Is it OK to use the Lean Toolbox?

I think you’ve covered that really well in the book. I enjoyed that section of it and the way you chunked the different areas of the A3, I thought was very descriptive in the book. Your book is very practical and very tool-laden with lots of examples, download cheats that you offer. Can you put in place that tool perspective for me versus a culture perspective? I mean should we lead with tools? Is that a way that I should be learning Lean or how does all that work?  – Joe Dager

Excerpt from the podcast with Todd Sperl, author of Practical Lean Six Sigma for Healthcare – Using the A3 and Lean Thinking to Improve Operational Performance in Hospitals, Clinics, and Physician Group Practices.

Todd:       Well, as we know, culture pretty much eats anything for lunch, dinner and breakfast and as well as a snack or two every now and then. The culture side that we run into this with from client after client after client and one of the things with that that we hear as we go into hospitals is, wow these guys; it’s another flavor of the month. They’re going to be gone shortly. What we like to do and I think the basics for Lean is that it’s very simple for frontline associates to do, not to understand, everybody gets it, but it’s the getting the accomplishments.

My best advice is to start small with teaching the frontline workers about waste, and they can identify that waste and start removing that. Some of the tools that you have that are part of Lean will help you eliminate the waste and then maintain the sustainability that you need, but in the same breath, you need also to start educating mid-level and senior level leaders on how to think and lead differently, how to ask questions and then how to monitor so that you maintain the results that you get.

The difficult thing is sustainability. I think that’s the one neat thing with Lean. When I consult with hospitals, I typically don’t go in with the answers. I know some unique situations where you can apply some new ideas for associates or on a project, but really, those ideas should come from the frontline because then, they own it. From that aspect of it, you really need to engage the frontline and have some quick wins, and then you start turning the culture that this is how we do things now. It’s not easy, and it’s not just one project and all of a sudden, you’re Lean.

Joe:   Really when you think about it, Lean’s got a great toolbox. Why not just appreciate the toolbox and use the tools sometime?

Todd:       You’re right. Some will cringe when you say toolbox because it really is ultimately a management philosophy. Remove the waste and become more efficient. I teach as part of an adjunct professor up at Oakland University and I just started my winter class a couple Fridays go and in there, we have chief medical officers, CMOs and mid-level nurses looking to get their master’s and move up, and other physicians that have their own practice that are looking to add to their resumes.

The big discussion we had the other Friday was how come Lean isn’t utilized more in healthcare. The other side of it was, somebody said, all of our hospitals in Southeast Michigan are Lean hospitals. They were right and wrong in that aspect. They use a lot of the tools like you were just saying Joe, they do a couple tools, they do some mapping sessions, but they’re really not a Lean organization in that they follow it like a Virginia Mason or ThedaCare. Which are two hospitals that have been doing Lean since roughly 2000. If you ask somebody from ThedaCare, I’ve got some good friends that worked there for many years, they’ll cringe and say, we were laying the foundation long before we started doing Lean in 2000 and that is absolutely true. It only took 17 years or so to become an overnight success for them. As they always say, I’m an overnight success, it took me 10 years.

Related Podcast and transcription: Change Management for Healthcare

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