ILC Mentors Help Put Lean Training into Practice

John Magnussen, continuous improvement manager for Pella Corporation, likes to compare Lean management techniques to riding a bicycle: getting trained is great; but at some point, you just have to grab the handlebars and go.

“You didn’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book,” Magnussen said. “You went out, and you rode a bike! You can read and train all you want, but until you go and actually practice it, you’re not going to know.”
But wouldn’t be nice to have someone running beside you as you learned?

To assist, the Iowa Lean Consortium (ILC) earlier this year began offering its members a mentor service. ILC program director Teresa Hay McMahon said consortium staff are building a list of experienced members who are willing to meet with mentees for one or two hours per month.

“The primary objective is that the less experienced person in the group is able to enhance their skills so that they’re better able to fulfill a function,” McMahon said. “Some people may need broad and intensive support, while others might need assistance in just a few well-chosen areas. Maybe someone has just moved from a manufacturing job into a hospital setting and has questions about how Lean works there. . . . We’ll look at who’s willing to be a mentor, and we’ll try to pair up the mentees to meet their needs.”

During a pilot phase, Magnussen was tapped to mentor Brandon Dodgen, who is roughly one year into his job as plant manager for Hawkeye Leisure Trailers in Humboldt. (Jeff Terrell, of Iowa state government, also mentored Emma Knapp, of Des Moines Public Schools.)
“I have some surface knowledge of Lean, but I haven’t really practiced it,” Dodgen said. “How do I really do this? Where do I start? It’s a little overwhelming when you start to look at the whole thing.”

Magnussen and Dodgen met regularly for several months, then Dodgen spent five days at Pella participating in a Kaizen event. Both men say they learned a great deal from the interactions.

“Relationships are what it’s all about,” Magnussen said. “Just knowing that you have someone you can call and roll stuff off of and ask questions . . . We’ve both benefited from the relationship.”

For more information, visit or contact Teresa Hay McMahon at or 515-715-0293.