Success stories from Lean engagements: our fall conference presentations

This year, our theme for presenting our Lean work at conferences has been to step back and let some of my favorite clients share stories and results from their own lean transformation activities.

In August, we co-presented at the American Public Human Services Association's annual education conference for National Association for Program Information and Performance Measurement, sharing some results of Lean process improvement and culture change over a multi-year term in the Human Services Agency in San Mateo County, California—session info and slides are available.

And on November 7, we co-presented at the Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference with a presentation called "Improving Municipal-level Development Review Processes Using Lean Methods and Practices: Creating Lasting Results for the Community Through Improved Processes and Collaboration"—slides are available.

I’m looking forwards to another year of helping folks implement Lean in their agencies or organizations in a way that builds towards and sustains meaningful improvement.

Introducing Ladji

  Ladji Koné invites you to travel with Koné Consulting to experience his country, Côte d’Ivoire.

Ladji Koné invites you to travel with Koné Consulting to experience his country, Côte d’Ivoire.

Today we’re introducing and getting to know one of our tour guides, Ladji Koné (or Koné Ladji as names are written in Côte d’Ivoire), who has lived his life in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Ladji has been coordinating our September 2019 tour efforts in Abidjan, and is Alicia and Sekou’s nephew. Recently, Ladji flew to the U.S. – his first time on an airplane – to get to know the rest of the Koné Consulting team and continue his work on tour logistics.

The Koné’s are originally from the town of Odienné in northwestern Côte d'Ivoire, and are Malinké from the Mandingo group. Ladji is the father of a 4-year-old son, Koné Adam Christ Ardiles.

In Côte d’Ivoire, there is not a distinction between sibling and cousins, or parents and uncles/aunts – all are considered siblings and parents; if a grandparent, aunt or uncle has good fortune, they will provide for grandchildren, nieces and nephews as their own. When Ladji’s father lost his job, he was initially reared by his grandparents, then went to live with his Uncle Adam, a former professional soccer player who worked at CNPS (Caisse Nationale de Prevoyance Sociale – Social Security Administration) and provided for many family members’ education. While Ladji is one of six siblings, by Malinké standards, he has a multitude of siblings and parents.

“Non-violence is a big passion for me,” says Ladji, “I always wanted to participate in non-violence education movements, especially helping for peace and harmony between peoples and communities.” Being a part of Koné Consulting International is a great start toward building relationships and bridging communities.

  Ladji in the California Capitol Rotunda while accompanying Alicia on a business trip.

Ladji in the California Capitol Rotunda while accompanying Alicia on a business trip.

With educational and work experience ranging from electrical and mechanics, agricultural food transport, and sheet metal manufacturing, Ladji has a variety of interests, explaining he is “many people.”

“After work I love to relax and watch animal documentaries, informative shows, and cartoons with my son. I like good music, especially RnB, Reggae, rock, pop, Mandingo music, and all different sports.” While visiting the U.S., Ladji was able to fulfill a dream – to see a live WWE competition.

In comparing his U.S. experience to home, Ladji explains that like Seattle, WA, Abidjan is located on the edge of an ocean (Atlantic Ocean). Inside Abidjan is a big lake called Ebrié Lagoon, which winds through parts of the city, similar to Lake Washington and Lake Union in Seattle. While infrastructure is more developed in the U.S., Abidjan has a port and industrial area also like Seattle.

  Ladji rooting for the Seattle Sounders soccer team.

Ladji rooting for the Seattle Sounders soccer team.

In Cote d'Ivoire Ladji likes to eat a lot of grilled meat, fruit salad, foutou and alloco (foutou is Côte d’Ivoire’s national dish, made from boiled cassava and plantain, mashed to a paste and formed into balls or small loaves; alloco is made with fried plantains and often served with chili pepper and onions). Here in the U.S., Ladji “loves the bacon, the hot dogs and dishes made with vegetables.”

Ladji is looking forward to sharing his country with tour participants, especially Côte d’Ivoire’s legendary hospitality, diverse gastronomy, cultural diversity, and flora and fauna. Ladji also notes the ethnic alliances between communities, which constitutes a real strength of stability and peace for the Ivory Coast; the traditional clothing styles, loincloths and fabrics; and the mild climate which contributes to rich agriculture.

Ladji invites you to “venez vivre l'eperience d'une visite inoubliable en Côte d’Ivoire!” — come discover and enjoy the Ivory Coast!

