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Podcast: Just-In-Time Cafe, Episode 22 – Unleash Your Creativity & Get Results Using the Toyota Way, With Shingo Prize Winner Karyn Ross -

Wrap up a fabulous 2017 with us at the Just-In-Time Cafe this month and listen to our interview with Shingo Prize winning author Karyn Ross as we discusses transformation in the service sector.

We’ll cover an app that will make people think you hired a professional art director to make a video. This month for In The News we’ll discuss how a London Financial firm disrupted the market using Lean Six Sigma and then we’ll return to the States and find out what happens when you train 14,000 Nebraska state employees. For the Printed Page we’ll cover the new book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence – the newest in the series by Jeffrey Liker and Karyn Ross and our Question of the month comes from a learner who’s curious about Storyboards and A3s. – specifically, “what’s the difference?” Bring your favorite mug and pull up a chair. It’s time to dish!

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to Just-In-Time Café,’s official podcast where we help you build your problem-solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500 to small and medium-size business to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Tracy O’Rourke: Hey, Elisabeth. How are you?

Elisabeth Swan: I’m great, Tracy. How about you?

Tracy O’Rourke: I’m good. I’m surprised I found you in here. It’s so busy. Everybody is doing their holiday shopping I guess.

Elisabeth Swan: Yeah, it’s a little crazy. I see people scouting out their favorite mugs.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right. Not only the volt of caffeine I guess to keep going.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m hearing you.

Tracy O’Rourke: So let’s get some coffee and head over the private dining room.

Elisabeth Swan: I’m right behind you. I got the menu.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and with me is Elisabeth Swan, and we are your host for today. Elisabeth, what is on the menu?

Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, this is the last podcast for 2017, the last one in this format. And we are ending the year with a bang. So on the menu, first up, we’re going to cover an app that makes people think you are an art director at a schmancy marketing firm.

Next up, this month’s In the News, we’ll cover how Lean Six Sigma turned a London financial firm into a market disruptor. And of course, they spell “analyse” with an S and enquiry with an E.

Then we’re going to come back to the States and find out what happens when you train 14,000 Nebraska State employees to identify waste in the system.

For this month’s Printed Page, we’ll cover the latest from the authors of the Toyota Way to Service Excellence.

For Q&A, we’ll address a learner’s question about storyboards and A3s, what’s the difference? They are asking.

And for Today’s Special, Tracy, you are interviewing Shingo Prize winner, Karyn Ross. Tracy and I met Karyn at the Results Washington Conference where she was a keynote speaker and we are so happy to have her join us at the Café today.

Tracy O’Rourke: Absolutely.

Elisabeth Swan: It’s a great lineup, Tracy.

Tracy O’Rourke: It is. Also, remember to stay tuned for this month’s coupon code in order to get a discount on’s online training.

Elisabeth Swan: Absolutely. So, that said, let’s get to our Appetizer.

Appetizer of the Day: Animoto

Elisabeth Swan: Ok, Tracy. You turn me on to this app, Animoto. So why don’t you tell our listeners what you thought of it?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yeah, sure. So I really like this app. I actually found out about it from one of my clients. She was using it and it really is an app to help make videos more easily. So it’s a great app. I tried it. It’s very easy to use. You can turn photos and video clips into very share-worthy marketing videos and slideshows.

They have an easy setup for dropping your pictures in. You could do a drag-and-drop in there. And also, there are lots of different video styles where they’ve got storyboards that are ready-made and it helps you really easily turn photos and videos clips and make either personal or professional slideshows. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking I might do a video Christmas card this year using Animoto as opposed to sending out by mail, snail mail with the postage to all of these people. I could get a bigger reach with these videos.

So the other cool thing is there are over 2,000 commercially licensed songs. So you’ve got a lot to choose from in terms of music that you’re going to be putting on your videos. And there are a couple of other features like providing a square video output which apparently is very popular now.

Also, this pre-built storyboards, the ability to do voiceover. You could put text on the slides and also, you can all create multiple collages and layouts where you’re showing multiple images at once if you wanted.

