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20 Continuous Improvement Experts You Should Know

Posted by Mark Graban

Aug 14, 2014 10:29:00 AM

2137729430_11b29f9164_mWe've pulled together a list of 20 of some of the most interesting and insightful people who are active in the realm of continuous improvement - in healthcare, business, and other settings. The list isn't meant to be a ranking, so our list is presented in alphabetical order.

Who would you add to our list of influencers in Lean, Kaizen, and other continuous improvement methods? Leave a comment and tell our readers!

  1. Michael Ballé

    Ballé is a French author whose most recent book (in English), Lead With Respect: A Novel of Lean Practice (read a PDF of the first chapter) was recently published by the Lean Enterprise Institute.

  2. Kim Barnas

    Until recently, Barnas was a senior hospital executive at the ThedaCare system in Wisconsin. Her recent book, Beyond Heroes: A Lean Management System for Healthcare is a book that would be helpful for anybody who wants to create a great management system in their organization in any industry.

  3. Dr. Don Berwick

    Dr. Berwick is currently running for governor of Massachusetts, but he's best known for founding the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a leading non-profit that advocates for quality improvement in healthcare. Dr. Berwick authored many early papers on Kaizen and continuous improvement

  4. Jeff Bezos

    As founder and CEO of Amazon, Bezos is known for not just promoting innovation, but also advocating for continuous improvement in all things that Amazon does. Bezos has drawn upon Lean and Kaizen ideas from Taiichi Ohno and Masaaki Imai (read about Imai later in this list).

  5. Norman Bodek

    Bodek has visited Japan more than 70 times, which led to him translating and publishing the books of Taaichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, who played a major role in developing the Toyota Production System. He has also written many books on Kaizen and continuous improvement. 

  6. Gary Convis

    Convis became the highest-ranking American in leadership at Toyota after starting his career at GM and Ford. After running the auto supplier Dana, he "failed at retirement" and is still involved in business. He is co-author of the excellent book (with Jeff LikerThe Toyota Way to Lean Leadership.

  7. Dr. Eric Dickson

    Dr. Dickson is the CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care. He often blogs about Kaizen and continuous improvement on his site "Everyday Innovators." It's great to see CEOs recognizing and celebrating the importance of front-line staff driving innovation and improvement in an organization. 

  8. Bob Emiliani

    Emiliani is a professor at Central Connecticut State University and he's a prolific author on the topic of Lean leadership. He coined the term "Real Lean" to contrast the spread of "Fake Lean" practices that cause a lot of problems in companies and society. He's active through his blog and Twitter

  9. Dr. Atul Gawande

    Dr. Gawande is a surgeon and highly acclaimed author on improvement methodologies, both in The New Yorker and his books, which include ComplicationsBetter, and The Checklist Manifesto (which is another "healthcare book" that should be read by people in many industries). 

  10. Thomas Hartman

    Hartman is a senior director at Autoliv Americas, a manufacturer that is considered a leader in Lean manufacturing and employee idea systems. Read a Q&A with Hartman and my blog post about Hartman's presentation at a conference

  11. Masaaki Imai

    Imai is the author of the seminal books KAIZEN and Gemba Kaizen and he's still very active as a speaker and consultant with his global firm, Kaizen Institute. Imai's book was very influential to our KaiNexus co-founder and chief product officer Dr. Greg Jacobson, as cited in his journal article on Kaizen in healthcare.

  12. Dr. Gary Kaplan

    Dr. Kaplan has been Chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason Health System since 2000. He was an early adopter of the Lean management system, dubbing their approach the Virginia Mason Production System. Dr. Kaplan has written many journal articles on Lean healthcare and their story has been told in two excellent books.

  13. Todd Park

    Park is the United States's Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Park has been an outspoken advocate for the use of "Lean Startup" practices to develop new software and technologies in the federal government. Park has spoken at the Lean Startup conference that's organized each year by the next person on our list...

  14. Eric Ries

    Ries is an entrepreneur who coined the phrase "Lean Startup" and is the author of a best-selling book of that same name. The Lean Startup includes continuous improvement-based principles, such as the "Build-Measure-Learn" loop, which is very similar to Plan-Do-Study-Adjust

  15. Alan Robinson (& Dean Schroeder)

    Robinson and Schroeder are linked together by their two outstanding books: Ideas are Free (published in 2006) and their more recent The Idea-Driven Organization (2014). Robinson and Schroeder have an active blog where they share tips and ideas that are helpful to leaders in all industries. 

  16. John Shook

    Shook was the first American hired to work for Toyota in Japan and he remains one of the leading voices in the Lean community, serving now as CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute. He has authored books including Learning to See and Managing to Learn and has helped build bridges with the Lean Startup community.

  17. Brad Smith

    Smith, as CEO of the financial software giant Intuit, is also an outspoken advocate for Lean thinking, including the idea of getting out of the office to see how customers live and use your products. Smith has also spoken at The Lean Startup conference and appears in these videos with Eric Ries.

  18. Joe Swartz

    Swartz is the director of business transformation for the Franciscan St. Francis Health System in Indiana. A student of Norm Bodek, Swartz was co-author, with me, of the award-winning book Healthcare Kaizen and has been building a culture of continuous improvement there for more than seven years.

  19. Dr. John Toussaint

    Dr. Toussaint was the CEO of ThedaCare for the first years of their Lean journey and is now CEO of the non-profit ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value. He has written the award-winning books On the Mend and Potent Medicine and is actively working to promote care redesign, transparency, and payment reform efforts

  20. Donald Wheeler

    Wheeler is a professor at the University of Tennessee, where he is an expert on statistical process control and quality improvement. He is author of my all-time favorite book, Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos. The methods in that book will help you better manage any process or business.

Those are just 20 of the people who I admire and who have influenced me. Who would you add to this list as a person you should know who's actively involved in improvement efforts today?


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