October 2015

Lean in Action - Working Together is the Lean Way

One of the things I enjoy most about Lean is the community of learning culture. People from different organizations and even competitors are generally willing to share their best practices, insights, and experiences. Likely, this is a culture that emerged from Toyota as demonstrated by the NUMMI joint venture with GM and Toyota’s willingness to allow anyone, including competitors, to tour Toyota facilities. 

My firsthand experience came in 2006 when we decided to create a local user group with companies in our region that were pursuing Lean. Though our organization had been training in Lean since the early 1990’s, our relative isolation from the knowledge experts was putting us in a rut. We developed a preliminary A3 to create a group that might bring in top experts as speakers, take trips to Lean leaders, and generally benefit our clients and our institution (NMC-Training Services and MMTC–North). In
2007 a client of ours, Patricia Malone, had become aware of a Lean Consortium in Jacksonville, Florida through an affiliated company so we contacted the Jacksonville consortium. They willingly shared their structure, what worked for them, and what to watch out for. After tracking down three more consortiums around the country, we designed our own unique approach and in 2007 we launched the Northern Michigan Lean Learning Consortium (NM-LLC) immediately gaining a number of committed organizations. 

In mid-2008, we received a call from Debra Levantrosser, who was with Johnson & Johnson at the time, and leading an effort to develop a Lean Consortium with DTE, Amway, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and others. She was interested in what we had learned in our early months which we willingly shared as others had done with us. I was invited to attend initial planning meetings which led to the launch of the Michigan Lean Consortium (MLC) that same year. Our early MLC planning included some
far reaching visions such as a statewide conference on Lean (launched in 2011 in Traverse City) and regional associate consortiums still under consideration. Though the approaches between our two consortiums varied along with the scale of members, the MLC and NM-LLC have learned much from our relationship. Many members of both consortiums may not be aware that we have a
long standing, reciprocal agreement that allows members of either NM-LLC or MLC to attend events of the other. No matter that this benefit is not used often due to the geography, I believe the relationship makes both organizations stronger and have served on MLC’s Board of Directors for the same reason.

The last couple of years, I’ve been invited to be a judge for a regional First Robotics Competition (FRC) in Traverse City and have been regularly inspired by high school youth and their willingness to collaborate and cooperate while at the same time competing. The term FRC intentionally uses is “
.” What I see at the events, in the Gemba, are high school kids sharing knowledge, parts, and even their own hands to help a competitor get up and running or get better because they realize that developing your industry drives you to get better. Much in the spirit of Toyota, many organizations realize that sharing your best practices, becoming more transparent, and raising the game of those around you is a way to raise your own game. 

Richard Wolin, Director of Training, MMTC-North region at Northwestern Michigan College
1701 East Front Street, Traverse City, MI 49686
231-995-2003, Office.

Below is the link to a compelling article by Tyson Ortiz and Jeff Liker about Kata in Healthcare, which was just published by Target Online. Everyone involved in Healthcare improvement will find Tyson's family's experiences with practicing the Improvement Kata routines to be highly relevant. 
Lean in Healthcare has generally been written about from an operations standpoint on the provider/administrator side. Tyson and Jeff's article takes the patient perspective and describes a way of increasing patient-centered care and patient involvement in care plans.
It's a story of Tyson's family and how they fought to keep their newborn son, Michael, alive. Using what he had learned as an Improvement Kata coach at work, Tyson and his wife challenged medical assumptions, researched options and systematically tested countermeasures.

Thank you to Mike Rother for sharing this with us!


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Upcoming Events
  • Red Bead Redux and Networking with ASQ - October 15 at 5:30 pm in Troy
  • Herman Miller Lean Healthcare Learning - October 23 at 8:30 am in Holland
  • Six Thinking Hats - A Practical Set of Parallel Thinking Tools - November 13 at 1:00 PM in Livonia
  • Bronze Certification Prep Class - Starts November 2 at 6 PM in Lansing
Click here for more information on the Bronze Certification Prep Class!

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The Leaning Edge
The Leaning Edge Radio Show, led by MLC Co-Founder Debra Levantrosser, airs every Friday and Saturday on the Michigan Business Network. 

Tune in on Fridays at 11 am, 5 pm, 11 pm and Saturdays/Sundays at 5 am, 8 am, 1 pm, 6 pm, 11 pm. You can also listen to and download past episodes on the website. If you are interested in being a guest on the show email Debra at

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