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How Are You Supporting Your Own Lean Transformation?

by Lisa Yerian
July 26, 2019

How Are You Supporting Your Own Lean Transformation?

by Lisa Yerian
July 26, 2019 | Comments (12)

Earlier this summer I wrote a Post titled “Stop Asking Your Leaders to ‘Support’ Your Lean Transformation” in which I shared how my Cleveland Clinic colleagues and I think about cultivating a problem-solving mindset and building a culture of improvement. The piece focused on the core (and frequently vocalized) challenge of getting buy-in and support from leaders; and suggested that we’ve discovered that avoiding vague and subjective requests for help, and working hard to identify clear and specific asks can be a powerful approach. 

I want to thank you all for the great comments you’ve shared on this topic. Your enthusiasm for the topic got me thinking about how we as a Lean community can work together to countermeasure this “problem” and help each other continue the work of “making things better through Lean thinking and practice.” 

One part of the problem is that - as a Lean community - statements about not getting "buy-in" or "support" get repeated and amplified. The perception and the sentiment are perpetuated as we commiserate, or because that's the behavior we observe and begin to model. It can become what "Lean" people do – within an organization or within a Lean community. And in doing so we can not only become terribly annoying but, much more importantly, waste time and energy complaining rather than helping, positioning ourselves as helpless victims of our leaders’ “lack of support.”  All of this gets in the way of good Lean work.

To address this situation, when someone in our organization complains about something we hand them a Kaizen card. The card recipient is expected to take action to solve the problem: write the problem down, specify the target condition, understand cause, develop and test countermeasures. They are asked to make that problem real and specific, and to act on it. Perhaps we can do the same here? 

Last month during a breakout session at the Lean Healthcare Summit, a participant shared a story about a Lean team member who complained about physician leadership not being engaged in [insert Lean effort]. The storyteller simply asked, “have you asked them to?” I wanted to go shake her hand. This simple question began to shift a complaint to a problem solving activity – and in doing so got to the heart of the issue. Is this a problem you are actually committed to solving?  What is the current condition? How do you know? How are you learning about it? What have you already tried?

I wonder if, in lieu of walking around with Kaizen cards in our pockets (might not be a bad idea…), we could similarly shift this conversation from a vague complaint about “leadership support” (the lack thereof) to a problem-solving activity within our Lean community by similarly engaging each other to tackle this in the same way we would ask others to solve a problem in their work: to dig deeper into the "problem" to understand and countermeasure it. Maybe – like that breakout session participant – we could all commit to responding with a question whenever we hear a statement like this, in order to shift the dialogue from a complaint to a problem that we can attack like those we face elsewhere in our work:

“What is the problem you are trying to address?”

“What is the current condition? How do you know?”

“ What does support look like to you?”

“What specific actions have you asked of this leader to support you and your team?”

"What was the response?" 

“Great! What did you learn?”

“What are you going to try next?”

I'm sure there are better ideas than these - please let me know your thoughts!

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12 Comments | Post a Comment
Mark Graban July 26, 2019

In my experience, I've found that walking around with Kaizen cards IS a good idea, especially when they fit well into lab coat pockets :-)

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Lisa Yerian July 26, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Thanks for your comment, Mark!  I really like how the card itself is a simple, clear trigger to shift thinking and behavior from victim/complaining to engaging/problem solving.   

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Mark Graban July 26, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Yes! And I think that taking steps to write something down (on a card, an A3, etc) is a concrete step that helps turn complaints into improvements...

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Ibrahim Sherif July 26, 2019

Lean effort should be part of the strategic management or its critical part which is strategic planning . By this only Lean team will continuously get needed support.

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Leandro Ramalho July 26, 2019

Very good approach! I saw some similarity also to Toyota Kata "Mike Rother". Kata mathode ensure the sustainability of this kind of initiatives.

Leandro Ramalho (Lean Expert)

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Jeff Doering July 27, 2019
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Thank you for the inspiration.  What if we listed complaining next to “disengagement of people” on the types of waste?

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Michaela Kofoed July 29, 2019

Love the layout of the cards focusing on understanding the current condition, root cause and counter measures. It helps focus the card writer on problem solving through their own problem instead of expecting someone else to solve it for them.

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Lisa Yerian July 29, 2019

Thanks!  On the back there is a table for teams to track action items (with owner and due date) to help them stay on track. 

The last item on the back of the card is: "What was the impact?" We've found it's helpful for teams to take the time to understand the impact of their efforts. When they see the impact, they want to do it again!

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Rob July 30, 2019

Thanks Lisa for sharing. It's great to see the way in which the card embraces scientific thinking and strives to develop and empower team members. Can share some methods that have helped us along the way that might fit well into your goals.

Strategic Deployement - Method to cascade overarching goal's throughout all levels of the organization. this starts as a Top down systems but is successful when the bottom up loop which could include your cards is flowing every minute of every day. How does this idea or obstacle impact our goal?

Gemba Management - Developing the front line Management team to be Lean Coaches with focus on CI. This changes the mind set from an external group pushing tools to "where all in this together". It also opens the door to the largest untapped resource = The team members who through everyday coaching with front line managers can become scientific thinkers participating in reaching the overall goals of the organization.

Develop People - Embracing a defined pattern of practiced learning between coaches and learners. Toyota Kata is incredible at acheiving this goal. What ever the tools uses (Kata Board, A3 etc...) Connecting this pattern with strategic deployement and Gemba Management can yield great benefits for all



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Lisa Yerian July 30, 2019

Hi Rob - Thanks for the input!  Part of my thinking is that as we work to apply the methods you outline, we should be sure to apply them to "ourselves" (each other within the Lean community) by using the same approaches to develop and empower each other (other Lean team members or Lean leaders). Do you have any thoughts or experience doing this that you could share?

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Rob August 06, 2019

Hi Lisa - Beleive the core Lean Principles can be broadly applied as the frame work in developing a holistic organization. The Shingo Model is an excellent resource that highlights the relationship between Guiding Principles, Systems,Tools & Results to create culture. it's my opinion that each organization is to complex to push a specific tool or method in isolation. That does not mean that established methods can not be used rather that they need to be pulled in order to meet a specific principled held by the stakeholders. This is why I focus on the broad systems of Strategic Deployement, Gemba Management & Scientific Thinking patterns for learnering (Toyota Kata as example). These systems create the pull's to develop the tools which will provide the best results for the specific organization. What is also really beneficial to me are these forum were we share idea's and learn from each other. Thanks :)  

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Jean-Christophe DE LIMA November 19, 2020

Very good ! Good format too ?? i love it.
About your questions, thats the toyota KATA, excellent too for coaching :)

about your process, 4 questions

1) do you have some staff measuring:

- engagement from frontliners to use this paper ?

- countermeasure executions rate ?

- countermeasures performance, regarding the gap (initial state / target condition)

- paper ideas quality/qty per teams


2) how do you reward the best performers with those paper (quality and/or qty ?) and how ? (medals, events, awards, extra on salary, ...)


3) Are the BU objectives including the "LONG TERM" performance (promoting little improvements & employees initiatives INSTEAD OF temporary solutions for all abnormalities) ---> If not, how do you engage top-management to lead the teams in this way, and using this paper ?


4) is maintenance helping, or do you train a specific taskforce when it needs a little welding or a little assembly ? Have you built a routine to review & priorize, before choosing & executing the countermerasures ? Do you track countermeasures STATUS on a collaborative tool online, or only on the KAIZEN board ?


Please PM me if you like, the topic is really important for me ?? also if you want to share ideas how to give control on the process, i'd be happy to profit from your perspective.


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