A lean workforce using LEAN

Many hospitals in Kentucky are using Lean as a process improvement approach, seeking to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their care processes.

But did you know that Lean is also a method for improving worker’s abilities to do their jobs, and integrate improvement into their capability as employees or contractors?

Three Jobs for Every Worker
The Lean approach incorporates these three elements:

  1. Do the work: New employee training / orientation typically includes all the skills needed to perform the work tasks. These may include how to perform the job, where to find supplies, and who to call in special situations, for example.
  2. Improve the work: In a Lean workplace, staff members are trained to see waste in the existing process and work with colleagues to remove it. A basic Lean course can be helpful to orient new hires to this expectation and prepare them for their improvement work.
  3. Show up and be accountable to your team: Staff members are expected to help each other to achieve the goals of the work process and the department, and understand that their own tasks play an important role in the overall effectiveness of patient care.

How does this tie in to workforce development? When you implement this Lean approach, change isn’t an enemy – it’s a way to see and solve problems at the source. You are training the staff not only in doing the jobs they perform today, but in preparation for jobs that they will be doing as their healthcare job expectations evolve in the future.

High School and College

It’s never too early to being begin teaching Lean concepts and tools. A recent best seller, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” is based on the Lean principles for decluttering the workplace – and what parents wouldn’t want their kids to keep a neat room? This fundamental practice translates directly into workplace efficiency – “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”

Basic Job Training

Whether you’re a machinist or CPA, nanny or CEO, there are Lean concepts that keep your activities focused on accomplishing your goals without detours, work-arounds, excess spending and disorganization. What would your new employee orientation be like if standard work existed for every non-clinical task? That would make it very easy to explain, and easy to see what was going wrong if a problem were to occur.

“Daily Improvement” is a Lean goal for front-line staff, because they see problems first-hand – and they have the means to “see and solve” the problems as they occur. Process improvement becomes a matter of fixing small issues, rather than tackling huge problems that have existed for years.

Healthcare Professional Development

The basic Lean concepts and tools are easy to learn and to apply. There are a few advanced tools that take a bit more training and experience to master. However, the tools are useful in daily management, because all of healthcare can be viewed as a series of processes. How do we communicate? Schedule? Plan for disasters? Deliver medications? Clean rooms?

“Process Management” is then seen as a natural responsibility for leaders, to prevent problems, rather than tackling them only after they have occurred.

Leadership Development

At the organizational and system level, management is responsible for using resources effectively to provide the desired outcomes for their patients and customers. How is all of this process and improvement activity related? Where’s the direct link from an individual’s activities in one department, to accomplishment of the mission and vision of the organization?

The use of data to understand current process performance is essential to the understanding of the Lean approach. By tracking process metrics and comparing them to targets, healthcare leaders become better managers of their resources.

A “Lean Management System” provides the infrastructure and feedback loops to link both the vertical “business line of sight” (linkage from mission to staff member), and the horizontal “business interdependency” (inter-departmental collaboration) that are needed to fulfill the mission.

At all levels, the Lean process improvement approach is a very useful adjunct to the skills and abilities that are developed through education and job training. Imagine if every member of your staff could take an active role in problem-solving! That’s why Lean training can be so powerful in the realm of workforce development.

 -Sue Kozlowski is senior director at TechSolve, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio.