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Japanese Cult Invades Saskatchewan Government

by John Y. Shook
March 20, 2014

Japanese Cult Invades Saskatchewan Government

by John Y. Shook
March 20, 2014 | Comments (16)

First, check this outBrad Wall, the premier of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, wants opposition leader Cam Broten to apologize for suggesting that people who support Lean government are like cult members.

So, Lean has become a political football in the normally congenial province of Saskatchewan. A party leader (a member of the party not currently in power) has accused incumbents of spending many Canadian taxpayers dollars on Japanese consultants to teach Japanese culture. 

I have no idea if any of it is true.

But, it's true that Saskatchewan public servants don't need Japanese consultants to teach them Japanese culture in order for them to start using lean principles to improve services. 

What they, whether Saskatchewan or any government employees, DO need is to apply lean thinking and practice to public service processes to deliver more value to customers, namely citizens. That means government should engage all public servants in lean thinking and practice to tap their creativity and wisdom in order to continuously improve services. Lean management makes work processes better so government becomes more effective and efficient. 

Applying lean to government is a movement in its early stages. (Government is slow at just about everything, isn't it, except maybe tax collection?), but recent initiatives are encouraging. 

Washington State government just presented at our annual Lean Transformation Summit on how it will track the impact of using lean principles to create a work culture that encourages respect, creativity, and problem solving to identify and eliminate waste.

Melbourne Australia has been using lean principles for several years to cut waiting time for sports permits, save time and money on fixing parking meters, and free up an extra 50 minutes daily for nurses in the city’s maternal child health services to spend with customers.

And just recently, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan asked a crowd of 800 business leaders to teach lean principles to city employees so they could improve core processes like response times to police calls or water main breaks.  

I don't know if that crowd contained any Japanese culture consultants. But it is time for lean practitioners (consultants and otherwise) to aim their expertise and passion at making things better in the public sector... in Saskatchewan, Detroit, and my local city hall.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  global,  government
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16 Comments | Post a Comment
Mark Graban March 20, 2014
4 People AGREE with this comment

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I guess this makes you our "cult leader," John.

I was disappointed to hear the "cult" comments from Saskatchewan (the people saying that don't know the real definition of a cult).

But they have a point that overdoing the Japanese terms can be offputting to some and that can get in the way of learning and improvement, which is unfortunate. We can demystify things by using English words where we can (waste instead of "muda," for example). Coach instead of "sensei."

I wrote about this in 2010, the overuse of the term sensei, for one:

http://www.leanblog.org/2010/01/10-lean-things-to-not-say-2010/

It's lazy to cite Wikipedia, but here's what it says about the term "sensei" not always being a positive in Japan:

“Sometimes enthusiastic supporters and admirers use it fawningly, as when addressing or talking about charismatic business, political, and spiritual leaders. Japanese speakers are particularly sensitive to this usage when it concerns members of an in-group who spontaneously associate or identify sensei with a particular person – many if not most Japanese speakers readily see this usage as indicative of adherents speaking of a charismatic spiritual or cult leader. When talking about such situations, Japanese speakers will sometimes use the term sarcastically to ridicule overblown adulation…”

Would you agree with that John, based on your knowledge of Japan?

When there's such a big push for "we have to implement Lean," that's not nearly engaging as having a push for solving the problems that matter (as John points out so well in the Lean Transformation Model video). There I go, praising our cult leader. Sorry.

I'm sure there is really high alignment in Saskatchewan about the need to improve quality and patient safety, reducing waiting times, reduce cost, and create a better work environment for nurses, etc.

These aren't just Sask. problems, they are global problems. I hope the focus would be on providing the best patient care possible. 

But, "it's gotten political" as somebody from Sask. complained to me about. Of course it's political... it's government healthcare that reports up through politicians. 

Being surprised about it being political is like being surprised that a rooster crows when the sun comes up. That's just what they do.

 

