Role of the Team Member

It is safe to conclude that anyone who attempts to adopt Lean management is not satisfied with the status quo and desires to change work outcomes. Lean success is highly dependent on management's understanding as Steven Spear put it, that "The real challenge is to expand beyond understanding Lean as a set of tools, and more aggressively pursuing an understanding of the comprehensive approach to managing organizations so they are capable of self-diagnosis, learning, and relentless internally generated improvement and innovation." But how is this done?

To cut to the chase, Toyota's success is the result of leadership and employee involvement.

Worker Empowerment

Probably the most significant attribute of the Toyota approach is the establishment of a system culture composed of an empowered workforce that is expected to drive continuous improvements. This results in a basic expectation of continuous attention to opportunities for improvement by all staff. This also defines the foundation of work. The need to continually improve is woven into the fabric of the people and not viewed as a time-consuming inconvenience, option, potential reward, or incentive, as often is the perception in the usual American workforce.

Your success in adapting Lean to your own work environment can be judged when you can walk away and the employee culture can sustain itself in the implementation of continual process improvements. This requires a critical philosophical difference in the expected roles of the workers or as we refer to them, team members. Every worker is a potential team member. If they don't understand that they are part of a team and who their team leader is, then that is a management failure. If they haven't been instructed in the expectation of zero-defect work, the structure for contributing to change, the opportunity to communicate in effective customer-supplier relationships to solve their own problems, and the principles of waste-free, efficient work, then that is a management failure.

Unlike many businesses, in the Toyota culture on-the-job employee training is built into the system such that the expectation embraced by all is that of "learning by doing" first, with more formal training second. In this approach, staff are placed in an everyday difficult circumstance and then allowed to problem solve by doing. Lean processes are designed to highlight problems in real time where the work is performed by getting to the root cause and by the person doing the job at the time the problem occurs. In short, feedback loops making use of indicators and metrics are designed into the process to allow working staff to identify defects in real-time.

In comparison, the usual American approach to training is that of an undertaking that must be scheduled, presented by formal instruction, with a minimum of hands-on instruction. In this latter view, training time is viewed as a detractor of valuable production time. The Toyota approach to work has been described by Mike Rother as the 'improvement kata' (a method or routine of human behavior). Can we replicate it? We can certainly try. It is a fact (proven in industry) that proper training reduces the time associated with the learning curve and improves quality.

Applying Work Rule #4, Basis of the Improvement Kata

One of the opportunities that most impressed us as a means of moving toward the ideal condition is Toyota's Work Rule #4 as defined by Steven Spear, which states that any improvement must be made in accordance with the scientific method, under the guidance of a teacher, at the lowest possible level in the organization. That is to say that changes or pilot "experiments" are suggested and carried out by those actually doing the work. This approach also facilitates worker buy-in (empowerment) to change and increases compliance with the new work standard. From our own experiences in the HFPS, we know that when a worker contributes to the change, they are more likely to experience ownership. Change then, is not made by, but facilitated by the teacher who is defined as an internal expert, knowledgeable and experienced in the area taught. This also promotes worker accountability.

In comparison, the American business culture often employs external consultants to analyze and suggest change. Yet many times these 'experts' have only minimal knowledge of actual work processes and outputs and must be informed and taught of details by the workers themselves. Conversely, in the Toyota approach, empowered workers see their daily work in the context of continually making effective process improvement changes that are designed and tested by the scientific method. To convert to and foster this latter culture, it is important to acknowledge that your workers are the 'experts' and hold the knowledge that can result in continually improving the work toward whatever goals are desired by themselves and defined by their leaders/managers.

Problem Resolution by Team Members

In a Lean management system, continuous problem resolution is dependent on a worker-driven 'bottom up' approach rather than the conventional management driven 'top down' approach to problem solving. By leveraging the quality improvement organizational structure defined previously that aligns team members with their team leader by work stations into small teams, we can foster worker identification of the nature and scope of defects, and stimulate and guide the discussion of possible solutions that can be tested. This cooperative approach is predicated on a 'no blame but all accountable' sense of process ownership.

Through an empowering structure that continually informs the workforce about the quality of their work product and charges them with improving it, workers more readily assimilate the mantra- "never pass a defect".