So there are lots of great examples too on the website to give you an idea of what you’re building. And really for me, there are so many apps out there. I really don’t want to spend a lot of my own time investing in an app unless I know it’s going to save me time or make it easy. I have very little patience these days for complicated apps or things I need to figure out in order to get it to work. It’s got to be user-friendly and if it’s not, I don’t like it. I’m not going to spend time working through it.

And Animoto delivers. It actually is very easy. I was able to put together a very nice output of a video in what I would say half the time that I would normally spend doing something like this.

What did you think of it?

Elisabeth Swan: This is interesting that you talk about just to ramp up for an app and what it takes you. I’m totally with you on the incredibly huge array of usage you could have for this thing. I just signed up for it. I got a free trial. If you don’t have a free trial, I think it’s $264 a year if it’s business version. It’s 100 bucks a year at a basic level. But you can do a trial. And as you said, there was a free template right there.

Just last night, I had a graduation ceremony with a local nonprofit. We graduated 13 Green Belts. I have great slides of the CEO shaking their hands, the whole of them with their certificates. So I just imported those slides. As you said, there was music ready and I put some text on saying what it was. It took me 10 minutes and I gave it to them to say, “Hey, if you want to post it on your website, whatever you want to do. It’s a celebration of how great is that.” And it looks really sleek. It looks and sounds really sleek with that.

And then you just gave me a great idea for the Christmas cards. I might have to steal that too. Awesome.

Tracy O’Rourke: And I’ll just say as a work application very quickly is I actually did take a bunch of pictures from our process walk and put them in the Animoto and it looked great and it was a great training tool now that you can actually say, “What did you observe on this process walk?” So that was great too.

Elisabeth Swan: That totally impressed me. I love your process walk video. You can use it for storyboards. You could use it for celebration of success. It is I think a great app. Nice find, Tracy. Thank you.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. So everybody, check it out.

Elisabeth Swan: Check it out. Next up, it’s In the News.

In the News

Tracy O’Rourke: So Elisabeth, tell me what happened when they trained all the Nebraska State employees in Lean Six Sigma? I can’t believe 14,000 you said?

Elisabeth Swan: That’s impressive. So this piece came from the Omaha World-Herald. This is by Martha Stoddard. In the State of Nebraska, they are doing Lean Six Sigma. And I love hearing about how many state governments are doing this and I know you do too.

So each month, the list grows and the state shareholders, that’s the taxpayers, are the beneficiaries which is huge. Governor Pete Ricketts is interested in his people and he is invested in them. He invested in those 14,000 state employees. He trained them all to remove waste, streamline processes, some basic training in terms of recognizing the 8 wastes or 5S-ing their processes.

So just an example, in their State Department of Correctional Services, they were packing each dose of medication separately, which is kind of hard to believe. But we know how processes just formed and morphed and suddenly get to this horrible state until someone goes, “Hey, why are we doing this?” What an incredible waste of labor and material, all that packaging.

So Heather Bell is their Process Improvement Coordinator and she said that switching to a 30-day packet cut packaging time by 87%. And you and I see percentages all the time but that’s a lot. So she really cut down the time they were wasting. And what’s key is that improvements like that free up people to go do more important things and I’m sure they all have more important things to do than stick every pill or dosage into a package.

So overall, Governor Ricketts said they’ve done 52 process improvements this year. They have removed 1,300 unnecessary steps and they’ve cut 9,200 hours of wasted time out of their processes. So I say, Go Nebraska!

…Governor Ricketts said they’ve done 52 process improvements this year. They have removed 1,300 unnecessary steps and they’ve cut 9,200 hours of wasted time out of their processes.

Tracy O’Rourke: Wow! That is very impressive.

Elisabeth Swan: It’s awesome. So Tracy, how did this British financial firm disrupt the market with Lean Six Sigma?

Tracy O’Rourke: So, what’s really interesting is they are getting very lean in their processes. And you had mentioned a high number of process improvements that they’re implementing. What was very similar to this organization, they implemented 45 process improvements, implemented in two stages, and this just came from Roma, which is a bridging company for loans in the UK. And of course, I read this, I’m like, “What’s bridging? What’s a bridging loan?” So I had to look up what that was.

