Podcast #197 – Kim Barnas, on Her Book ‘Beyond Heroes’ for Hospital Lean Management Systems


My guest for episode #197 is a hospital leader I really respect, Kim Barnas, author of the new book Beyond Heroes

Until very recently, Kim was a Senior VP at ThedaCare, leading Appleton Medical Center and Theda Clark Hospital. I've seen Kim speak to groups at ThedaCare and a few conferences and she has a lot to teach us about Lean leadership, using her stories and experiences in a way that's very powerful. I hope you'll check out the book. Read a press release about it here.

In the podcast today, we talk about topics including her initial reactions to Lean when first introduced to it as a hospital leader, why “heroes” are overrated and sometimes create “chaos” in healthcare, and the importance of moving beyond tools and projects to a Lean culture and management system.

2018 Update: What's Going on at ThedaCare?

Kim talks about the need to “create more value” (not just reduce waste), saying “just trying to do more with less makes no sense – you need a plan.” We also talk about programs like GM's “Speak up for Safety,” where she says that speaking up “needs to be a conversation, not a reporting” transaction.

For a link to this episode, refer people to  www.leanblog.org/197.

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS or via Apple Podcasts

If you have feedback on the podcast, or any questions for me or my guests, you can email me at leanpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave a voicemail by calling the “Lean Line” at (817) 993-0630 or contact me via Skype id “mgraban”. Please give your location and your first name. Any comments (email or voicemail) might be used in follow ups to the podcast.

Partial Transcript

Mark Graban: Hi. This is Mark Graban. Welcome to episode 197 of the podcast for April 29th, 2014. I apologize, it's been over a month since the last episode, but I got a couple of great ones coming up, including today's discussion with a hospital leader I really respect. Her name is Kim Barnas. She is the author of a brand new book called, “Beyond Heroes.”

That's just been published by the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value. Until very recently, Kim was a senior VP and a leader at ThedaCare, the health system where was leading Appleton Medical Center and Theda Clark Hospital.

She has lot of great experience, a lot to teach all of us regardless of industry about Lean Leadership and Lean culture and what we can from a practical perspective. I certainly hope you'll check out the book. Kim is also doing a free webinar for the Lean Enterprise Institute, on May 6.

You can find links to that, to the back, to the upcoming “Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit” that I'll be attending and participating in June. Kim is going to be a keynote speaker there.

Spend $35 on the book and, if you've got the budget for it, the Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit. It's now the fifth annual event. This is by far the best Lean healthcare conference of the year. I hope I'll see you there. Anyway, back to the podcast, Kim and I are going to talk about why the idea of heroes can be overrated, or create chaos in healthcare back to the title of the book, “Beyond Heroes.”

We're also going to talk about, put her on the spot a little bit, asking her what she would do if she was leading General Motors. GM has a new, “Speak Up for Safety” campaign that the CEO announce and I'm skeptical about. I've blogged about that recently but Kim has some good thoughts about — how to get the environment to a point where it's not just about employees speaking up, but about leaders listening and collaborating with people.

Lots of great insights from Kim. Again, go to leanblog.org/197 for links. You can also go to leancast.org for all past episodes. Thanks for listening.

[background music]

Mark: Kim, hi. It's great to talk to you and it's a real pleasure to have you as a guest on the podcast. Thanks for being here.

Kim Barnas: I'm delighted to be invited, and excited about our conversation.

Mark: We've got so much to talk about between the great things you've been doing at ThedaCare, what you've been sharing and teaching with people through articles and talks. Now, the new book, “Beyond Heroes,” that is now available, and we'll talk about how people can find that later. I'll have links on the blog. I had a chance to read an early version of the book and I really, really enjoyed it.

I think it's a book that's going to be very helpful to a lot of organizations, so congratulations on that, Kim.

Kim: Well, thank you. It certainly was a labor of love. I had lots of help and support and I want to thank you for that. You were one of those folks that gave me some good advice, but I tried to take this book and make it a story. So, that it's a little bit less academic and a little bit more about our journey and the stories that will help people learn.

Mark: It hit the mark. Those stories are powerful and make this real for people in our organizations. Before I talk about the book, to maybe start, I'm curious to hear some of your reflections about when you first learned about Lean. Where you were in the organization? I'm guessing — correct if I'm wrong — that you are at ThedaCare when this was all getting started.

I'm curious to hear about what role you are in and some of that early journey of how you reacted, or what your early experiences were about Lean.

Kim: Well, it's fun to reflect on those days because I learned so much and I knew so little about Lean. In fact, I considered myself one of those spontaneous people that Lean would never be able to tame me. It's fun to look back and be in this position today. When we started Lean and John Toussaint brought it ThedaCare, I was a vice-president in the hospital division.

One of the first value streams was our open heart value stream. My first kaizen event…my first value stream experience was with our open heart team. We had brought in a consultant to teach us Lean and the focus of that group was to be on value stream analysis and kaizen events and two piece, three piece and projects that came out of those.

One day when I was struggling with this language, I had my little “Lexicon” book in front of me all the time. We had a new “Sensei” who joined us and he said to me, “I don't know anything about healthcare.” I said, “I don't know anything about Lean, so here's the deal. If you teach me Lean, I will teach you healthcare.”

That was Jose Bustillo and we started our journey together. I still consider him my personal sensei. He helped me understand how deep Lean can go. He helped me understand how it really helps develop our people and build our people in to stronger participants in the process to own the work, and to see improvement as an opportunity for them rather than a burden.

Mark: Yeah, because I think that there is a concern there that taking on your new roles, new responsibilities in a lean leadership style is adding new things to people's plate. This is something I end up talking with people about a lot.

I'm curious from your own experience, from what you've seen with other leaders, is there a period where it is a bit of an extra burden because we're learning something new, it's uncomfortable, and then we work through a cycle where it becomes more comfortable?

Kim: I think you summarized it well. I think in the beginning, because you're on a learning curve and it's a big change, it's exhausting, and it's trying to understand how this fits with my real work.

Until people recognize that this becomes your real work, it feels additive. You have to create the capacity in your day, and in the day of your peers and your employees, to make sure that they have the time to learn and experiment with it and celebrate it.

Then when it becomes part of their thought process, it changes the culture.

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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. Hi Mark, excellent Podcast, it created a lot of value for me.

    Hope the book is in the kindle version fast.


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