Posted by: Knightbird | November 16, 2011

What Does It Take To Teach Lean Management?

I had a wonderful talk with Tom Jackson while we were preparing our presentation for the NCAI Convention early in November. Tom teaches a Quality Management Course at the University of Washington, which I presume contains a high dosage of lean healthcare management. He is also a principal in Rona Consulting, which provides lean healthcare consulting services. One thing I know about consultants is that they are expensive, and you want to extract maximum value if you hire them. I also know that for many of our smaller organizations, making a commitment to hiring a lean sensei is not a possibility. The funds are either not available, or the board will not commit the funds to something they don’t understand.

The approach I am taking to spreading lean is to take on the mentorship of 5 executives. I have 2 signed up. I am looking for 3 more who can make a difference in Alaska Native organizations, and who can commit to learning to see and think differently. For the 2 I have accepted, my first reading requirements are proving to be a challenge. They are both Jeff Liker books, “The Toyota Way” and “The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement: Linking Strategy and Operational Excellence to Achieve Superior Performance.” I plan to spend one hour discussion sessions through FaceTime or Skype. The reading is for them to become familiar with the history of Toyota’s learning. My discussions with them will be to prepare them for the resistance they will face and give them some guidance on how to change that resistance. We will conduct Kaizen in their organizations to help teach them the tools. I expect this relationship to last a couple of years.

My hope is that they will take on 5 mentees of their own and start to spread the knowledge in a kind of apprentice format. I give credit for some of this type of thinking to Robert Davidson, Haida Artist. During dinner one year, I was cry babying to Robert about the lack of Native artists available in Anchorage to teach our young people. His response was wonderful. He asked why we needed Native artists to teach our children. He said all we needed was to know a little bit more than our children, knowledge we could gain with our ability to read and study. I know I have a 7 year base of knowledge that is hard earned and valuable to leaders who want to convert to lean. I know I  can pass that knowledge on to others and benefit them.

As I tell my staff, we don’t need to be perfect. We only need to be willing to make and acknowledge that we make mistakes and chase perfection by correcting those mistakes.

I hope this works.


  1. I really like that approach of trying to fan out the learning that way.

    “As I tell my staff, we don’t need to be perfect.”

    In healthcare, I’ve seen a lot of that fear, that people often aren’t willing to try a new practice or lean method unless they can do it perfectly or they are somehow guaranteed that it will work. There’s often a lot of fear in organizations that has accumulated over decades and we need to work on addressing that, as you are.

  2. […] What Does It Take To Teach Lean Management? […]

  3. This is about as common sense, and as simpk,e an idea as I have ever heard, it doesn’t take genius or tons of money to get Lean, it takes what you are doing a willingnesses to start sharing your knowledge with others as you grow and learn more.

    Any company can start out improving their operations, Kaizen is in fact about taking many tiny steps toward improving. If people started acting in instead of studying and looking for experts, they would find their improvemnts would start to build a mass that would keep improvement happening. Past history has shown me several organizations that were using many Lean tools while Toyota was still an unknown Japanese company, we just tend to forget that Toyota did not create many of the Lean ideas, instead much of what they did was to combine and adapt ideas from everywhere they could. What we owe Toyota and the Toyoda family is thanks for sharing what they learned in a unified program called the Toyota Production System.

    If everyone shared what they know with others we would all go farther.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: