top of page

Tribute to Michael N. Kennedy, a leader not easily replaced

It is with deep sadness that we mourn the passing of Michael N. Kennedy, a visionary leader and pioneer in lean product development, and co-founder and long-time CEO of TCC. Michael passed away peacefully on February 22, 2024, after a long illness. His impact on our field and his dedication to sharing knowledge will be deeply missed.

Michael's professional journey began at Texas Instruments' Defense Systems Group, where he spent 31 years in various leadership roles, including overseeing the Product Development Process that earned TI the Malcolm Baldrige award for quality. However, it was his encounter with Dr. Allen Ward that sparked a transformation in Michael's career.

In 1997, Michael took an early retirement package from TI, not because he was ready to stop working, but because he had discovered something fundamentally different and better. Dr. Ward introduced Michael to the Toyota Product Development System, which revolutionized his understanding of product development. Michael described it as a system built on the premise of learning – understanding customer interests and building the knowledge to meet them, rather than rigidly adhering to specifications.

Inspired by Dr. Ward's teachings, Michael wrote his first book, "Product Development for the Lean Enterprise" (Oaklea Press, 2003), while collaborating with Dr. Ward on the NCMS project and other joint efforts. Their plan was ambitious: Michael would write a business novel to introduce the change problems, while Dr. Ward would write a textbook to explain the details. Tragically, Dr. Ward's life was cut short in a plane crash, cancelling their plans and robbing us of a great interpreter of the Toyota System.

Mike's first book, fondly nicknamed the "blue book" by its readers, was a ground-breaking text when released, and remains a valuable learning tool today. As a business novel, it helps people connect on a personal level as well as a teaming level with the concepts and the potential impact they can have on their own organizations.

Michael Neil Kennedy (1941-2024)

After battling his cancer for decades, it turned surprisingly aggressive a few weeks ago; Mike died peacefully in the hospital with his wife, kids, and extended family on Feb 22, 2024.  A decade ago when he got a prognosis measured in months, he took it as prodding from God that it was time to get on with a few things that he felt called to do.  That calling became yet another of his deep learning journeys, but this one bringing him closer to God such that he was truly at peace as his journey came to an end.  He accomplished what he felt he was put on Earth to do.  He expressed his excitement to learn/see what comes next.  Even doctors and nurses commented that they’ve never seen anyone so truly at peace, so truly ready.  So, there’s no need to feel sad for Mike; but we do feel sad for each other as we will all miss him horribly.

Michael's dedication to spreading the principles of lean product development did not waver. In 2004, Michael co-founded and served as the visionary CEO of Targeted Convergence Corporation (TCC), a platform for enabling organizations with the knowledge, methodologies, and tools necessary to implement Toyota-based product development principles. He was also an active member of the Lean Product and Process Development Exchange (LPPDE) since its inception in 2008, serving as a participant, speaker, educator, and board member.

Michael was always passionate about learning and sharing what he had learned. He co-authored two more books, "Ready, Set, Dominate!" and "Success is Assured," and gave countless keynote presentations, further solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the field. His work was the foundation of many of the thought paradigms and techniques widely used today such as: Learning First Product Development, Knowledge Based Design, and Set-Based Thinking. In 2018, he was awarded the very first LPPDE Lifetime Achievement Award, a testament to his dedication and impact on the community.

Michael's contributions extended beyond his own work.

Michael's love of learning, willingness to question conventional thinking, and genuine interest in helping others improve were qualities that endeared him to all who knew him. He will be remembered not only for his professional achievements but also for his kindness, humility, and unwavering commitment to excellence.

Mike was born July 26, 1941, in Brenham, Texas; grew up in Dallas, attending Jesuit High School; and then got a Mechanical Engineering degree at Texas Tech.  He took a summer job between his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at Pratt & Whitney in Florida, where he met his sweetheart, Betty Fauerbach.  They got married in 1965 and he whisked her back to Texas where they had and raised three kids. They remained married for these last 58 years, nurturing many grandkids and great-grandkids (and numerous pups and other pets).

Professionally, he spent 31 years at Texas Instruments, eventually playing a major role in them earning the coveted Malcom Baldrige Award for quality.  He later went into consulting , where he became a valuable asset to the world, particularly the Lean and Product Development communities where his books, keynote presentations, and leadership in ongoing learning made a tremendous impact on many.  The Lean Product & Process Development Exchange awarded him their first Lifetime Achievement Award for his many contributions.

The funeral mass will begin at 11am CST on Saturday March 9th at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney, TX.  There will be a live stream of the service (with attendees from all around the planet).  The link to that live stream will appear on St. Michael's YouTube channel on the "Live" streams page here:
https://www.youtube.com/@SaintMichaelMcKinney/streams

In lieu of flowers, Mike would prefer that you donate to the HealthWell Foundation; you can make such donations via this link:  https://www.healthwellfoundation.org/donate/

He was an awesome husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather; an awesome brother, in-law, uncle, best friend, mentor, and business colleague; none of us could ask for better.  We will all miss all that he brought to our lives.

We would love to hear your stories and memories about Mike... please add them here for all to hear... or you can just email them to us privately. (Be sure to sign your name to your comments, so we know who you are!)

