Building a Lean Healthcare Value Stream

A Lean Healthcare value stream is just as likely as a manufacturer to employ lean concepts such as kanbans, heijunka, jidoka, kaizen, and the couple dozen new words for process improvement that happen to be Japanese words because Henry Ford didn’t think of them first. Many or most Lean teachings come from the Toyota Production System – which is why it is common for Lean practitioners to assume that the thing being processed is a physical inventory item (like a car). But it doesn’t have to be. Literally 99% of Lean concepts apply to ANY industry.

Top Differences between Lean Manufacturing and Lean Healthcare tools & teachings

  1. If the process you are optimizing does not deal with inventory, then wherever you see the word “inventory” – substitute either the word “patient”, or “the thing being processed”
  2. In addition to inventory, buffer and safety resources are more likely to also include: lean healthcare value stream mapping symbols
      1. Overtime
      2. Cross-training and departmental borrowing
      3. Temporaries
      4. Outsourcing
      5. Pre-trained workers available as needed (seasonal, retirees…)
      6. Pre-negotiated availability of extra rooms/beds
      7. Contingency plans
      8. Automation


  3. Value stream mapping symbols and concepts are the same, except for a few unique shapes, such as an ambulance instead of a truck, or a gurney instead of a push cart. Lean Healthcare providers are more likely to use Stick Figure drawings for A3 problem solving.
  4. It is important not to invent your own vocabulary. Just because you sometimes need to substitute the words “patient” or “the thing being processed” when you see the word “inventory” doesn’t mean that it is a good idea to start inventing your own (non-Japanese) words for everything else you learn about Lean. You will make it a LOT easier on your people if you teach them the same Lean definitions that are used in every Lean book that has ever been printed – instead of trying to “translate” for them by inventing your own vocabulary.

    Used with permission from Systems2win, provider of Lean Software Tools for lean process improvement.

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