Travel With Purpose - Registration Now Open

 An African mask from Alicia and Sekou's collection

An African mask from Alicia and Sekou's collection

Koné Consulting is excited to announce online registration for our September 2019 Côte d’Ivoire Volun-tour!   

In addition to experiencing great food and music, visiting parks, zoos, museums and beaches, hearing engaging history, and brushing up on your conversational French (or Google Translate skills), as part of our group, you’ll learn about and use Lean principles and methods while problem-solving and developing a plan alongside community members in Côte d’Ivoire. 

Participants will also gain a much deeper understanding of the culture and people in the country, while Ivoirian community members will learn new problem-solving skills which will benefit their communities long after our tour group has gone home.

Register now to take advantage of the reduced rate of $4975 and reserve your spot on what is promising to be a unique travel experience.  A deposit of $500 is required.

Your Tour Package Includes:

  • Small tour group in which to have a more intimate and custom travel experience

  • Roundtrip flight from Newark to Abidjan

  • All on-the-ground group transportation

  • Full-time service of group guides and local experts

  • 14-night accommodations

    • Optional single supplements – the tour is based on double occupancy.  Private rooms for solo travelers are available for an additional fee.

  • Meals

    • All breakfasts will be included with hotel accommodations.

    • We will also provide 13 lunches and 7 dinners.

    • You will be responsible for the costs of alcoholic drinks and any meals consumed during your free time while sightseeing.

  • All tips/gratuities

  • Welcome to Côte d’Ivoire travel kit

  • Guaranteed rate the moment you make your deposit

Questions? Visit the full trip page and intinerary, or email us at or call at (855) 981-5663.

Taking Our Show on the Road

Last week, we unveiled our Côte d’Ivoire Travel with Purpose marketing effort during the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) ISM (IT Solutions Management) Conference in Seattle. ISM is the largest and most comprehensive IT health/human services conference in the nation, and brings together state and local IT leaders, federal partners, and private sector industry experts all working toward solutions to support health and human services programs.  

We met some terrific people and had a great time learning about the variety of ways folks are making a difference in their communities and abroad. 

Many were interested in the tour, and we’d like to thank those who stopped by to enter our drawing to win $500 off the September trip (registration fee value) and a Tom Bihn travel day pack. 

Our grand prize winner (registration fee plus backpack) is Cindy Hull, Program Development Specialist for the Missouri Department of Social Services Children’s Division. For those of you who don’t know about Tom Bihn bags, the company is based in Seattle and feature a variety of rugged and attractive bags for work and travel. Our own Brian Kerr, Senior Consultant, introduced us to Tom Bihn several years ago, and we’ve been fans ever since.

Our next stop is the Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference in Tacoma, November 5 & 6. If you’re attending, stop by our booth to say hello (and enter for your chance to win a prize)!

Spring Journeys and a New Look

Spring is a time of awakening and regrowth - when the earth exhibits its own cycle of continuous improvement, revealing the result of its winter work. Likewise, we at Koné Consulting are excited to unveil our new logo and re-branding, and share insight from our journey.

As journeys go, one is often asked the following questions when crossing a border - 

Who are you?
Where have you been?
Where are you going?
Do you have anything to declare?

Our re-branding process offered a great opportunity to reflect on these profound questions and the clients with whom we have had the privilege to work.

Who we are

Koné Consulting is a woman-owned small business specializing in health and human services. Each of our team members has worked in government service and/or non-profit sectors and share a deep connection to our current work, thus, we recognize everyone has a unique story. Our collective experience guides our collaborative approach to decision making and planning. Please meet the team to learn more about us. 

Where we have been

Established in 2010, we are proud of our success and long-lasting relationships with clients. Whether working in our backyard (Washington State) or traveling around the country, our lifework is positive change. We inspire change and create lasting improvements for our clients in the government and non-profit sectors. 

Where we are going

We will soon add GSA Federal Schedule to our list of contract vehicles, opening up greater possibilities to help agencies affect change. Through our three lines of service we seek unique solutions and design refined systems which serve the people who utilize them, not the other way around. 

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Performing Assessments
Growing Knowledge, Designing Purpose

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Implementing Lean
Growing Solutions, Leading Improvement

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Strategic Planning
Growing Vision, Shaping Change

International Voluntourism–As we continue our commitment to service and excellence, we seek to find opportunities which bridge cultures and build community, both at home in the U.S. and in Cote d’Ivoire, Africa, where Alicia and her husband, Sekou have personal ties. If you are interested in learning more about helping support projects which benefit human services efforts in Cote d’Iviore, please contact usWe work every day to solve the social problem of inequity in income and opportunities. 

