Lean philosophy creates an opportunity to look at specific tasks within a production system and improve that system. The adoption of Lean as a discontinuous practice requires a change to behavior, relationships, and business models. In essence, it requires a new business paradigm that supports Lean Thinking as applied to the entire delivery system and not just discrete processes. Accelerate the adoption of Lean to improve quality, productivity, and cost.
A common first step on a lean journey is to apply lean “tools” — e.g., a value-stream map to track patient flow, 5S visual techniques to organize work areas. Use of tools represents a necessary albeit insufficient component of a lean transformation.
Tools are only as good as the ways in which they are used and the intent of their holders. Lean systems and behaviors must accompany lean tools in order for a transformation to deliver optimum results and operational excellence.
Starting the Lean journey can be difficult. It is critical to have alignment and clearly state the need for improvement from the beginning. There are ten key steps that should be taken when starting the journey towards a Lean improvement.
1. Establish a need to improve and obtain management commitment
2. Define the improvement objective
3. Identify and acquire necessary resources
4. Collect information and determine current state
5. Uncover the root cause
6. Identify and test countermeasures that will meet the improvement objectives
7. Develop plans for implementing the countermeasures which ensure buy-in
8. Implement the improvement
9. Standardize the improvement
10. Repeat starting a step 1
Every system should have provision for an improvement cycle. Therefore when an objective has been achieved, work should commence on identifying better ways of doing it. There is no improvement without measurement. An organization must establish current performance before embarking on any improvement. If it does not, it will have no baseline from which to determine if its efforts have yielded any improvement.
Key influencers must champion new ideas and have a message that is simple and compelling. In addition, there must be a contextual environment that promotes the change. When an environment deems a change as “optional” with no consequences, group dynamic will allow others to bear the responsibility for the change to the point where nobody will be responsible for the change.
Lean improvement is about the entire organization and everything it does. Lean Thinking has to be a prime concern of executive management and its success depends upon commitment from them. Their commitment must also be highly visible. It is not enough to demand improvement. If executive management does not demonstrate its commitment by doing what it says it will do they cannot expect others to be committed either.
The adoption of Lean is never a short or simple journey. A Lean transformation takes time. It begins with understanding the core tenets of the Lean philosophy and with focusing on the customer. It continues by incorporating the methodology into the organization and involving every employee in developing a refined work ethic. Overall, Lean is about adopting a lifestyle change—one that requires an ongoing commitment to achieve organizational health and longevity.