As I partner with hospitals around the country, it isn’t unusual to hear staff at all levels saying, “Everyone is too busy to take on one more thing.”  When this perspective is the norm within an organization, beginning a Lean journey can be challenging because Lean thinking involves being serious about pursuing improvement with the goal of eventually reaching perfection.  Lean principles change the role of leaders from crisis managers to a coach or facilitator helping others solve problems. This transformation requires allowing time for change and for people to be active participants in problem solving activities.  If removing waste from a process frees up an hour of time, then there is the opportunity to repurpose that time for problem solving or other value added activity.

There is a difference between doing things right and doing the right things.  Lean organizations excel at both.  When you remove non-value added activity from the work and replace it with value added activity, you’re doing things right.  When you work on strategically aligned priorities, you’re doing the right things.  Often, people have so many imperatives to work on that they can’t effectively complete any.  Hence the feeling that there’s “no time for improvement”.   When there is clear linkage between strategy, initiatives and the work that is being done at the front line, people aren’t being pulled in multiple directions with competing priorities between departments.

A colleague recently said, “Don’t be too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet!”  In the long run, it’s best to focus on improvement rather than living with a longstanding (albeit manageable) problem.  If you’re not improving, you’re falling behind.  A steady state doesn’t exist in the highly competitive markets and fast changing arena of healthcare.


Janet Dozier, Senior Manager for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement at HPPToday’s blog was written by Janet Dozier, director with HPP.

Janet has more than 20 years of Lean and process improvement experience in healthcare and manufacturing.  She has led lean transformation efforts in clinical, non-clinical, and business operations of hospitals. Prior to her work in the healthcare industry, Janet was in the automotive industry where she was a lead instructor of Lean principles for the Ford Production System.

Janet received her Master’s Degree in Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State University.

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