On a recent business trip I hopped into my rental sedan and tuned the radio to the one constant in almost every city – National Public Radio (NPR).  The Morning Edition story playing was, “For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef” by David Charmas.  I was struck by what Lean Healthcare practitioners could learn from a well-run kitchen.

It’s called mise-en-place, which is French for “put in place.”  It means to gather and arrange ingredients and tools needed for cooking.  Like Lean Healthcare, mise-en-place is more than an organization system — it is a way of life for chefs in an efficiently run kitchen.

It’s not only about having what you need to prepare a meal, it’s also about communication and focus.  The chefs explained that an organized, well developed system (complete with a complex call and call-back communication system) allows them to work with a clear mind so they can focus on what needs to be done at the moment.  By ridding the mind of distractions, like ingredient prep or searching for utensils, dangerous mistakes that result in sick patrons are less likely to occur.  The number of healthcare examples that this application can be applied to are countless.  Imagine if almost every healthcare role was able to focus solely on patients and innovation — and not on the broken systems and workarounds behind them.

The process of mise-en-place begins with a list of things that need to be done to prep for the day’s meals (what Lean Healthcare practitioners know as standard work).  It forces the chef to account for every minute of their time and every movement they make.  Additionally, chefs encourage the cooks and employees in their kitchen to, “Slow down to speed up.”  They realize that taking an extra minute to get something right prevents spending more time to re-do the work.  The similarity between Lean Healthcare and mise-en-place is quite remarkable.

Finally, I was impressed with Charmas’ summary: “Practiced at its highest level, mise-en-place says that time is precious. Resources are precious. Space is precious. Your self-respect and the respect of others are precious.  Use them wisely.  Isn’t that a philosophy for our time?”


Claudia_footToday’s blog was written by Claudia French, director at HPP.

Claudia currently leads Lean Healthcare transformations and consulting with HPP. Claudia has more than 25 years of healthcare experience including process improvement, Lean hospital design, operations management, blood banking, laboratory management and cost accounting.  

Prior to joining HPP, Claudia spent 10 years working for a medical diagnostics company providing Lean, Six Sigma and design excellence consulting services to internal and external customers.  She helped develop and implement a program to integrate products and process for end use customers.  This program ensured faster, higher quality implementations and transitions of medical diagnostic equipment.   

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