Comments About Mike

Comments (12)

Tricia Sutton
Tricia Sutton
Mar 09

Michael Kennedy – A Full life


More than a writer

More than a speaker

A wonderful husband, father, mentor, friend, and more

A survivor and more so a thriver


You talked – I listened

You asked – You listened

You taught - I learned

You challenged my thinking, in some of the most giving and loving ways possible


You made me think and also smile and laugh

You filled the world with ideas and joy


You relished life and you shared your gifts generously

A small physical package with a large presence

Who didn’t suffer fools, who enjoyed life, and who filled the world with wisdom and wonder


As tears stream down my face, I am sad

Though happy inside for having known you

Blessed inside for your influence


I will miss your presence and keep you and our conversations in my heart

The world is much better for having had you in it Tricia Sutton

Edited
Like
Tricia Sutton
Tricia Sutton
Mar 09
Replying to

Michael was a very special man and a wonderful mentor. We met, in part through the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) early on after he wrote the “blue book” in a small community starting to form around Lean Product Development. I had become interested in expanding product development into Lean and formed a small learning group in Chicagoland. Michael was one of our guest speakers. While we both were presenting at and attending conferences and learning groups, we’d hang out. He went way beyond a speaker visit, spending lots of time talking with me, being available by phone whenever I wanted to bounce around ideas, and just enjoying our time and conversations together.


We would have deep conversations, about lean, about product development, about life, often waxing philosophical. We had fun too. When he’d visit, he liked me to “chauffeur” him and kept me engaged in fascinating conversations as we drove, as well as over a nice meal, or sharing a good single malt. He made sure to get me to go to eat with him at Pappadeaux’s Seafood restaurant. I trusted his judgement enough that he even managed to convince me, a pescatarian who hadn’t eaten red meat in decades, to try the dirty rice there. It was worth trying and sharing his love of life, food, his family, and helping make the world a better place.


Michael was a mentor to me who expanded my thinking in ways well beyond Lean and Product Development. Although I started moving in different directions for work and had family matters that consumed a lot of my time, I still kept him in mind and stayed in touch occasionally. I continue to apply that wisdom throughout my life, even as I work to build a nonprofit to help both you and shelter/rescue dogs.


I felt honored to meet Betty with Michael and be gifted her stuffing recipe. I’ve enjoyed meeting and seeing Brian continue the work with enabling software tools and more. I know Michael lives on in his family and has left a solid legacy. I’ll miss him and am honored to have had him in my life.


I send my love and my honor of Michael to all his family and friends, those I've met and those I only know because they were part of his life.


Tricia Sutton

Edited
Like

Guest
Mar 10
Replying to

Thank you so much for those poetic thoughts, Tricia! Made me smile! -- Brian

Like

Guest
Mar 04

I know Michael from the Lean Product and Process Development Exchange. I was struggling to improve development at my company in the early 2000's when I read his "blue book", as we like to call it. I began attending the LPPDE conferences where I got to meet all my favorite authors, such as Michael. Every chance I had, I picked his brain hoping some of it would rub off. Ironically, or perhaps appropriately, I had his blue book with me the morning after he passed, and l showed it to a visiting company delegation when I summarized LPPD. It was that influential. So it was particularly enjoyable to be with Michael several times. Always gracious, always the teacher, always the mentor, and a wonderful human being. It is a great legacy that he has given us.

Larry Navarre

Like

Guest
Mar 02

I knew Mr. Kennedy as an esteemed member of our community in the 80’s. He was kind and impressive, even though I had no knowledge of his capacity as a business man. His nature and intellectual influence on his children, Brian and Lori, were evident at that time. He has left not only a legacy in the business world, but also generations that will spread his kindness.

After 24 years, I still miss my mother. I can tell you that his loss will repeatedly weigh on your heart. Remember to hang on to all the wonderful years of time and memories you had with him and your hearts will be filled with joy each time he enters your thoughts.

The Kennedy family will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers, as you go through this difficult process.

Sincere Condolences,

Lisa Weber Willey

Like
Guest
Mar 07
Replying to

This is Lori. Thank you, Lisa, for your kind words. I will definitely always feel his loss but fortunately we have a lot of fond and joyful memories with him. He was absolutely a fantastic Dad. Thank you also for the thoughts and prayers.

Like

Guest
Mar 01

My favorite memory of Mike centered around a rather blunt personal question I posed. "Hey Mike, you're not a spring chicken any more. Why haven't you fully retired?" Mike patiently replied: "I feel like what I'm doing is going to help a whole bunch of people enjoy their lives more fully. These ideas will help a lot of companies as well but more importantly, that success will flow down into the lives of the people working for them." At THAT moment I understood the quality of Michael Kennedy's character...... and it was golden. Dan S.

Like

Guest
Mar 01

Oh no - not good. I am truly really sorry to hear. Michael helped me a lot in the 'early days' to introduce and educate my company then to start using these principles. We adopted and got a huge improvement and success. The products we developed then are world successes now. We had contact over the years, checking in regularly - what's new, what' happened etc. Michael was always supportive and very curious. A pleasure to have contact. So, thinking of all this and what it meant to me and my organisation - i get even more sad. I have continued in Michaels footstep and as freelance I have now helped up to 10 leading global companies using this with good success. THANK YOU Michael !!


To his family and near people !


/janne

Like

Guest
Feb 29

I see your Quebec weather exposure, Ed, and raise you regular 6am trips to Mirabel @-24F before windchill. This isn't a complaint because I rode Mike's charm and insight into employment that changed my family's life to the good pretty dramatically, for which I will always feel grateful. We became dual citizens a month ago.

Jeff Morrow

Edited
Like
Guest
Mar 01
Replying to

Thanks for sharing that! (I think I can guess who this is... but I will leave it up to you to edit your post and reveal that if you like.) -- Brian

Like

Guest
Feb 29

In 2011 or 2012 Mike and I visited Bombardier in January for a few days. The high temperature was minus 20. The whole time, Mike was hilarious. He will be missed, Ed Minnock

Like
Guest
Feb 29
Replying to

Yeah, us native Texans aren't well-adapted for sub-zero temperatures; I can only imagine my father's funny take on it. Thanks for sharing, Brian

Like
bottom of page