Redesigning Clinical Workflows to Return Joy to Patient Care
Start Your Lean Journey With a Sprint!
Start Your Lean Journey With a Sprint!

“A Lean journey is a marathon, not a sprint.”

That’s what our Simpler Sensei reminded us of more than once back in 2010 when we embarked on our Lean journey with the 300 physicians of the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.

(Actually, done right, it’s more like a multi-year trek into the wilderness searching for enlightenment.  The destination is not clearly known, the course is not specified, and there aren’t cheering supporters at water stations every few miles.  But in the end, it’s more than worth the effort.)

“But,” you may ask me, “who has time for a marathon these days?  Change is happening so fast that we need to sprint!”

I get it.  Times are tough.

  • Even the best strategic plans can be upended quickly in times of political and financial uncertainty.
  • The best-designed operations can be thrown off by sudden spikes in demand, or worse, sudden drops.
  • Our thin margins leave little room for error, let alone for making a significant investment in long term process improvements such as Lean.

And yet, doing nothing to improve your operations, or your ability to translate your strategy into action, is really not an option. We need to make a difference NOW!

So, how do you sprint at the start without depleting your reserves for the long haul?  How do you effectively launch a culture change initiative as significant as a Lean transformation in a sustainable way?

Fortunately, there is an approach that works.  The key is to understand where the greatest stresses are in your organization.  Then focus the first Value Streams there.

  • If finances are the main concern, start with revenue cycle and supply chain. You can quickly follow those with work in your imaging department which has highly reimbursed procedures.  Improving the throughput of your MRI and CT scanners can help a lot.
  • If safety is the issue, start in the location that has the most events. A value stream in that location will become a “model cell” whose members can then coach others as they develop and spread standard workflows that prevent errors and near misses.
  • If you issue is access, start in your Emergency Department or Urgent Care, perhaps even your call center.
  • If physician or staff engagement is your challenge, develop and spread a daily management system to support front line caregivers in identifying and solving the problems that consistently frustrate them. There is no better way to improve clinician engagement and prevent burnout than empowering them to solve their problems. (HINT: This works way better than engagement task forces developing action plans that are presented at staff meetings.)

If you start with a sprint focused on your area of greatest need, you build the resiliency and reserves needed to take the next step.  And isn’t that what running a marathon is all about, ensuring you have what you need to keep taking one step at a time?

Are you struggling to get started on your Lean journey?

Have you found an approach that works for you?

In either case, please share your story in the comments below.

And feel free to reach out to me if you’d like some individual advice.

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