Transforming the culture of work, or more correctly the employees' incentive to relate to each other and work differently, must occur to obtain success in a Lean enterprise. The role of leadership is to establish the shift in work expectations, structures and realignment of incentives so that workers can relate to and interact with each other horizontally across the path of workflow and contribute collaboratively toward work process redesign across historical silos of control. To be effective in fostering change from the bottom-up, so to speak, the people-focused strengths of Toyota's culture must be reproduced- namely:

  • Employees in charge of their own jobs
  • Employees designing standardized work
  • Employees working to continually improve the work, changes made and effectiveness assessed by the customer focused PDCA cycle

Roles of Team Members

In this new Lean culture of work, the consistently engaged, learning, communicating and contributing team member is expected to fulfill the following empowered roles so that effective process improvements can be continually designed and tested by scientific method (PDCA) in the workplace:

  • Understand the work rules, principles and tools of process improvement
  • Identify defects, daily, on whiteboards
  • Meet in teams regularly to share & brainstorm problems in the workplace
  • Join teams charged with addressing interventions
  • Assist in design of measurement tools
  • Collect data
  • Assist in root cause analysis
  • Communicate to other teams, customers-suppliers
  • Communicate to managers/leaders
  • Keep track of process improvements
  • Continually seek better ways of performing the work
  • Present results of successes
  • Learn from previously proposed interventions that did not work (the failures)

Teamwork is the Cure

Teamwork is the foundation of Lean process improvement, and it has been proven that individuals will extend themselves to make the company successful if they are engaged early on in the decision-making process. In Toyota's culture, learning often is by experience in which an early ongoing effort is demonstrated to teach teams how to work together to reach common goals. The problem-solving approach is "Go and See" in which subject matter experts observe the problem to deeply understand the current condition before suggesting process improvements. This includes analysis of workflow, standardized work procedures, and further evaluation to analyze and detect the root cause of defects. In comparison, other quality improvement methods often are limited to the review of data from reports created by individuals external to the work itself.

Go and See

The Deming approach to quality and the PDCA cycle attributed to him were appreciated by the Japanese in the early 1950s as a "way of thinking and managing rather than simply as techniques."

In this strategic basis for improvement (the Improvement Kata described by Rother), "Toyota later added the words "Go and See" to the middle of the PDCA wheel."

This act of 'going and seeing' is critical to observe actual conditions for yourself and not to fall into the managers trap of jumping to conclusions. This must be the beginning of understanding a situation before suggestions for change can be made effectively.

The 4 key points of the Improvement Kata, founded in PDCA, deal with scientific experimentation, discovery and learning. This is how the culture changes for people from one of hiding and blame to one of openness and learning. At its core, this approach to problem solving relies on development of people with insight and process repair closest to the level of the actual work. The 4 points of this problem solving routine defined by Rother are:

  1. "Adaptive and evolutionary systems by their very nature involve experimentation."There is no one right answer, no one fix to a problem. Just many tweaks on the way to a target condition whose path is largely unknown. Just try something. Let the data tell you if it is worth accepting as a change in process. Given the right leadership and organizational structure, the workplace is your experimental playground to figure out how to do the work better. In the Henry Ford Production System, this is the basis of your empowerment
  2. Hypotheses can only be tested by experiment, not by intellectual discussion, opinion, or human judgment." Don't talk, test! What you believe or think is less important than what you try, usually on a small scale.
  3. "In order for an experiment to be scientific it must be possible that the hypothesis will be refuted."Never assume that the change implemented will work as intended and should be accepted as originally designed. That assumption will stop improvement and adaptation in its tracks. The fluid nature of continuous improvement is an adjustment for most who adopt this approach to work and problem solving.
  4. "When a hypothesis is refuted this is in particular when we can gain new insight and further develop our capability."

Dr. Rother elaborates on these concepts-?"We learn from failures because they reveal boundaries in our current capability and horizons in our minds. This is why Toyota states that 'problems are jewels.' They show us the way forward to a target condition. You need to miss the target periodically (again, preferably on a small scale that does not affect the customer) in order to see the appropriate next step."

"This is a fascinating point when you consider how much we as leaders, managers, and executives try to make it look like everything is going right as planned. The main reason for conducting an experiment is not to test if something will work, but to learn what will not work as expected, and thus what we need to do to keep moving forward."

"No Problem" = A Problem

Rother also observes that "If there is no problem, or it is made to seem that way, then our company would, in a sense, be standing still..... The idea is to not stigmatize failures, but to learn from them."

"We hear about Toyota's success, but not about its thousands of small failures that occur daily, which provide a basis for that success. Toyota makes hay of problems every day, where we tend to hide little problems until they grow into big and complex problems that are then difficult to dissect. Toyota has mastered the art of recognizing problems as they occur, analyzing their nature, and using what it learns to adapt and keep moving toward its target condition."

To some, the writings above may be just an academic construct that cannot be realized. However, the philosophy and reality of this manner of working is supported by what we have accomplished in the laboratories of the Henry Ford Health System through the management structures and culture of an empowered workforce we have created and the principles, rules and tools we have adapted from manufacturing to our own healthcare environment. Our own Henry Ford said it better yet-

"There are no big problems, just a lot of little ones." - Henry Ford

This is a different way of thinking. Find the little problems proactively at the level of the work and empower the workforce to resolve them continually.

Identifying Opportunities for Change

"Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement." -Henry Ford

The primary role of team members is to reveal in real-time, to each other, and to their managers what is not working as expected, that is, to identify in-process defects and waste.