And for those of you that might be interested, it’s basically – it bridges the gap between two transactions. So OK, get this, Elisabeth. Private banks can take weeks or months to process a mortgage and that makes it really awkward for the buyer so they actually have to get a bridging loan so that they have the money when it’s time critical while they are waiting for this really long process. How said is that?

So at least, Roma is actually trying to make the bridging system and process easier. It would really be nice if they didn’t need this at all actually. But hey, they are trying to make the improvement or the process better.

And so, they really have looked at implementing Lean Six Sigma in every aspect of their bridging process, from initial inquiry through to completion. And so, they’ve been very successful. They involved a lot of brokers and customers to make sure that the VOC was that they were able to determine what the VOC was for this process.

And surprisingly, really not, but deliverability, speedy completion, and simplicity were the three most important factors, which if you think about a lot of processes, that’s what customers want, right? They want it to be easy. They want it to be fast. They want to get the output that they want.

So, I think it’s – hats off to them though for getting that VOC.

Elisabeth Swan: Just a reminder. VOC meaning …

Tracy O’Rourke: Voice of Customer. Thank you.

Elisabeth Swan: Oh yeah.

Tracy O’Rourke: I didn’t realize I was using an acronym. So they simplified the application. They simplified the valuation and legal requirements. And now, they can create and complete deals weeks ahead of other competitors and companies.

So, Scott Marshall, who is the Managing Director at Roma said, “We’ve challenged the way we operated, interrogated data, and employed technology to change the way we do business in order to materially reduce the timeframe in which a loan can complete without increasing lending risk.

So good job! They are now able to complete 70% of new business within 15 days. What?

Elisabeth Swan: That’s amazing. And where did this – where did you find this article?

Tracy O’Rourke: This is written by Martin Greenland from Roma. So they actually wrote it. And I just think it’s great. It’s wonderful to hear these stories and especially the number of improvements. So both of our articles this month have not one or two improvements, we’re talking double digit improvements, which I think is pretty impressive.

Elisabeth Swan: Super Impressive. You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. I’m Elisabeth Swan. Don’t forget to give us a review on iTunes especially if you like this podcast.

Up next, it’s the Printed Page.

Printed Page: The Toyota Way to Service Excellence by Jeffrey Liker and Karyn Ross

Tracy O’Rourke: OK, Elisabeth, The Toyota Way is now being applied to service excellence. What did you think?

Elisabeth Swan: The full review of this book is going to be on our website. But The Toyota Way to Service Excellence is by Jeffrey Liker and Karyn Ross. And this has become a Toyota Way series. Jeffrey Liker published the first one in 2004 and his goal was to capture what made Toyota so good basically. He documented their philosophy, their culture, and the practices enabled Toyota to make the highest quality cars with the fewest defects of all car manufacturers. So I think that’s known now but it’s just good to reflect on why this Toyota Production System is so relevant.

But apparently, he did this documentation so well that even Toyota had no idea exactly of what it was that they did and how they did it. And that was key because Toyota began opening up factories in the US and other parts of the world and it helped them spread their philosophy and culture and their practices. It really gave them a way to do it and to – it was written down finally exactly what they were doing.

So that’s not news to Lean practitioners. But what is news is applying it to the service sector. And since over 86% of jobs in this country are service-related, this is very timely and service itself is sort of an interesting category. It’s part of every organization regardless of what they create whether it’s goods or services. And it’s also a slippery term. So even in the hotel industry and I work with them a lot, frantic desk agents qualify as service, providing a service. That would be a service process.

But banqueting where they are constructing and producing and serving meals to hundreds of people, well, that’s starting to resemble manufacturing. So just speaking about service in general, he is good or they are good about defining that.

So Liker points this out and he and Karyn Ross use a realistic case study to clarify their approach. It’s well-documented. It’s well-reasoned. It is in depth. And it’s great if you really want to hunker down and apply the Toyota production system or what’s great about it in terms of what you can apply to service.

What did you think?