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John Shook March 21, 2014
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Thanks for your comments, Mark. I guess it's the nature of things political that political things become polarized. Change, anything that challenges the accepted order, becomes polarizing. As you said, Mark, it's silly to be surprised that politics and politicians are...political. I think you've followed events there much more closely than most of us so your comments are especially appreciated. I can't speak to any of the real facts on the ground. I'm just reacting to a news story (thank you to Trish for hooking us up with a link to lean activities in Sask in the comment following this one). There are a lot of moving parts here: lean, lean in healthcare, lean in government, consultants, lean consultants, Japanese consultants, the relation between lean and Japanese culture, politics, misinformation. We know that lean applies to any endeavor. There are plenty of examples now of application in healthcare. In the purely public sector, though, it's hard to point to very much beyond initial enthusiasm My sense is that what is happening in the State of Washington is real, or has the opportunity to bear real fruit. And soon. Hiring experienced practitioners like Darren Damron and Holly, as Washington has done, is evidence of serious commitment. In Melbourne, Denise Bennett can site example after example of ways that city has applied lean practices to improve services for its citizenry in very tangible ways. Melbourne has routinely been named the world's most livable city. If that's not directly attributable to lean, it certainly is a result of the same customer centered attitude and continuous search to make things better that occupies the heart of lean thinking. The saddest part of the story for me is the lament by the healthcare practitioner that the lean application she's experienced so far has yielded disappointing results. For each new individual who is touched by lean, through the activities of the organization to which he or she belongs or through contact with a lean consultant, for that individual, it is the only "first encounter" he or she will ever have, so it's important that consultants get it right, first time every time. "Get it right" doesn't mean there are no failures or no taking of a few wayward turns when sailing uncharted waters. Getting it right means simply that basic principles are guiding the guides (the consultants), principles such as respect (with challenge!) for learners and an experimentation mindset rather than implementation of a prescriptive blanket solution. As for the term "sensei", Mark, I think it's fair to say that the term is basically one of high respect, or esteem. I guess with the right intonation "sensei" can be used sarcastically in much the same way that we might use "doctor" or "professor" or "Mr. President" if we really tried to apply a high dose of sarcasm. Perhaps our friend Jon Miller, or others, will weigh in on that question, too. But, I agree with your point about overuse of Japanese terms. Sometimes they completely obfuscate. Hoshin is an example. The term gets in the way, for sure, but on the other hand it's very hard to come up with an equivalent. A good countermeasure, or test, is to substitute an English word for the Japanese to check if your sentence still makes sense. Anyway, after years of mostly using "policy" or "strategy" lately I'm using "hoshin" again (but substituting "direction" wherever I can). By the way, I think of the term kaizen differently. Kaizen is fully part of the English language. Like sushi or pasta. Sushi is sushi, not raw fish. Pasta is pasta, not Italian noodles. Kaizen is kaizen and the term definitely carries a heavier load than "continuous improvement". I like to avoid using, not only Japanese terms, but even lean terms. Its fun for a group (a "cult"?) to have its own language, it makes its users feel like they're in the in crowd, but jargon usually hurts more than it helps. I do hope - consultants or no - Saskatchewan will stay the course. Sounds like they are going through a rough patch, a time of struggle. But, we know that if they stay the course the benefits will follow in the form of improved processes, working conditions, and services for citizens. And we want them to stay the course so they can set a positive example for others (like my local city hall!). - Joh

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Trish Livingstone March 20, 2014
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Check out our government's lean efforts here:

http://thinklean.gov.sk.ca/

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John Shook March 21, 2014
Thanks, much, Trish. I followed the link you provide and it's encouraging to see so many promising activities taking place. Keep up the good work. Let us know how things are proceeding any time you wish! - Joh

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Guy Gordon March 20, 2014
Not just Saskatchewan.  Manitoba recently announced a similar effort.  They now join other provincial governments in New Brunswick, Ontario and Brtish Columbia in formal, sponsored intiaitives to drive LEAN into the core tool box, and requirements of modern public service managers.  Stay tuned for more from north of the border. Why are american public sector jurisidictions so far behind

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Lory Moniz March 21, 2014
Please share your stories with us and the LEI community. We must keep showing the public sector that lean can help them as Mark Donovan said so perfectly "drive toward mutual prosperity and sustainability.

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John Shook March 21, 2014
Hah, yes. Why is it you northerners seem to moving so much more progressively than we southerners? - Joh

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Mark Donovan March 20, 2014
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I didn't pay anybody anything to learn lean.  I bought every book I could find on the subject and read and practiced everyday and that is what I continue to do.   Lean is the best path I have found to date that drives toward long term mutual prosperity and sustainability.   The people of Sakatchewan should test this for themselves.  Thank you for your leadership John.  

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Mark Donovan March 20, 2014
I apologize to the people of Saskatchewan.  I left out an S above

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John Shook March 22, 2014
Thanks for the thoughts, Mark. Maybe being somewhat isolated there in Bali is a certain kind of blessing (well, being in Bali is a blessing on many levels...) in that perhaps that isolation has encouraged you to take extra steps to learn your way through learning lean. With enthusiasm. I know you have read every book you could get your hands on, reached out for advice from everyone you've met, and tried in hands-on fashion to apply lean thinking in practical ways to meet each of your challenges, one at a time.  Enthusiasm, or passion, to learn to learn may be the most important ingredient for making continuing lean progress.