What we have to declare

There is no limit to what we can achieve when we work together on a common goal. We are committed to service and excellence, and take our pursuits seriously; however, being serious doesn’t exclude having fun! Our clients experience joy while we do the work. 

Let us help you define Who You Are, Where You Are Going, 
Where You’ve Been and What You Have to Declare.

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...and let's away, to part the glories of this happy day


Friday is my last day with Koné Consulting and while I’ve had over a month to prepare for the moment there’s a big part of me that still doesn’t believe it’s happening. A couple of months ago an old friend and colleague of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to in a long time invited me out to dinner to catch up on the work we’d both been doing over the interceding years. Slowly, but surely, the dinner turned into a job offer—one that I ultimately decided I couldn’t refuse. Next week I’ll begin work as the Chief Operating Officer of a Montessori academy in Chicago’s West Loop.

This may sound like a bit of a hard right turn, but I actually do have educational and professional experience in child development (from a previous life). That, coupled with the fact that my daughter will be able to attend school there, led to my decision.

I regret leaving so soon after starting—it’s been less than a year-and-a-half since I came onboard and I feel like there’s so much more I could accomplish, so much more I could learn. Nevertheless, I’m doing my best to remind myself that there’s plenty I’ve learned over the last 16 months.

  • All problems are people problems. There isn’t an issue an organization encounters that can’t be at least partially helped by getting a group of dedicated and thoughtful people into a room to try and solve it. Problem is, many organizations do not empower their frontline staff, who are the actual experts in how work gets done, to be true change agents. As I say to clients all the time, “no one shows up to work each morning saying to themselves ‘I can’t wait to waste my time today!’” No—people show up to work with a desire to provide value to the people they serve, and when we don’t invest in their development we are doing them a disservice.

  • All problems are systems problems. As stated above, people show up to work wanting to do a good job. But a bad process will trump an individual’s good intentions 99 times out of 100. We should not set up systems that require herculean efforts from individual workers just to get basic things done. Organizations that ensure that business processes take into account the people engaged in those processes everyday are going to be much more successful.

  • Understanding cannot be assumed. We practice 10x communication at Koné Consulting. That is, we take a guess at how often a message needs to be communicated for it to be internalized, and then we multiply that by 10. It ought to be obvious, but sending an all-staff e-mail at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday letting everyone know about a major change in process going into effect 9:00 a.m. Monday is not an effective communication strategy. And even if multiple messages have been sent to staff, or transmitted to supervisors, it cannot be assumed that everyone understands it. Frequent, personalized multi-media messages need to be offered to ensure everyone “gets” it.

The list goes on, but I don’t want to bore anyone. The bottom line is my time at Koné Consulting has helped me be a more conscientious and engaged organizational change agent—wisdom and expertise that I hope I may ably employ during the next chapter of my professional life. And so, I bid farewell to the incredible Koné Consulting team, with sincere hope that our paths cross once more. The elements be kind to thee and make thy spirits all of comfort! Fare thee well.

Respect for people

At Koné Consulting, our thinking, teaching, and practice of lean begins with respect for people. We believe this critical component of lean is too often left behind, or buried beneath charters, charts, and flipcharts. Respect for people is also a direct pointer to one of the basic changes in mindset that must occur for lean thinking to stick in a team or organization, and to outlast our participation as consultants in any given engagement. We can give clients training and lean lingo; we can give them access to tools, methods, and forms; and we can practice using them by tackling problems impeding the fulfillment of their organization purpose—and that’s not enough. These changes won’t last unless they are supported by a culture change which involves people at every level of an organization.

Respect for people plays out in different ways for executives, managers, staff, or temporary workers, but it’s important for people in each role to put lean principles into practice. It may be practiced by a manager in how they respond to errors by figuring out how to build quality in at the source rather than rushing to “hold staff accountable”. It may be practiced by a supervisor who is focused on helping her direct reports develop their skills and authority (and notice the skills and authority they already have). It may be practiced by an executive when she communicates and champions the organization’s purpose, key value streams, and performance indicators with her boss or executive board. It may be practiced by anyone in the organization assuming good faith about the intentions of their colleagues, collaborators, and customers.

