Kentucky Lean Tour Worth the Wait

After multiple pandemic-related delays, several members of the CIRAS Iowa Lean Consortium (ILC) finally made it to Kentucky, and by all accounts the trip was worth the wait.

“It was a very well-rounded experience with classroom training, tours, and social and networking time,” said Ryan Swartz, vice president of operations at  Medical Solutions. “I’ve been to multiple Lean training events throughout my career, but this was the first primarily focused on culture and mindset. It’s inspired me to deepen a culture of problem-solving throughout our entire organization.”

“By traveling to Kentucky, the nexus of Lean manufacturing in the U.S., we were able to offer tours of local manufacturing plants, including Toyota,” said Tracy Schuster, CIRAS program director. “These ‘Gemba walks’ allowed participants to visit production floors and see people applying Lean practices to their work. It hits home in a way that imagining it from an off-site conference room just can’t do.”

Tours and leadership workshop sessions were the featured activities of the recent Kentucky Lean Tour. The event drew 29 people from 13 Iowacompanies. 
Tours and leadership workshop sessions were the featured activities of the recent Kentucky Lean Tour. The event drew 29 people from 13 Iowa

For Kevin Young, continuous improvement manager at Allsteel, the tours offered a sense of what could be done back in Iowa.

“A big takeaway for me was the training center set-up through the community college that mirrored what the students would see in the Toyota facility,” he said. “If the curriculum at the community colleges here aligned with our applications in the plant, it would shorten the training learning curve tremendously.”

The Kentucky tour took place in early May. Twenty-nine people from 13 companies attended. They spent more than 16 hours in leadership workshop sessions led by Mike Hoseus, executive director of the Center for Quality People and Organizations and a nationally recognized leader in Lean practices and philosophy. The chance to tap Hoseus’ experience and leverage his connections with local manufacturers is one reason Phil Jones, general manager at Rada Manufacturing, sent a team of four to the event.

“It was a great learning experience, and a quick glance at the evaluations show a deep appreciation for Mike’s presentation,” said Emily Betz, CIRAS project manager. “One big takeaway was a reminder that every employee is a problem solver. Many participants said they’d forgotten that. Now they’re going to start asking questions differently to reinforce the idea that people at all levels of the organization can solve problems.”

According to Schuster, a reminder to incorporate emphasizing Lean methodologies and Lean thinking with the onboarding of new employees was another big takeaway for attendees who plan to work with their HR departments to improve the onboarding process.

Planning for the May 2024 tour is underway. Schuster and Betz envision a similar format of workshop sessions and site visits with the addition of more networking opportunities for this member-only event.

For information, contact Tracy Schuster at or 515-715-0164.