Tracy O’Rourke: So I really like the book for two reasons. First of all, I actually think it’s a great book. If you’re just getting started with Lean and you really want to get detailed case studies around how to implement certain tools like work sales or improvement quota, I think there’s a lot of great stories in there. So I think that’s wonderful especially if you’re really looking to see how it works and how people have approached certain methodologies and tools and how to go about implementing them.

My favorite part though because I’ve been this for a while is the cultural part. So, there’s a whole section on culture. And what was interesting is they were some notes about building a deliberate culture. First, build the deliberate culture and then find people who fit, which I think is pretty interesting. They actually talk a lot about this organization, Menlo, and I was very interested in their hiring process. They basically say, “Resumes are not important.” And you are paired up in an interview with somebody. And if you grab the pen away, you’re not asked back because that means you can’t work in pairs.

So I thought that was really interesting. And they go for this whole process of how they find the right people for their culture and it’s very different than how people normally hire others.

And the other thing that they brought up was they avoid the tower of knowledge which is a brilliant software programmer who is the only one that knows the secret code. They don’t want to be dependent on one person.

They don’t want to be dependent on one person.

And it also talked about NUMMI, this collaboration between Toyota and General Motors, and how they were huge experiments really about building the Toyota culture in an American plant. And so, that was really interesting to me too.

And the Japanese, their approach is talk about your problems openly. And when they try to get managers to do that at NUMMI, it was a failure at first. People were like, “We don’t have problems.”

And so, it was really interesting to hear how they overcame that and reading about that. I was very interested in that. So I really like those pieces of the book in particular.

I think what was also pretty funny is they talk about another organization, Zingerman’s. And this was around the principles and philosophy section of the book. And it’s just funny. They highlight five stupid ways to lose a customer. And this was actually Zingerman’s promotes, the organization. And they are very simple things but when you think about it, you run into this stuff all the time. Don’t ignore your customer. People do that all the time.

Another stupid way to lose a customer is don’t let them into your business. Don’t answer the phone. How often do you see that happening where people are like, “I don’t want to answer the phone.” Really? So I really enjoyed that part. It was pretty funny.

So I enjoyed it. I’d recommend it. There are lots – it’s chock-full of stories as well as cultural application and really just shows the journey of Lean.

Elisabeth Swan: And now, I’m hungry because when you said Zingerman’s it made me think of their gift baskets. They’re quite good.

Tracy O’Rourke: Another item to think about for the holidays maybe.

Elisabeth Swan: That’s true.

Tracy O’Rourke: You are listening to the Just-In-Time Café Podcast. I’m Tracy O’Rourke. In just a short while, we’ll get to hear my interview with Karyn Ross about Lean transformation and service organizations. But first, it’s a Q&A from one of our subscribers.


Elisabeth Swan: Tracy, here’s a question from one of our learners. What is the difference between an A3 and a storyboard?

Tracy O’Rourke: That’s a great question. And there are a lot of different tools out there and I think sometimes learners get confused about what they should be using, when and where. Ultimately, there are a lot of tools out there that can do the same thing. But I will say that A3s and storyboards, they are a little different.

So the A3, which is actually a name for its international paper size is typical one page where a storyboard is multiple slides. And most people put together a storyboard when they are getting their certification, their Green Belt Certification or their Black Belt Certification. And it could have anywhere from 8 to 50 slides I guess. I think that’s a little much. But I have seen storyboards that have that many slides in it. And people present their projects in a storyboard fashion.

And so, if I had to pick one slide in the storyboard that I think most resembles an A3, it would be the executive summary. But one important difference, the A3 is supposed to be used during the problem-solving. So you really are using it during your root cause analysis and understanding current state. And although for the storyboard, we’d like people to get a head start on storyboards and not wait until the end to actually complete it, I find that a lot of work goes into it after the project has been done. And so, they put it together more closer to the end of the project as they are getting ready to present their project.

So, I think those are the main differences between the two. The A3 piece, I think it’s focused on making the thinking more visible throughout problem-solving where the storyline or the storyboard is more about what’s the story of the project in the PDCA form or the DMAIC form. PDCA being Plan, Do, Check, Adjust or Act and DMAIC is the methodology of problem-solving for Six Sigma.

