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Lean, Improve Thyself (or, No Sacred Cows, Including Lean)

June 28, 2016
If you have been growing on your lean journey for some time, have you also been improving your improvement approach?

For many organizations that have begun their lean journey, there are essential resources that are used to support implementation of the lean approach. We may intently read books, attend workshops and/or hire consultants.

We start to build our lean management system with the best intentions, using the best guidance and with the input of our valued employees. Over time, we build up an understanding of how lean should be done within our organization, and because we are all fans of standard work, we encapsulate that approach to ensure consistency.

I would like to throw a little challenge into the mix. If you have been growing on your lean journey for some time, have you also been improving your improvement approach?

Sue Kozlowski

In other words, are you stuck in the mold in which you first learned lean, or are your flexing your lean muscles to improve your own approach to improvement?

I realized this aspect of change management several years ago I heard John Shook speak in Detroit. He said, as near as I can recall:

“Toyota developed the Toyota Production System by focusing on the process of building cars on an assembly line. In order to copy Toyota’s genius, copy their approach, not their system. The tools and concepts that worked best for building cars on an assembly line may not be the right mix of tools and concepts for healthcare. Build your own systems using the lean management philosophy that will create value within your processes, as defined by your customers. Not a production system, but a care system.”

This statement made me think about lean in a new way. For an organization, the learning curve is assisted by referring to experts and resources such as books and workshops. At some point, the lean system is mature enough to stand on its own and be internally led. And at that point, “Doing the Work” and “Improving the Work” should also apply to the lean approach. For example:

  • Does every rapid improvement event/kaizen event have to be five days long?
  • Is the daily improvement idea form sacred, never to be modified?
  • Does every balanced scorecard's every metric measured for a value stream have to be collected and reviewed forever?
  • Can an A3 form have eight boxes? Nine? Ten? Two?
  • Are there improvement tools that we can add to the lean toolbox? Are there tools that are not useful in the healthcare setting?

In my own organization, we do internal rapid improvement events during times when we are not so busy (for example, the winter holidays, when hospitals are having their holiday celebrations, vacations, and end-of-year work). Last year in November, our consultants got together and chartered improvement projects in seven areas. We can say that we practice what we preach!

Let’s all think about ways to ensure that our own lean approach is subject to analysis, as well as the processes that we study within our operations. Only then will we be truly embracing the lean approach.

Sue Kozlowski is senior director, Lean Healthcare Solutions, at TechSolve, which provides process improvement expertise across four major industry sectors: manufacturing, advanced machining, aerospace & defense, and healthcare. TechSolve is also one of Ohio's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) affiliates. Kozlowski is a Certified Six Sigma Black Belt and holds a certification in Lean Healthcare. She also co-authored the book Value Stream Management for Lean Healthcare.

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