Interested in a Possible Lean Healthcare Study Trip to Japan?


This is all somewhat preliminary, but I've been talking to the folks at the Kaizen Institute  about helping organize a study trip to Japan, aimed at Lean Healthcare professionals. The trip might take place in the second half of 2012 sometime, but there is some flexibility around this, as Kaizen Institute would be creating a custom trip. The visits would include, of course, some great Lean factories, but we'd also try to visit a healthcare facility.

Part of my role would be to help attendees translate the management practices from manufacturing settings to healthcare, given my experience in both industries. Kaizen Institute is, of course, bringing their experience with organizing these tours to Japan.

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As a possible discussion point here on the blog: I've never been to Japan, as a tourist or as part of a Lean trip. I would like to go out of curiosity to see what others learn when they go. Virginia Mason Medical Center famously sends lots of staff and leaders there. Salem Health (in Oregon) shared this video about their trip. What are your experiences or your thoughts about the idea of study trips to Japan? Pros and cons?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. This question is part of an email I received from a healthcare professional who found a previous lean trip to Japan to be very meaningful.

    “An interesting comment was made by the factory managers in 2008: Japanese healthcare was not using Lean – the hospitals saw Lean as a manufacturing methodology. I’m sure by now things have or are starting to change.”

    My response:

    I’ve heard similar tales about the dearth of lean healthcare examples in Japan. I heard a rumor that the hospital in Toyota City was finally scratching the surface and that some Japanese were visiting the US to see lean healthcare.

  2. I’m curious to know what Virginia Mason gets out of going to Japan, and whether of not they visit healthcare facilities or just go to manufacturing sites. That said, I’ve always believed the best way to start any improvement effort is to benchmark best practices, which are often found in industries outside our own.

    • I think most of the lean tours, even for healthcare people, take people to “lean factories” in Japan. That would be the case for this potential trip – factories with possibly one healthcare facility. There just isn’t much lean healthcare activity in Japan (or so I hear 2nd hand).

      I’m pretty sure I remember VMMC covering the Japan trip details in their book, Chapter 2. You can preview some of it via Google Books:

  3. I will be in Japan on vacation in Japan late December/early January and am looking for a worthwhile lean experience.

    Did your colleague mention what program he/she found to be meaningful? I’d be interested in details.


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