So, those are the main differences. I hope that helps.

Elisabeth Swan: Great differentiation there, Tracy, as always. Thank you so much.


Today’s Special: Interview With Karyn Ross

Tracy O’Rourke: Hi, everyone. You’re listening to the Just-In-Time Café. I’m Tracy O’Rourke and joining me today is Karyn Ross, co-author of the Shingo award-winning book, The Toyota Way to Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations.

Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about our guest. Karyn is an internationally-acclaimed consultant, coach, and practitioner focused on services. Karyn teaches people how to combine creativity with the Toyota way Lean practices. This enables them to create more effective and efficient ways of working so that they and their customers flourish, thrive, and grow for the long term.

A practicing artist with an MFA in sculpture, Karyn specializes in developing team creativity and divergent thinking skills to help organization fulfill their purpose, satisfy customers, and build problem-solvers.

Hi, Karyn. How are you today?

Karyn Ross: I’m great, Tracy. How are you? Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Tracy O’Rourke: Well, thank you for coming to the Café to talk with me about your book and Lean transformation. I’m really excited to be actually interviewing you today. I had the pleasure of seeing you speak at the Lean Washington Conference last month, October. And I was really excited to ask you if you wanted to participate. So thank you for accepting our invitation.

Karyn Ross: You’re very welcome. It was a great conference and it was wonderful to meet you.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. I really loved the conference. There were some really good presentations and of course, it sold out again this year. I just think it’s a great opportunity for people to really understand and learn about Lean and government.

Karyn Ross: Absolutely.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes! So, you are a Shingo award-winner back in January 2017, very exciting. How has its recognition changed where you’re spending your time?

Karyn Ross: Well, I’m going to say it’s very wonderful to be recognized and for people to value the contribution. Winning the Shingo prize has been absolutely unbelievable. It has given me a lot of different opportunities for speaking in places such as Washington state government lean transformation. I’ll be at the Huntsville Lean Six Sigma Conference this coming week as well as keynoting and doing a workshop at the European Lean Educator Conference. So it has been a wonderful opportunity to be able to bring the message of Toyota Way to Service Excellence and creativity to many different people.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes, very exciting. So this is a must-read it says for service professionals of every level, your book. And it’s a ground-breaking guide but it really takes the proven Lean principles of the Toyota Way and applies them directly to industries where quality of service is crucial for success.

So in a nutshell, what do you mean when you say The Toyota Way to Service Excellence? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Karyn Ross: Sure. Absolutely. One of the things that we tend to think is that Lean or Six Sigma is really something that applies to manufacturing, something that applies to processes that have a very short cycle time, something that we can see a product going down the line.

When Jeff and I decided to write the book, we did so because so many people called us and asked us, “Can you recommend a good book about lean and services?” And we really couldn’t. So we decided to write one because overall, Toyota Way to Service Excellence is a way of looking – it’s a management philosophy. It’s a way of looking how based on our underlying values and our purpose and deeply understanding our customers’ needs, how we use Lean principles such as go, flow, leveling, visual management to fulfill our purpose and to make sure our customers get what they want, when they want it right the first time.

It’s a way of looking how based on our underlying values and our purpose and deeply understanding our customers’ needs, how we use Lean principles such as go, flow, leveling, visual management to fulfill our purpose and to make sure our customers get what they want, when they want it right the first time.

We want to make sure that the principles of Lean, we know how to apply those to services because really when you think about it, services are two components. They have the service product, what we get whether it would be a mean in a restaurant or an insurance policy. And it’s also that service process and that experience. And in order to provide both of those to our customers, we can use all of the 4Ps and 17 principles that you find in the book to make sure our customers get what they want, when they want it right the first time and we do it in such a way is to develop our people to be able to create those solutions that customers want now and for the future.

Tracy O’Rourke: So Karyn, do you find that people – are you seeing that service organizations still struggle with how to apply some of these principles in a service environment?

