The Lean Office Blog

Iowa Lean Consortium Fall Conference

This past week I had the opportunity to attend and lead a breakout session at the Iowa Lean Consortium’s annual conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In addition to wonderful keynotes from Richard Sheridan and Dr. Jeff Liker, there were several interesting breakout sessions and great networking opportunities. A few highlights:

Richard Sheridan, Menlo Innovations

I’ve seen Richard’s name on several conference agendas, listened to interviews of him on podcasts, and read his book, Joy, Inc. While I already knew large portions of his company’s story, it was an entirely different experience to hear it from the man himself. In addition to being a very engaging speaker, his description of how (and more importantly, why) his company operates was inspiring. While he did not receive formal training in Lean principles, his company discovered several principles that look and feel a lot like a Lean Management System. In my opinion, they also execute them at a higher level than many “traditional” Lean implementations. If you’ve never had the chance to hear Richard speak, I would encourage you to do so. You can also read more about their operation here.

Dr. Jeff Liker

As one of the leading authors on Lean transformation and culture, Dr. Liker certainly speaks with authority and experience on his side. His talk focused on the impact of leaders on a Lean organization. He described what separates good and great leaders, and also outlined a process for leadership development used by Toyota for training American executives (hint – it wasn’t an Ivy League Executive MBA). He also told the powerful story of Hajime Ohba, former President of the Toyota Supplier Support Center, and his impact on a file cabinet manufacturer. I’ve read several of Dr. Liker’s books, and I’m very interested in his latest book, Trenches, a novel about Lean transformation.

Breakout Sessions

I attended two breakout sessions, one on implementing Lean in office / administrative environments, and one on applying technology to Lean implementations. I’m sure both of these are shocking choices based on the company I’m a part of, but both provided excellent, fresh perspectives on the topic. I was impressed with the competency of the presenters and the examples they used, as well as the practical advice they had to offer. The breakout session I led focused on implementing a Lean Management System, and I appreciated the audience’s participation and willingness to share, which brings me to . . .


I’ve attended a number of conferences in my professional life, and I’ve never been to one where the attendees were as engaged and interested as those attending the ILC’s fall conference. Whether asking questions during the breakout sessions, huddling together between events, or discussing Lean topics during lunch, these “Lean nerds” are definitely my people. I even found myself having discussions about Lean transformation and culture during the evening networking reception! The roughly 400 attendees represented an eclectic mix of people from several industries and seniority levels, and I think that mix was important. It is always inspiring to be around people who are actual Lean “do-er’s” who have real problems they are trying to solve instead of a room full of self-described Lean “experts”.

Iowa Lean ConsortiumILC Shirt

I think the biggest reason behind the quality of attendee is the team at the Iowa Lean Consortium. While I know there are state-level consortia in other states, the ILC is the most organized and active that I’ve come across. Started in 2009, it intentionally maintains a voice from five industry sectors (manufacturing, service, government, healthcare, and education). This balanced representation means every conversation includes unique perspectives, and I witnessed the creativity that comes from this industry blend come to life during the conference. In addition to the fall conference, the ILC is incredibly active, with over 20 events in 2016 alone. I also have to compliment the ILC’s solid t-shirt game (click on the photo to the right to purchase).

I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the Iowa Lean Consortium’s fall conference, and look forward to attending again next year. If you know of any organizations in Iowa that aren’t a part of the ILC, I encourage you to share this amazing group with them!

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