me “what do we do”. “Hell I don’t know” I said, “I’m from Kansas.” I was also in the middle of several hurricanes while working with Hawaiian Electric Company. They both fizzled though, thank goodness.
I was right in the middle of the Fukishima earthquake
By the time Stone Canyon Industries Holdings approached me about joining their team in 2019 I had worked with almost 300 different organizations around the world. Over the next three years I added another dozen in the rail industry, and several in logistics. With SCIH’s blessing I struck out on my own again in 2023 and have added several more organizations since January.
I’ve worked with well over 300 organizations since I started my journey over forty years ago. Dozens of those organizations would have perished had they not started their own Lean journey. To my knowledge, all but a handful are still on the path today. Tens of thousands of work-lives were improved. Thousands of jobs were saved. While I can’t prove it, I’m confident the DoD work helped save lives, too.
That’s why I still have the passion today, it’s what keeps me going. That and an incredibly supportive wife and partner. I cannot say enough about the yeoman’s work Cindy has done on the ranch to allow me to follow my passion. As long as I’m effective and having fun doing it, I’ll keep at it. Maybe your organization is next.