To this end, we place white boards in the workplace so that defects can be made visible by the workers themselves, in a blameless fashion. A white board is a work communication tool for the worker and manager so that "no problem doesn't become a problem."

Why write it down publicly? Simply, to collect factual information about less than optimal work and because lack of effective communication begets poor quality. Should you walk into a workplace and see white boards, describing defects encountered, you will understand this tool to be a visual reminder that in a true Lean culture employees are empowered to work differently, invested in and accountable for the quality of the work they receive or produce.

White boards are a simple tool to help the individual worker and the team communicate within and between work stations, connect work stations horizontally across the path of work flow (or value stream) and make the workplace visual for both those doing the work and those managing the reliability, consistency and stability of the work. White boards are only fully functional as visual workplace tools when leaders have created the enlightened culture that encourages blameless identification of mistakes, provides an organizational structure and reporting relationships that incentivize empowered workers to contribute to daily defect resolution. This is the essence of Lean- a continual improvement loop with a 'shop floor' focus by employees who know the nature of their work best.

The elements that may be captured on white boards to clarify the defects that arise in your work station and facilitate your team's subsequent resolution are the following:

  • Date
  • Problem
  • Who identified
  • Action- short term (our rapid fixes)
  • Action- long term (our A3 based improvements)
  • Responder/Comments
  • Estimate % complete (visual using a circle with quadrants filled in)

See if this Issues List described above from a White Board adapted from the manufacturing world helps you think about how to best to use your own white boards.

Standardized White Board

Although we have been using white boards for some years now, we have only recently standardized our own approach in the laboratories. Below is our current iteration of a white board. The header is meant to inform and educate the workforce. It contains regularly used references to the defect resolution process of the Henry Ford Production System:

  • The 7 Types of Waste
  • The 5 Why's of Root Cause Analysis using an Ishikawa Fishbone diagram of common causes
  • The 4 Rules of Work from the Toyota Production System that are often in violation when a defect is encountered
  • The process improvement procedure methodology of the Henry Ford Production System
  • The Leader's quality messages, here, the Wednesday's Words of Quality that I write

The board is segmented to capture detail about:

  • Daily defects encountered
  • The defects immediately resolved on the spot or those queued for further development as an A3 based process improvement that often requires a 'Go and See' or a customer-supplier meeting
  • Communications for and between shifts and ongoing quality education topics and learnings

The Process of Process Improvement

By 'sensing the pulse of the machine' in real-time with the use of white boards located in each work station, workers themselves, who are closer to the point of receiving or producing work defects, are empowered through the 'improvement kata' to work toward effective resolutions in concert with their team leader or teacher employing Toyota work rule #4.

The process of fixing the identified defect may take the form of:

  • A rapid, often daily resolution (just fix it in place when found)

This may be elevated to a more involved process with-

  • An A3 resolution that requires further study about the nature of the defect (e.g., frequency, type, associations, root cause, etc) in usual PDCA detail

This may require identifying team members to serve on a-

  • A Customer-Supplier meeting between work stations to better define work requirements and understand root causes

In our HFPS Lean culture the second more involved resolution process calls for creating a storyboard of the defect and the proposed countermeasures on a large A3 size piece of paper and is known as an A3 resolution. We will discuss this in more depth in a subsequent part of this series.

Spreading Learnings and Coaching Through 'Share the Gain'

To showcase the numerous improvements performed by the workers, and to allow them to understand their importance in the organization, it is important to design a reinforcing and sustaining venue for workers to share process improvement lessons with their peers. We hold monthly "Share the Gain" meetings as catalysts to set the pace of change that resulted in 536 documented process improvements accomplished in 2009 in the laboratories of Henry Ford Hospital. This mechanism has greatly assisted in establishing a change in the culture of work and worker involvement in change. In this year 2010, more than half the 150 Share the Gain presentations from Henry Ford Hospital laboratories were given by the workers themselves with the remainder contributed by the team leaders.

We set the pace for change by setting the expectation of one process improvement presented per month per team. These need not be completed improvements but can include progress updates of interventions in-process or even failures. These one-hour, monthly meetings showcase 8-10 work station team presentations. We encourage attendees to participate in question and answer sessions to reinforce the work principles, rules and tools applied. Presenters are 'shop floor' workers who are given individual artistic freedom. This forum allows the workers to not only share their improvements but to receive praise from their peers and become recognized and rewarded by leadership who attend each meeting. Employees thrive on this form of recognition and reward more so than any economic incentive.

Through this cultural change in management with reinforcing and sustaining structures to effect continuous quality improvements leveraged at all levels with the empowered workforce, the pace of improvement is often rapid and the processes of work are ever-evolving and optimizing toward a more perfect state.

  • Ford H. Today and Tomorrow. New York, NY: Doubleday; 1926
  • Ohno T. Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production. Portland, OR: Productivity Press;1988
  • Rother M. Toyota Kata. Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010.
  • Spear SJ, Bowen HK. Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System. Harvard Bus Rev. September 1, 1999:96-106.

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