Anyone who has tried to implement Lean as a performance improvement methodology in an organization is probably also aware of the baggage that often accompanies the term. To many, “Lean” wrongfully evokes job cutting, cost cutting, and inventory stripping. A surgeon at a hospital recently said to me, “I didn’t know you could ever hire new people if you were ‘doing Lean’.” At the start of a Lean Healthcare transformation, these misconceptions can be a large barrier to overcome.
Since this issue already exists, comparing Lean to the world of diet and weight loss seems risky. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard, and not normally considered a fun undertaking. But I think the analogy does apply—a Lean Healthcare transformation isn’t easy either. It requires the willingness to dedicate time and personnel to achieve the targets you set. And while you need to put some sweat into it, it’s not just about sweat. By creating structure, setting goals, and committing to sustainment, you can be successful.
1. Weigh yourself regularly
Recent research shows that individuals who have lost weight are more likely to maintain their weight loss if they weigh themselves daily. Daily weigh-ins allow people to monitor and respond to small changes in the numbers and check progress relative to a given goal. Similarly, in Lean Healthcare, posting metrics daily is the best way to know how you are performing relative to a target, if there has been a change, and if a course correction is necessary.
2. Coaches help (but you are ultimately responsible for the change)
Many people employ trainers, nutritionists, or use programs like Weight Watchers to help lose weight. Healthcare organizations interested in a Lean transformation may be able to go it alone. While using a coach can certainly help, a coach can only get you so far; the individuals in the organization must also want to improve and be committed to the work necessary to make and sustain change.
3. Falling off the wagon isn’t ideal, but you can get back on.
Maybe that cheeseburger wasn’t the best choice. Maybe you haven’t exercised in two weeks. Sometimes there are blips in our path to achieve the goals we have set. However, this should not be an excuse to throw in the towel. Instead, take a deep breath and work to get back on track. You can reset. Think of these as minor defects that you want to problem solve around. Make the right work easier to do.
4. The real work starts once the weight is off
As difficult as it is to lose weight, compared with sustainment, taking weight off is the easier part of the journey. Changes to process must also be accompanied by a sustainment plan (walking 10,000 steps per day, eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, etc.). Similarly, in an organization, getting results on the front end is easier than ensuring these results are sustained long term. A sustainment plan should be a deliverable of any improvement activity, at the time of the activity.
5. It’s not a diet — it’s a lifestyle change
A crash diet may be a successful method of taking off some weight. At its heart, however, it is only a short-term fix, and does not instill the long term habits necessary for sustainment. With some regularity, employees in an organization will talk about prior experiences with Lean as they would a failed diet. “We tried Lean, it didn’t work.” Lean is not a short-term solution. Nor is it simply the ability to execute a 5S or a Kaizen event. You can’t just temporarily change how you do things, get results, and then relax. To be successful, you have to permanently change your approach. It is not additional to your work. It is how you do your work.