We facilitate improvement events with our clients to demonstrate how lean can work in government—and how lean “can work here”. The process of continuous improvement is the most noticeable aspect of lean: the whiteboards full of strange diagrams and notes in assorted handwriting, the excited chatter from a conference room, the disruption (however slight) of a group of peers piloting a countermeasure they’ve designed. Although the work is real, and the results can make a lasting difference for an agency and the people it serves, we see this as a form of practice. We encourage participants in value stream improvement workshops, kaizen events, and other lean processes to think about how it feels to be “inside” an event, and look for ways to make lean less special, and more ordinary, in their work.

Most adults are kinesthetic learners, so we hold to the see one, do one, teach one model—we challenge our clients to (for example) walk through a sample A3 with us, work through an A3 in order to remove a gap that they notice in their work, and then share the A3 with others as an approach to breaking down, communicating about, and removing problems. This applies equally to staff doing detailed improvement work as it does to management and leadership who must learn to distribute responsibility for improvement and adopt a coaching, rather than command and control, mindset. Practicing lean processes is the portal into developing the capability of everyone in an organization to participate in doing the work, and in improving the work.

It’s our experience that supervisors bear a difficult burden in a lean transformation. Their day-to-day work changes the most, and they are responsible for communicating ideas and practices that people may be unfamiliar with (or actively hostile to). Of course, lean management systems provide a basket of time-tested methods and practices that can help. The challenge is to get things started, and to help all levels of management in an agency understand that the tools of lean management are available, adaptable, and can help transform how staff see their work as it relates to their agency and the public it serves. Adapting to change is hard work, and supervisors must get out in front of the change—and are often under supported by their management and working with a skeptical staff.

At the end of this road is the organization’s purpose. What is the purpose of the agency? How does this purpose get fulfilled? How does—or could—the fulfillment of this purpose get measured, and communicated to stakeholders outside the organization? It is so empowering for staff to understand the purpose of their enterprise, and to see exactly how the difficult work they do every day contributes directly to that purpose. And we find no greater way for an organization to show respect for all of its people than to create space and methods for anyone to notice a problem, point out how it gets in the way of their purpose, and get support in seeing it as an opportunity for continuous improvement. People feel pain when they encounter waste, inefficiency, and poor customer service in their daily work. Fortunately, there’s a joy that comes from figuring out how to simplify, remove, or error-proof something order to better serve customers—both internal and external—that is easy to see in someone’s eyes once they experience it. The challenge is to make it stick: to get that fleeting epiphany in a small group to contribute to, and eventually to sustain, a culture of continuous improvement across a learning organization where the mindset of lean pervades daily work and planning.


We sit with our clients and practice something that sounds simple, but ends up being complicated: we practice thinking about work not in terms of who does it or what they do but in terms of the value the work creates.

One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.
— Charles Fort, Lo!

Take a process by which you serve the people you are here to serve. Pick any process; it doesn't matter which one. Your choice might be driven by your awareness of processes that are performing poorly. Your choice might be driven by complaints from staff or the public. (Complaints are one of an organization's most important and typically underutilized resources.)

Take a process and ask:

  • Who is this process for?
  • What important or useful thing do these people get as a result of this work?

Your answers will identify the customer of this process and the value they get from the process. Once you have clarity and agreement around these things, you can dig into some analysis.

  • Who does the work inside this process?
  • Who else is affected by this work, or supports this work?

Our experience is that once folks start thinking like this, they identify groups of people who are oriented around a common concern—creating a particular kind of value for a particular kind of of customer—but who might have different employers, or be colleagues separated by org charts, chains of command, or other siloed organizational structures. We call these the internal customers of the process. Every time there is a handoff, inbox, conveyance, or form, there is an opportunity to provide better, easier, less error-prone service—and these opportunities to improve the experience for internal customers ultimately lead to improvements that help the external customer (the person the process is for), as well.

The next step might be to get the people who do the work into the same room for a few hours and lay out the process. When doing this, I always look forwards to "now that I see it" moments: moments when people discover that some specific annoyance in their work turns out to be critical for someone else that contributes to the process. There are also "now that I see it" moments where people realize that things are being done for no reason that contributes to customer value, but rather because that's the way we've always done it, or because we designed the new computer system by copying the old computer system which copied the paper-based system.

From there, you can take some of the opportunities for improvement and figure out how to test them out in a simple, direct way.

  • If we made this change, would it help us create more value for customers with the same effort?
  • If we made this change, would it help us create the same value for customers with less effort?

Customer value. It's something that sounds simple, is complicated, but, with practice, becomes simple again. However the idea strikes you, we think it's worth looking at your critical processes through this lens.