Karyn Ross: Absolutely. And I think that one of the reasons that they struggle is they try to apply things exactly the way they might in manufacturing. However, when you think about it, services are a little bit different and they really are different because of people. So oftentimes when we have a service interaction and we’re creating a service, it’s not like a manufacturing product going down the line. In services, oftentimes our customer is actually the supplier as well, right?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes.

Karyn Ross: Right. So we have what I actually call a circular value stream. And so, if we don’t like our supplier, they don’t manufacture to our specifications and we what we can in manufacturing, at a certain point, we actually might look for a difference supplier. It’s not quite the same in services because we certainly don’t want to fire any of our customers.

Tracy O’Rourke: Right, yes.

Karyn Ross: Right. And so, those are – and as well in services, we don’t easily see what’s happening. We don’t see the service product going down the line. Chances are, what’s happening is going on in someone’s head and then with an interaction with some kind of computer system behind the screen. So I would argue actually that the whole set of visual management tools and principles and practices that we have in Lean and the Toyota Way is actually much more important in services than it is in manufacturing because it’s the way we can see if what we’re producing is the quality that our customers want and if we’re producing it in the time that our customers want.

Tracy O’Rourke: I absolutely agree. I’ve been doing process improvement for almost 20 years now and 90% of that work has been an administrative and service processes. And I agree, I absolutely agree that it’s harder to see the process, right? Processes are invisible in transactional. So if you can’t see the process, first, you have to make it visible and then you can maybe improve it. And you have to have people see the process first, right? So even though the book was more geared towards manufacturing, learning to see, it’s so appropriate and relevant in transactional.

So this brings me to something I read in your book. Early in the book it said, “Sending people to the gemba to add value is a bit like sending novices into the wilderness to learn to fend for themselves” And I had to laugh because I actually tried camping at Cub Scouts and going out into the wilderness and trying to learn to fend for myself is very scary. Although going to gemba is not scary to me. So, I want to hear a little bit more about what you had to say about that especially in service processes.

Karyn Ross: Sure. And that’s a great quote and thank you for taking it. And I think it touches on a couple of things. First of all, oftentimes, we send people to go off and especially in the idea of when we send them to go off and look for waste in processes. And people go and they see a variety of things. But we don’t actually often give them help in a couple of areas.

And the first area is if we just look for waste, we’re going to find a variety of things waiting, transportation, inventory, all of those things. And we might start to put our efforts to fixing them but how do we know that actually the effort that we’re going to put in in what we call our precious improvement time is going to be aligned towards where the organization wants to go?

So if you just send somebody off to look for something, they’ll find something and they might fix it but is it really what we want them to be spending their time fixing? Is it something that’s going to help get the organization closer to its goals? Is it going to be something that helps solve real problems that customers are having or just internal problems?

So if you just send somebody off to look for something, they’ll find something and they might fix it but is it really what we want them to be spending their time fixing?

Tracy O’Rourke: Interesting.

Karyn Ross: Yes. The other thing is oftentimes we send people without a coach, right? We give them a challenge. We say, “Off you go. Look for something. Do the best you can to solve the problem.” but we don’t actually give them the support they need for true growth and learning and development because challenge is great but on the other side, we also need what I call nurture. We need and ongoing relationship with somebody who has had experience, somebody who has gone before us so that they can help us channel our energy and what we’re seeing in appropriate ways.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes, that’s very true because I have heard of gembas gone wrong. When they didn’t have a leader or a coach or a mentor and it became interviews that interrogated frontline workers and nobody felt good about it. So I think that’s a great point that people need coaches especially when they’re just getting started, kind of like when you go into the wilderness. You don’t really want to go by yourself for the very first time.

Karyn Ross: Absolutely. And it just provides it – it makes sure that the experience of the people who are in gemba, they have a good experience just as you explained. And it also gives the person who is going to see confidence because just like anything new that we try, any different behavior we want to have, even going to our workplace which we feel we might know very well and feel confident in is a new experience and we need more support. People are human beings. They need more support than we think they do.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. And of course, learning can sometimes be hard. So why make it difficult by just sending them out there on their own? It can be very painful that way whereas if they had a coach or a mentor, it wouldn’t be as painful and they’d probably learn a lot faster and quicker and they’d learn more.

