How Does a Kaizen Promotion Office Support Culture Change?

At Virginia Mason, the purpose of the Kaizen Promotion Office (KPO) is to accelerate the application and impact of the Virginia Mason Production System (VMPS) throughout our organization. The KPO provides the structure and methods to train, monitor, and develop others to lead using VMPS. Through this work, the KPO supports the culture change needed for Virginia Mason to realize its vision to be the quality leader and transform health care.

What we learned from creating a Kaizen Promotion Office

The KPO has been at the heart of culture change at Virginia Mason since it was launched in 2002. Since its inception, our KPO has carried the mantel for educating team members from all levels in the organization, from frontline staff to members of the executive leadership team. The KPO team developed the teaching material and the curriculum for all levels of VMPS education from Introduction to VMPS, for new employees, to the Kaizen Fellowship, which is a rigorous, advanced education program for leaders. Through education and coaching, the KPO team has helped team members at all levels see how waste impacts our ability to consistently put the patient first in our processes and provide the highest-quality care.

Prior to 2002, the department was known as the Office of Process Improvement (OPI), and its five staff members were the first to become VMPS-certified in the organization. As leaders of all the early improvement events in 2001 and 2002, they learned many lessons that helped to shape the KPO’s role in setting standards for how to lead improvement events, including these:

  • Some staff members and providers struggled to grasp the application of lean tools in a health care environment. To solve this problem, the KPO team spent more time and effort educating and engaging staff prior to all improvement events to help ensure success.
  • Some process owners, who were not involved in the planning and execution of improvement events, felt unprepared to own the process once their events concluded. To get them up to speed, the KPO team developed new tools to help process owners prepare and engage staff for upcoming events, and later the KPO created more tools to support them during implementation.

The KPO staff was tasked with not only leading improvement events but also educating all 5,000 team members on the basics of the Virginia Mason Production System. Resources were stretched as the staff educated employees to accelerate the application of VMPS throughout the organization. It was clear that the KPO needed to grow.

“The work of the KPO to educate and engage staff at all levels and across all areas of the organization continues to bear fruit. Staff know and understand that VMPS, our management method, helps us embed safety into our processes, produce high-quality outcomes and extraordinary services for our patients, and reduce the burden of work on our team members.”

– Rosemary King

How the Kaizen Promotion Office managed its growth

By 2005 the KPO staff had grown to 24. The industry standard for the size of a KPO, or its equivalent, was one to two percent of the total work force. At Virginia Mason, that would have meant 50 to 100 staff members — so the organization created a different model. Because the KPO team had already trained and certified all of the administrative directors to lead events in their areas of accountability, and because the executive team was also certified to lead events (both to maintain their skills and to model how to lead with VMPS), some of the responsibility for planning and leading events went to these certified leaders. Still, the KPO maintained oversight to ensure that established standards were followed.

The Kaizen Promotion Office today

Today, the KPO functions in more of a partnership role with leaders, helping them to know and understand their business and to engage staff in improvements. The KPO resources have shifted from leading improvement events to maintaining rigor and accountability around the planning, execution and implementation of events.

The work of the KPO to educate and engage staff at all levels and across all areas of the organization continues to bear fruit. Staff know and understand that VMPS, our management method, helps us embed safety into our processes, produce high-quality outcomes and extraordinary services for our patients, and reduce the burden of work on our team members.

To meet the changing needs of the organization, the KPO evolves and flexes as its team members fulfill the organization’s need for standard keepers, educators, talent developers and promoters of innovation. Through its daily work, the KPO continually embeds VMPS further into Virginia Mason’s culture.

A final thought

The purpose of Virginia Mason’s Kaizen Promotion Office is to accelerate the application and the impact of VMPS throughout the organization. The KPO helps us run our business and improve it. How do you run your business and improve it in your organization?

Rosemary King, MHA, RN, is a faculty member at Virginia Mason Institute. Her strong passion for delivering extraordinary patient experiences, teaching lean processes and developing staff capabilities is key to her success in educating health care leaders from around the world. Prior to her work at Virginia Mason Institute, Rosemary was a founding member of Virginia Mason’s Kaizen Promotion Office, where she worked with leaders and staff throughout the organization to create a system of continuous improvement in which each team’s improvement gains could be sustained. She also managed and provided clinical expertise within perioperative services. Rosemary is a Kaizen Fellow graduate and is certified in the Virginia Mason Production System®.