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12 Women in Continuous Improvement That You Should Know

Posted by Mark Graban

Mar 16, 2015 7:05:00 AM

Sunday March 8 was "International Women's Day" and the 2015 theme couldn't have been any more appropriate for the work we do at KaiNexus, and what our customers do -- #MakeItHappen.




Lean and continuous improvement practices help people and organizations make improvement happen, so in honor of International Women's Day, we wanted to highlight some women who have made a difference (and, in most cases, still are making a huge difference).

In no particular order, the women in continuous improvement you should know are:

  1. Lillian Gilbreth

    Born in 1878, Lillian Gilbreth was one of the early innovators in the field of industrial engineering. Many pioneering practices are part of what we would now consider to be part of the Lean body of knowledge, including methods for filming work and breaking down the way work is done to find better ways. Her story, which was intertwined personally and professionally with her husband, Frank, is told in the book and movie "Cheaper by the Dozen" (the later Steve Martin movie doesn't fold as true to history).

  2. Joan Wellman 

    Joan Wellman was one of the very first to bring Lean principles and methods into healthcare, in Seattle in the 1990s. She went on to help many organizations through the firm that she founded and grew, Joan Wellman and Associates. She was also a co-author of the excellent book Leading the Lean Healthcare Journey: Driving Culture Change to Increase ValueYou can hear me interview her in episode 80 of my Lean Podcast series here

  3. Tracey Richardson

    Tracey Richardson worked her way up at Toyota over 10 years as a team member, team leader, and group leader. Today, she is active as a consultant and a faculty member for the Lean Enterprise Institute. You can also watch a video of her talking about problem solving on YouTube. Twitter: @TheToyotaGal

  4. Natalie Sayer

    Natalie Sayer is the co-author of the book Lean for Dummies, an excellent introduction to Lean. Natalie is also an active speaker and consultant. I also interviewed Natalie in episode 145 of my podcastTwitter: @njsayer

  5. Cindy Jimmerson

    Cindy Jimmerson was also one of the early innovators in Lean healthcare, coming from her background as a nurse. Cindy built the firm Lean Healthcare West and is the author of the books A3 Problem Solving for Healthcare: A Practical Method for Eliminating Waste and Value Stream Mapping for Healthcare Made Easy, both highly recommended.

  6. Helen Zak

    Helen Zak left a career in manufacturing leadership to play a pivotal role in the growth of the non-profit Lean Enterprise Institute as their chief operating officer. In 2009, Helen worked with the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value to found the Healthcare Value Network and she later joined the Center as their President and COO. Twitter: @ThedaCareCenter

  7. Mary Poppendieck

    Mary Poppendieck has been one of the leading voices in the Lean Software Development movement. She is a popular writer and speaker and is author of books including Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit and The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right QuestionsTwitter: @mpoppendieck

  8. Kim Barnas

    Kim Barnas served for many years as a senior vice president of ThedaCare and president of Appleton Medical Center and Theda Clark Medical Center. She played a key role in the development of their Lean management system. Kiim wrote the book Beyond Heroes: A Lean Management System for Healthcare and I interviewed her about it in episode 197 of my podcast.

  9. Karen Martin

    Karen Martin has worked as a consultant and speaker, focusing primarily on Lean in various service sector settings. She has become a prolific author, with her books that include The Outstanding Organization (recipient of a Shingo Research Award), Value Stream Mappingand The Kaizen Event Planner. I interviewed her for episodes #151 and #190 of my podast.  Twitter: @KarenMartinOpex.

  10. Margarette Purvis

    Maragarette Purvis is the president and CEO of Food Bank for New York. Margarette has given amazing presentations at the last two Lean Transformation Summit events, talking about the use of Lean methods, as taught to them directly by Toyota, to improve the service they provide to the community. She's a great speaker and it's an inspiring story. See a video about their story hereTwitter: @foodbank_prez

  11. Clare Crawford-Mason

    Clare Crawford-Mason was one of the producers of the famous 1980 NBC program "If Japan Can... Why Can't We?" that helped introduce the American business community to Dr. W. Edwards Deming. To this day, she has tirelessly help share and promote Dr. Deming's work and teachings through educational videos and other materials she has produced. I had the opportunity to interview her about working with Dr. Deming in episode #167 of my podcast.

  12. Gwendolyn Galsworth

    Dr. Gwendolyn Galsworth has been a leader in research, teaching, and publication around the idea of "visuality" and visual management. She is the author of books including Visual Workplace/Visual Thinking and Work That Makes Sense. Gwendolyn hosts "The Visual Workplace" show on RadioAmerica and has been my guest on my podcast series a few times.


There are many great women who have made a lasting contribution to the Lean and continuous improvement communities. Who else would you add to this list? Leave a comment below.

Topics: Lean

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