leanhealthcare_gembaOn a recent Saturday morning as my family was preparing to leave for the local farmers’ market, we had the following conversation:

“How’s the weather?  Do I need a jacket?”

“I don’t know.  Let me just check the weather app on my phone.”

As I thought about this interaction it occurred to me that this is exactly what we do in our organizations.  Instead of going to the gemba to become immersed in a process and gain a deep understanding of it, we rely on weak approximations.  We tend to:

  • Talk to people about the process
  • Rely on memories of the process
  • Look at measures generated by the process
  • Consult the internet oracles about how such processes typically work

None of these will give us deep and rich insight into how both the customers and the staff experience the process.  None of these will light our imagination and creativity the way direct observation will.  Even all of these in concert are not enough to fuel leaps toward the ideal.

Put down the phone.  Put down the spreadsheet.  Walk outside to the gemba and experience the process.  Stop just talking about it.  Your customers will be glad you did.


Blair Nickle, Senior Manager for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement at HPPToday’s blog was written by Blair Nickle, executive director at HPP.

For more than 25 years, Blair has dedicated her career to the improvement of processes, quality, safety, patient satisfaction, employee engagement, physician satisfaction, and financial vitality in healthcare organizations.  Her content areas of expertise include instructional design, performance measurement and improvement methodologies, information systems implementation, strategic planning and deployment, project management, and human resource development.

Blair holds Master of Business Administration and  Master of Science in Library and Information Science degrees from the University of Tennessee.  Her undergraduate work was performed at Emory & Henry College.

Photo by CODNewsroom/cc by

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