Issue 14 – July 2013


Issue 14 • July 2013

Enhance your Lean Facilitation Skills Certification

The ability to guide a team toward improvement is an essential skill of any quality improvement program leader. Navigating leadership, management, and the team through the scientific method and obtaining a real, sustainable result is a difficult job. Luckily, facilitating improvement is a skill that can be learned through instruction.

Breakthrough Horizons, in collaboration with Rouge Valley Health System in Scarborough, Ontario is pleased to announce a 2 day public workshop on developing and improving Lean Facilitation Skills. The dates of the workshop will be October 1st and 2nd, 2013.

Redesigned to cover more content, the workshop covers the following topics:

  • Roles in Improvement
  • Preparing to Improve
    • Leadership support
    • Defining the project
    • Improvement logistics
  • Facilitating the Improvement
    • Preparing the room and time management
    • Effectively using an A-3
    • Using the lean tools
    • Difficult discussions
  • Sustainability of Improvement
    • Visual management
    • Problem solving
    • Measurement capture
    • Leadership standard work

To maximize the learning experience for the participants, the workshop will be capped at 30 people. The workshop covers experienced and novice participants. Discounts are available to groups of 5 or more people.

Which Tool is Appropriate?

This is a very common question asked by new lean practitioners.   Having done a quick scan on the number and types of quality improvement tools, I stopped counting at 240.   Yes, there are over 240 discrete quality improvement tools available!  When you consider that there are dozens of applications and techniques of these tools, picking the right one, at the right time, can be a daunting task.

Fortunately for lean thinkers, there is great news! There is a core group of tools that can be mastered (or at least we can become competent with) that will carry us a very long ways.  Some of the tools help us to see waste and others help us to eliminate waste.  The following table lists the tools and their purpose.


I refer to these tools as the common tools used to see and eliminate waste. Over the coming issues, we will publish thoughts on some of the applications and techniques of these various tools individually.  RB

Lean Language

A manager suggested that their organization not use the word "Gemba" during their improvement process.  Gemba loosely translates to the place where work is done in Japanese. “The word is clunky and hard to understand. Japanese words should be avoided.” In reality, this person didn't understand the definition of Gemba, yet was proposing a decision on its use.  Gemba represents more than a definition; it represents a way of thinking.  Gemba, the place where work occurs, suggests that the workplace is the source of truth and it's where people need to go.

Language is a key component of culture. As organizations look to improve their processes, they must also look to improve their culture.  Culture is behavior-driven, and the use of Gemba will help change the behavior of the manager from solving problems at their desk to solving problems in their work area.  It can change the focus of teams from meeting in the conference room to going to meeting in the work area.  Even if the organization changed the name of Gemba to something else, it would lose the richness of this simple and powerful word.  People would miss out on having to initially process the word, ask questions and seek to understand it.

In a kaizen preparation meeting, the discussion centered on removing waste from a process.  The department was severely lacking in capacity to meet the daily demand of reports and months of reports were past due.  The initial plan was to observe the process, identify and then remove waste.  The manager asked that the team not use the word "waste" as it might "upset the staff."  The term and concept of waste is at the core of lean.  Along with understanding the concept and types of waste, managers need to gain the skill of explaining that the concept of waste is process-focused and nonjudgmental.  Waste focuses on systems and processes and supports the lean principle of respect for all people. “Waste" is an ugly word, but it's supposed to be.  A culture that embraces the use and concept of waste sees work differently. A behavior change can then occur to reduce ugly stuff from the process.

There are advantages of explaining lean concepts with real life work examples. It's also important to provide those learning the understanding of how to apply lean with opportunities to think of processes differently.  Lean terms help provide that different way of thinking.

The culture of the organization may be resistant to change initially.  Today's culture feels safe and comfortable so when terminology is introduced to a culture, the natural reaction is to prevent the strange matter from entering the living organization and thus maintain today's culture.  Lean practitioners must be sensitive to people's feelings as they introduce a new vocabulary yet also remain strong in helping that vocabulary, and new way of thinking, become established.

Reflections from the Shingo Prize Awards Ceremony

In early May, I had the honor of receiving a Shingo Prize for the book Taking Improvement from the Assembly Line to Healthcare. The accolade was a research award for advancing lean knowledge.  To be acknowledged by the Shingo Prize committee as having created some material that gives a new look on how to apply lean in the healthcare industry is quite humbling.

There were a total of 19 research award winners in 2013. Each had a unique piece of literature on the application of lean. Some of the award winners are well known. John Toussaint and Bruce Hamilton are well recognized lean leaders. Others a little more obscure, myself included.

Clearly the highlight of the evening was the co-presenter. Since the Shingo Prize was celebrating their 25th anniversary, they took the opportunity to invite Shigeo Shingo's son to the ceremony. I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Shingo, arguably one of the two greatest lean minds ever (Toichi Ohno being the other). He was an amazing man. Mr. Shingo’s son personally handed me my award.

The Shingo Prize has an annual conference with four main deliverables: the research awards ceremony, the Shingo Prize company award winners, a series of conference workshops and tours, and the conference curriculum (speaking sessions) focusing on a wide variety of lean related topics.

This is one conference I would encourage the true lean practitioner to try to attend annually.


Ron Bercaw
President and Sensei
Breakthrough Horizons Ltd

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