Karyn Ross: Absolutely.

Tracy O’Rourke: But it does sound to me like you’re saying that just sending people to the gemba may not be the right thing because they might just find anything and fix anything but it might not be purposeful towards what the organization wants or where they’re headed. Is that what you meant?

Karyn Ross: Yes, that’s absolutely what I meant. And actually, I’ve just in the midst today of writing the October issue of my Karyn Ross Consulting Newsletter, and we’re talking today in the newsletter about creating a deliberate culture. And we talk a lot about that in The Toyota Way to Service Excellence because what we want to make sure is that we take a look at our long-term philosophy and our purpose for existing as a company. The purpose that’s deeper than just making money based on our guiding values. And then we want to understand, really deeply understand what each of our customers wants and needs not just as a valued customer but as a valued human being.

And then we want to align our direction and our problem-solving and our striving to create those excellent service experiences and processes. And we want to make sure everything is aligned. There’s only a certain amount of time in a day and we want to make sure everybody from top leadership right down to the person who is speaking to our customer on the telephone or interacting with them, we want to make sure everyone aligned in striving towards going where our organization wants to go for the future. We want to make sure our organization is going to be here not just in two years or five years but we want to make sure it’s going to be there forever, right?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. Well, I think that’s a great segue into something else that I read in the book that I thought was very interesting. You wrote, “Limited leaders produce limited results.” And I think – that really struck me too because in some of my work when we talk about Lean transformation, sometimes I think that people mistakenly make the decision that they need to train their people and then they’ll become lean.

Limited leaders produce limited results

And this whole culture talk and talking about changing culture does mean that leaders probably need to be changing some of the things that they’re going to be doing too. I don’t think people would say, “Yeah, I’m a leader.” I don’t think they would say, “I’m a limited leader.”

So what is a limited leader? And tell us how limited leaders impact culture.

Karyn Ross: It’s a wonderful question and a very large question. And I’d like us to think about it in this way. As you said, change can be hard and change can be difficult. And change always starts with ourselves. So I’ve also had the experience of be in different organizations in which leaders say, “Let’s start right down there at the bottom. We can give people training. People can get going.” But they continued to manage and lead as they always have.

Unfortunately, then there’s a disconnect between the top of the organization where vision needs to be set and communicated down and what other people are doing. And as we all know, to say, “Nod as I do,” doesn’t work very well. People learn and they see and they do by example.

So if leaders are limited in the way they think about vision, so if they do not set a vision that is based on long-term systems thinking and a deep underlying purpose then that limits how everyone else is going to interact with their customers, how everyone else is going to do their work. If leaders limit themselves to thinking this is for everybody else and not for me, ultimately, people at every other level of the organization see that and then they tend to think, “Oh, flavor of the month. I can just wait this out because in five years, something else is going to change.”

Ultimately, lean isn’t an end in itself. In Toyota Way to Service Excellence, we don’t say we want companies to take this up so that they will become lean. We say, “This is a good management philosophy for companies to have because this will be the means by which they can satisfy customers and improve the way they do the work so that they can flourish, thrive, and grow for the long term.”

So if we only think of lean as a way let’s just be lean, it’s going to really limit how leaders act and really what the organization can accomplish. So lean always really has to start with leaders first, right? It doesn’t have to be the first place you start but unless a leader actually says, “I want to change myself,” it’s going to be very hard for the organization to change.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. Yeah. It reminds me of this comic strip I saw once when I was – it was just a speaker at a podium that in a sea of people in front of him and he said, “Who wants to see change?” Everybody raises their hand. And then the next strip is, “Who wants to change themselves?” Nobody raised their hand.

Karyn Ross: Yup.

Tracy O’Rourke: I was reading about you before our interview and I want to change it up a little bit. You mentioned something that you promote. You say it’s a powerful combination that enables organizations to deliver peak services that their customers want. Something you call practical creativity. And that piqued my interest. Can you tell me more about that?

