rabinoDidier Rabino is Vice President, Lean Sensei at HealthEast Care System in St Paul, Minnesota. He coaches senior executives to build and deploy Lean systems in order to improve patient care. Prior to holding this position, Didier was Plant Manager at Andersen Corporation in Wisconsin and led the company’s Lean Office to develop and deploy the Andersen Manufacturing System. He also spent 13 years with Steelcase in Europe and Michigan as one of the handful Lean pioneers who launched the Steelcase Production System.

Didier holds a Wood Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Nancy, France, a Business degree from the university of Perpignan, France and a Master’s degree in Industrial Sciences from the Pasteur University in Strasbourg, France. He obtained Lean certificates from the University of Michigan, the University of Tennessee, and Kellogg University. Didier is also Lean bronze certified and 3P Shingojutsu certified. In June 2015, Didier became the 27th recipient of the prestigious IIE 2015 Honorary Member Award. Among past recipients are Lee A. Iacocca, W. Edwards Deming, W. Von Braun, Herbert C. Hoover and Lillian M. Gilbreth.


Why do you think it is difficult to improve a process or a system?

Improvements would certainly be easier if we did not have to sustain the changes. Unfortunately, the tendency of every process is to want to go back to its initial stage. Past routines are difficult to break. Neuroscience provides an explanation. Our brains use our routines to develop synapses that allow us to almost operate in cruise control. We feel so comfortable with routine work that we almost forget about it. It is second nature. This can be a good thing, because this frees up our mind. It can however be detrimental when it is time to change. For example, if you are like me, you may have automatically followed your regular route to work when you were supposed to go somewhere else.

We need help to break our routines and patterns of thinking. With Lean implementation, when improvement is continuous, I found that help can come in multiple ways. It commonly comes from visual controls, process feedback, and Leader standard work. These concepts help us break old routines and over time create new ones to sustain the new standards, the new way of doing the work.

What was one of the biggest changes you facilitated that required a system wide approach?

In September 2012, when I joined HealthEast, I learned that one of the 5 key objectives of the organization was to have 4,900 ideas submitted by the frontline employees in one year. We wanted to change the culture and this was indeed a great target to embark into a culture of daily continuous improvement. I remember the proposal from a senior leader to give an improvement card to each of our 7,200 employees. We could very easily ask each employee to write an idea on this piece of paper, a card, and submit it within the next 12 months. We would definitely reach the 4,900 idea target. But was it what we really wanted? Was writing ideas on a piece of paper and submitting them progress toward a culture of continuous improvement? The strategy of “management by objective” was sticking its ugly head up again! Most of the Lean principles (i.e. systemic thinking, respect for people, embrace scientific thinking) were going to be left behind by solving the wrong problem.

How did you change the thinking?

I suggested that we needed to develop a system in which the improvement cards would just be part of that system.  The system needed to be geared toward improving processes that matter for the people doing the work.  The cards are just the reflection of the idea but we would like the ideas to be connected to the processes – if possible to processes that matter most to us as a company.

What did you achieve by following this approach?

At the end of the first year, 17,000 ideas were implemented. This number was well above the 4,900 ideas targeted. The system is now in its fourth year of existence and the number of ideas keeps growing. The velocity of ideas implemented is continuously growing. In a typical day, 100 ideas are implemented. Last year, in 2015, 37,000 ideas were implemented. In May 2016, we passed the milestone of 100,000 ideas implemented since the launch. This is impressive performance in less than 4 years.

Going back to designing a sustainable system, what did you exactly do?

We first developed the tools – an idea board; a metric board with run charts for each type of metric – quality, customer experience, engagement, and cost.  Then we did some quick experiments to test what worked and what did not work well – I’d already had the experience of using these tools at other organizations – so we adapted them.  We made an assembly line to make all the tools, the cards, the boards etc.  We created binders with training materials to be provided to each and every one of our 450 leaders. We developed a four-hour workshop and took the leaders and divided them into several groups.  During these workshops they learned the fundamentals of the daily management system. We taught them what a basic process is, a series of steps taken to achieve an expected outcome, and they started to discover what their core processes were in their own departments.

Were there specific skills or knowledge fundamentals you needed to provide?

Yes, we taught leaders that in order to achieve best practices of continuous improvement; we would have to measure their processes daily – not monthly. It was important to dive into process issues timely, as close as possible to real time. We worked through different examples and case studies to help them answer questions like:

  • How could you measure your process?
  • How could you analyze your metric, i.e. what is your target?
  • What problems do we have?
  • How do we prioritize problem elimination?
  • Where is the best place to display your metric board?
  • How do we explain metric boards to the frontline teams? e. what is it about and why do we have it?

As part of the training, they learned that ideas submitted must be part of a system to avoid the “one and done” syndrome. Consequently, we designed a 5-step process that would become the foundation of the daily management system:

  • Measure,
  • Analyze,
  • Huddle,
  • Experiment and …

The system was made of interconnected tools for the frontline to use. Such as:

  • Run-chart with Pareto chart,
  • Metric board,
  • Improvement idea cards,
  • Improvement board and
  • Huddle standard work.

So, when the leaders left the workshop they took their metric boards and idea boards and set them up in their areas so they could start the next day.

Did this guarantee success?

Certainly not! Mark Twain said “experience is what you get by making mistakes.” Well, I certainly had a lot of experience on this topic. I started using a daily management system in 1999. I deployed it at Steelcase, Andersen Windows and it helped many other organizations in the Twin cities. By making mistake after mistake, I acquired a lot of experience on this matter but always tried to not make the same mistake twice. I decided to pull a few tricks from my Lean bag:

  1. Visual management,
  2. Visual accountability,
  3. Leader Standard Work and
  4. Gemba walk


Didier’s 4 key points will be explained further in the Manufacturers Alliance ebook being released later this year.

Please tell us below what you think about this topic, this article, this blog.

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