The Evolution of the Kaizen Fellows Program
I first created this kind of leadership development program at Boeing. There, we trained a team of upwardly mobile employees and managers with executive potential, representing all major functional areas, to become experts both in Lean and leadership. These “expos” evolved into Boeing Production Systems Specialists (BPSS). The candidates were, among other things, required to work basically a 24/7 schedule for airline customers—an expectation similar to healthcare’s 24/7 work ethic to care for patients.
Over the course of two years, their education included about seven weeks in Japan, including a weeklong gemba kaizen seminar with hands-on work at Hitachi, Showa, Taiho, Hokushin, Yamatake, and Toyota. Candidates underwent intense training in time observations, cycle-time investigations, improvement implementation, standard work analysis, and documentation of results. Even more intense was a three week master sensei training seminar led by Sensei Nakao, president of Shingijutsu Global Consulting. I attended with our first BPSS team, whose members stood for hours to observe workers at various operations. Candidates were given grueling assignments to conduct “process at a glance” observations with minimal input from plant staff, and they provided detailed reports to Nakao. Other BPSS trips had them studying distribution kaizen, production preparation, supply-chain kanban, and the achievement of breakthrough changes and results. I later took this leadership development model, with refinements, to Virginia Mason Medical Center and Park Nicollet.
Building commitment and capacity
After beginning work with VMMC, I enlisted Dr. Gary Kaplan, CEO, and Mike Rona, president, to launch what I renamed the Kaizen Fellows program in 2004. Participants were nominated, with one cohort starting in 2004 and another the following year. We could not have asked for a more enthusiastic and committed group of leaders. Rona joined me in leading the first and second Kaizen Fellow study missions to Japan, and his final trip report described the group’s experience at Toyota—which Rona called the pièce de résistance of the trip. In his words,
“The complete and grand finale of TPS implemented synchronicity and harmony of man, machine, technology, and the customer, made possible through product innovation, focus on people, respect, community, society, and the world. . . . We have only a stronger commitment to the Virginia Mason Production System and the promises it holds for our patients and our staff. Even more importantly, it became even more apparent to us on this trip that the success of Virginia Mason in fully and successfully implementing VMPS is essential to changing healthcare in our country.”
This kind of intense educational (and psychological) conversion has been so effective at forging outstanding leaders, with immense commitment to Lean, that a Kaizen Fellows program continues as a key JBA consulting recommendation everywhere we go. We implemented the same process in Canada at Saskatchewan Province which included a very focused and intensive program beginning with the development of three senior managers in Saskatoon Region. Their initial training included week long sessions on the factory floor in the USA at fortune 500 companies.