Karyn Ross: Sure. Absolutely. I actually come to the world of process improvement through the world of art. I have a Master’s Degree in Sculpture. And creativity is extremely important to me. I believe that it is an innate human quality. All of us are created. Don’t worry you don’t have to wait for the lightning bolt to come down from the sky or a flash of inspiration. We all have the ability to be creative.

If we want to create the new service products and service experiences that our customers will want not just now but for the future, really we have to first have ideas about how to do something in a different way. And having an idea to do something in a different way has to do with creativity.

Once you have the idea about what to do differently and we can apply that to just solving a customer problem as well, then you have to have the ability to turn that idea into a reality because honestly if you just keep a good idea inside your head and don’t turn it into a reality then our customers and our company can’t benefit from that. And that’s where really we can use our Toyota Way, Lean principles, practices, and tools.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that although we specifically teach people how to use Lean principles, practices, and tools, we don’t actually very often help them learn to be more creative. So oftentimes, we’re missing that very first step of the “what could we do differently”. So I actually teach people how to reclaim or rediscover their innate creativity as the first part of the process. And then we put it into practice so that we can turn those ideas into service, products, and experiences for customers. And so that’s why I call it practical creativity.

Tracy O’Rourke: I love it. I want to take that class.

Karyn Ross: Thank you.

Tracy O’Rourke: So you have a new book coming out. So tell us a little bit about the book.

Karyn Ross: Yes. And the new book is actually going to build exactly on that practical creativity. It’s called How to Coach for Creativity and Service Excellence: A Workbook for Lean Coaches. And it’s going to be 21 days of short theory sections. There will be for each day, a short theory section on lean services, creativity, and coaching. And then there will be exercises to do to immediately turn that theory into practice so there’s no lag between learning theory and doing because doing is what gives us confidence.

So the book will act as the person’s coach and the person who is doing completely the workbook will actually be coaching someone else through solving a problem. So they will immediately for 21 days learn how to coach for creativity and service excellence and there will be a variety of kind of exercises to do to do that. So I’m really looking forward to it. I’m in the midst of writing it now. It should be available late summer, early fall next year and it is being published by Productivity Press.

Tracy O’Rourke: Wonderful. I will be looking forward to that. Maybe we’ll have you again at the Café to talk about that. So is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience today, Karyn?

Karyn Ross: Sure. I would really just like to say that one of the wonderful things that I’ve been thinking about lately and asking myself because I ask myself very many questions as part of my own process is really just thinking about the role of women in our conversation and our dialogue about process improvement, Lean, Toyota Way, all of these things. I work with many, many women. I’ve had the privilege to be – actually my first teacher, Lean teacher, Leslie Henckler, was a woman. Her teacher, Mary Osmolski, was a woman.

And really, when I go to conferences or I read book, oftentimes I see that most of the keynotes or sessions are run by men or there are fewer books written by women. So one of the things I’ve really been thinking about a lot is women practitioners. How can we involve you and hear your voice? Because that’s extremely important. There are many, many women practitioners and how do we actually encourage more women speaking and writing so that their voices can be heard as well?

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes. And Elisabeth and I absolutely agree with that. There are so many women in Lean and how do we strengthened this voice we have, how do we share some of our stories more because there are a lot of women involved and we’ve got a lot to say. We’re actually going to be highlighting a series as well called The Wonder Women of Quality coming up at some point next year. So we’d be looking for lots of women to highlight. So thank you for some of those names, Karyn.

Karyn Ross: You’re very welcome. And thank you so much for helping me in my quest as well to bring those voices to the forefront. I think it’s really important.

Tracy O’Rourke: Yes, I agree. So I want to thank you, Karyn, for joining me today at the Just-In-Time Café. And I want to thank all of our listeners for joining as well. Subscribe to the Just-In-Time Café on iTunes or listen to more podcasts there or you can visit to share your feedback with us. Thanks a lot, Karyn.

Karyn Ross: You’re so welcome. Thanks for having me.

Tracy O’Rourke: Take care, everyone. See you next time. Bye-bye.

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.