-John




  


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Mark Graban March 24, 2014
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It's perhaps an unfair comparison with a health system of 35,000+ (40,000?) employees, but one of the things I love about the story of Sami Bahri, DDS is that he never used a consultant (although he did get help from his patients who were part of the local lean community). He didn't have a book on "Lean Dentistry" to read.

He read the core source Toyota books and Deming books and he worked, experientially and experimentally, with his staff to figure out what problems to solve and how lean applies to them.

Again, I don't know if it's fair to assume that approach would scale, but I think elements of it can be emulated.

Dr. Bahri has been dubbed "the Lean Dentist" but I don't think his goal was to "get Lean" or "implemement Lean" or "Lean out his practice."

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Denise Bennett March 21, 2014
4 People AGREE with this comment

 

I was pleased to see government as John's Lean Post topic.
At City Of Melbourne we have worked hard over the past five years to make Lean Thinking 'the way we work around here'. Hundreds of processes have been improved for external and internal customers. We can inspect more restaurants with the same staff, get permits to buskers faster so they can perform on our streets,assess and review more aged care clients, deliver care to more children within our child care centres and recruit staff faster and more cheaply. We feel like we have just scratched the surfface of what needs to be done. 

But lean thinking has deliverred so much more to the organisation and the 1300+ people who within it. 

Across 30 discrete businesses it has helped us see things horizontally for the first time and challeneged so many long held traditions and assumpitions about the way we work. It has broken down silos and really helped us work collboratively as one  organisation. Across those silos it has given us a common language, and brought together people from all over the business from all levels to learn and improve together. It has gioven us many reasons to celebrate our efforts. 


It has challenged us on purpose; what do we make, for whom and is what we are doing really making a difference to the community?


Like my previous experience in healthcare we constantly learn  the extraordinary benefits of making our processes and work visible (thanks Dan Jones for that lesson many years ago). 

I am priveledged to bo supporting a lean transformation that is led from the top and is totally dfocussed on making things better, faster, and easier for our customersand staff and financially sustainable for the organisation. 


We still have a lot to learn, and we learn every day by doing, with so much more doing required,our learning will be rich.  in the words of Jim Womack "every day is hard, but life is good". 

 

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John Shook March 22, 2014
Thanks for the update from Victoria, Denise.

Say, since we're on this topic, you're one of the very few individuals I know with really deep experience as a practitioner applying lean thinking in both govenment (City of Melbourne) and healthcare (Flinders in Adelaide). Any enlightenment you can offer regarding any differences between the two? Different animals or same same?

- John 
     


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Dennis Kendel March 25, 2014
2 People AGREE with this comment
I live and work in Saskatchewan. It is exteremly valuable to have ingihts shared with us by individuals with extensive expereince in using lean as a tool to improve the safety, quality, and effeiciency of heathcare services

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Emily Passino June 13, 2014

John Shook - for you to be unaware of Lean Government efforts, when LEI even has a government Lean forum with 60 topics, is suprising.

Tennessee is in regular conversation with more than a dozen other state governments at various stages of statewide LEAN initiatives, including the State of Washington. The Maine LEAN Summit pulls together many of these people from the New England area, and you can find some great results on the Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and Ohio state government websites, to mention a few of the more notable efforts.

Some years ago Ken Miller wrote a thoughtful piece for Government Magazine: "Lean Government's Promise of Going Lean" (http://www.governing.com/blogs/public-great/lean-government.html). More recently,  Harry Kenworthy pulled together a nice document (see http://www.leangovcenter.com) for Government Finance Review on getting started with LEAN Projetcs. EPA at the federal level has a treasure trove of resources, see for example: The Lean Government Methods Guide (http://www.epa.gov/lean/government/pdf/lean-methods-guide.pdf).

In short, Lean efforts in government are well respected in many parts of our country, We are learning from each other, and we are making a difference. We invite you to Nashville to come see!

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John Shook June 16, 2014

Thanks, Emily. I didn't mean to imply that I know nothing of what's going on in this realm. I've heard of many of the initiatives you mention. But, I have UNFORTUNATLEY never been to Saskatchewan so only know what I've read or heard. And, overall, I do think it's still early days for most of this stuff. However, that doesn't mean it's not exciting and full of promise. I just resturned from a visit to the City of Melbourne where I was blown away by what I saw: a deeply engaged CEO of the City along with her staff of directors, and teams of individuals in a diverse set of city servives engaged in breaking messy problems down by making them visual and attacking them at root cause and system levels. Impressive, indeed. You can read about it at Planet-lean.com (http://www.planet-lean.com/index.php/case-studies/530-making-a-city-great).

And I will take you up on your offer to check out what's going on in Nashville. Hope to be there in July. Send me an email at jshook@lean.org. - John

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