leanhealthcare_timeforimprovementFor healthcare executives around the country, time is a precious resource.  I have learned through years of implementing Lean Healthcare systems that executives play a key role in transformation.  Essentially, organizations are tasked with adopting a Lean management system to replace their (often dysfunctional) existing management system.  In order for this type of change to be successful, executives have a key role to play – which takes time.  We have seen evidence that the waste-removing power of Lean tools can free up considerable time and eventually, those same executives can accomplish more with less time.  However, to overcome the burden of the current broken process, we must invest time into training, coaching, and improvement activities.  So where do we find the time to invest in improving the process?

It may start with saying “no.”

Often times the current state of management systems in an organization that has not adopted Lean Healthcare consists of fighting fires and upward delegation of problems.  This puts a significant burden on the time of senior leadership to solve problems that could be solved at lower levels of the organization.  (Frankly, those at the lower levels are more qualified since they are closer to the work.)  So with problems coming from every direction, how does a leader decide how to prioritize and delegate?

Through the strategic plan.  No, I am not referring to the 5-year planning document that was created by a consultant that lives on a bookshelf in a dusty binder.  I am referring to a living, breathing plan that is owned by the senior executives.  The strategic plan should and can act as a filter. The plan should translate into annual improvement and operating plans.  Strategic imperatives are highlighted and linked to action plans that close gaps between current condition and desired future state.  By having clear plans for the desired goals of the organization, it becomes easier to distinguish those daily fires that are connected to the strategy from those that are just distractions.  It is easier to delegate or say no to those actions that do not directly support the actions that are laid out in the plan.  However, plans change.  If something comes up that is begging for time and attention, the senior executives may be forced to decide if it is something that supports an existing initiative.  If not, the team may need to evaluate if something needs to come off the plate.

Leaders spend a lot of time in meetings.  Oftentimes, committees are formed and meetings are scheduled in perpetuity.  Take a hard look at calendars and standing meetings with the following questions:

  • Are we working on one of the key strategies of the organization?
  • Have we made progress over the last several meetings?
  • Was discernable action taken that required my input as a senior leader?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you may need to consider declining the invite.  The goal should be to buy back enough time to re-invest in activities that move the strategic goals of the organization.

So, what will you say “no” to this week?


Tom Stoffel, Vice President for Lean Healthcare and Process Improvement Consulting at HPPToday’s blog was written by Tom Stoffel, principal with Healthcare Performance Partners.

Tom leads healthcare organizations through transformation into self-sustaining Lean enterprises. In addition to hospitals and hospital systems, Tom also leads transformation of subsidiary and independent clinics, physician practices and other outpatient organizations through Lean transformation.

Prior to joining HPP, Tom owned a Lean consulting and training firm which developed healthcare associates through hands-on learning techniques. Tom is an ASQ-Certified Quality Engineer and holds an Engineering Degree from the University of Michigan.

Image by Freepik

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