1st Edition

Steel Toes and Stilettos A True Story of Women Manufacturing Leaders and Lean Transformation Success

By Shannon Karels, Kathy Miller Copyright 2022
    150 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Productivity Press

    150 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Productivity Press

    150 Pages 14 B/W Illustrations
    by Productivity Press

    The authors joined forces professionally when Kathy hired Shannon to be a member of her leadership team. This book describes the transformation they led to convert operations from traditional manufacturing to a lean enterprise.

    Kathy (executive leader responsible for profitability) and Shannon (transformation leader) share the finer points of a comprehensive change process, the challenges and triumphs, and the real emotion involved during their quest for success. Each describes the professional journey from their unique perspective and the highlights of an endearing friendship that was formed along the way.

    This story will inspire female leaders in any organization, showcasing an example of high-performing women thriving in an intense and fast-paced world. Kathy and Shannon are role models for those juggling intense, fulfilling careers, alongside life’s complexities such as dual-career marriages and raising children.

    Their story provides a powerful case study of women supporting each other in the workplace to drive positive culture and significantly improved business results by leading with authenticity and inclusivity.




    Author Bios

    Chapter 1: Baby Shoes - How It All Started

      • How We Ventured Into Operations
      • How Our Relationship Began


    Chapter 2: Cowboy Boots - New Sheriffs In Town

      • Setting The Vision
      • Getting Started
      • Understanding Current State
      • Gemba Walks – Go And See


    Chapter 3: Steel Toes – Time To Hit The Plant Floor

      • Feedback
      • Material and Information Flow
      • Balancing People And Machines
      • Communication Is Key


    Chapter 4: Training Shoes - So Much Training, So Little Time

      • Creating The Strategy
      • Our Passion For Safety
      • Let The Training Begin


    Chapter 5: Stilettos - From the Plant To The Office

      • Office Value Stream Transformations
      • Office 5S
      • Establishing Traditions


    Chapter 6: Rain Boots - Weathering The Storm

      • Developing The Team
      • Standards And Work Balance
      • Building Finished Goods Markets
      • Scheduling The Plant


    Chapter 7: Tap Shoes - Dancing through The Noise

      • Requirements From Headquarters
      • Back to Business
      • Layered Process Audits


    Chapter 8: Flats - Picking Up The Pace

      • Sharing Expertise
      • Developing Relationships
      • Expanding The Learnings
      • Pushing Forward


    Chapter 9: Flip Flops - Not Your Typical Spring Break

      • Special Occasions
      • Spring Break Lean Review
      • The Flip Flop Aftermath


    Chapter 10: Hiking Boots – More Mountains To Climb

      • Unexpected Treasures
      • Unexpected Misfortune
      • Material Delivery And Ergonomic Improvements
      • Changeover Time Reduction
      • Andon Signals And Escalation Plans
      • Backsliding

    Chapter 11: Combat Boots – Battling For Lean Honor

      • Lofty Goals
      • Opportunities Everywhere
      • The Season Of Model Plant Audits


    Chapter 12: Party Shoes - Time To Celebrate

      • Model Plant Celebration
      • Results


    Shannon Karels is a Senior Operations Manager who has lead multiple lean transformations and run operations for two large publicly traded corporations across various industries and business models. She started her career in supply chain management and progressed through lean and operations leadership roles. Through this journey, Shannon has improved cultures in numerous manufacturing facilities by leading employee empowerment and engagement, and building highly successful teams, with a focus on business results. Shannon is known for leading accountable organizations built on trusting relationships that improve the companies’ profitability and customer experience.

    Kathy Miller is a Senior Operations Executive who has held numerous global vice president and director roles both in manufacturing and lean enterprise leadership. Kathy is a Shingo Prize Recipient for Large Businesses as a Plant Manager. She started her career in Operations as a 17-year-old co-op student at a vehicle assembly plant, and progressed through engineering, marketing, lean, and operations leadership roles, working for four large publicly traded corporations in executive roles. Kathy is a transformational leader who consistently delivers impressive business results through team development, process discipline, and continuous improvement. Kathy is known for the creation of an inclusive culture based on trust, respect, and accountability.

    This book is about meaningful culture change, individual and organizational learning, leadership humanity and resilience, and organizational excellence. It documents a long, challenging, but totally inspirational account of multiple plants’ transformations, but also provides a unique window into a boss-subordinate relationship that is textured, real, and uplifting. Women in leadership (way beyond manufacturing) will be interested in this account of gifted, yet humble leadership. I am challenged to convey how much I loved the content and style of this book.

    -- Jane Dutton, Professor of Psychology and Business Administration Emerita, University of Michigan


    Kathy and Shannon are systems-based thinkers which makes their Lean Enterprise implementation successful and sustainable. Understanding their journey and challenges makes this book a must read for both new lean thinkers and seasoned lean professionals.

    -- Rick Harris, President of Harris Lean Systems, Inc.


    Kathy and Shannon offer a glimpse of the struggles and barriers they have faced on their road to a successful Lean transformation. It would behoove all leaders to truly understand these obstacles and perspectives through their eyes so that the unique traits of both genders meld into synergistic, winning organizations. This breakthrough publication is required reading if one is serious about building a diverse, world-class organization.

    -- Mark DeLuzio, President & CEO Lean Horizons Consulting, Shingo Prize Academy Inductee


    Kathy and Shannon’s management principles go beyond the manufacturing sector. This book is more than techniques and tools, it is about people. It is about how you connect, engage and build trust. It speaks to the heart of business leaders.

    -- Maureen Donker, Mayor, City of Midland, Michigan; Executive Director, Reece Endeavor of Midland


    Not only a technically sound lean transformation, but a story of leadership, friendship, and camaraderie.  These ladies demonstrate strength through vulnerability, perseverance through compassion, and remind us all of what true leadership looks like.

    -- Diane M. Larkin, Executive Vice President Global Operations, Valmont Industries


    This is an inspiring and important story – one that is deeply relevant today, with timeless principles for both women and men, seasoned professionals, and those just starting their careers. It is a story of courageous women, working side by side with the masters of lean manufacturing to transform a business. It is the story of how they built an inclusive culture where teams felt connected, engaged, and trusted. Through their rigorous and fulfilling work, they delivered for their employees, employer, and stakeholders alike.

    -- Roger Lehman, Managing Partner, Oliver Wyman


    Don’t be fooled by the shoes. With an unapologetically female voice, Kathy and Shannon take you down to the plant floor and show you what it really takes to execute a lean transformation. 

    -- Angie Tuglus, Executive Advisor 


    This is a fascinating autobiographical account of two women manufacturing leaders spearheading a successful lean transformation. Authors Kathy and Shannon share their stories of shaping team culture on the shop floor, battling workplace microaggressions and outright sexism, and balancing family life with courage, determination, and poise. Their friendship offers a refreshing take on women supporting each other’s success in the workplace. This book is an honest and easy read. Highly recommended for women aspiring to succeed in male-dominated professions.

    -- Meg Warren, Associate Professor of Management, Western Washington University