The Value of Lean Management: Is your Organization Keen on Lean?

Posted by April

Nov 7, 2013 3:46:00 PM



Car manufacturing has come a long way since its inception. We have probably all heard about the assembly line from Henry Ford and the way in which it was useful in manufacturing automobiles at a faster pace than before.

While the concept of an assembly line is nothing to be downplayed, how could it improve? This was the exact question that Eiji Toyoda asked himself and the employees of Toyota about the observations he’d made of the American automobile manufacturing methods in 1950 ( Even before Eiji Toyoda, his predecessors worked diligently to create a method where employees were constantly improving their methods and efficiency of production.

In 1986, Eiji returned to the United States to observe their manufacturing processes. Once he was back in Japan, he announced that the American Automobile Industry’s approach was effective but posed the challenge on Toyota to use creativity and their available resources to make the process better. He wanted Toyota to be the best at innovation (SAE International).

Therefore Toyota devised a plan to do just that using two different concepts: “Just-in-time” and “Jidoka.” Just-in-time refers to manufacturing the items that are needed, no more and no less, “producing quality products efficiently through the complete elimination of waste.” Jidoka is an approach that says “quality must be built during the manufacturing process.” So then, what exactly do we call this process today?

Lean management, according to Toyota, is the philosophy of the “complete elimination of all waste.” This mindset allows them to produce the most of their product efficiently and effectively. Building upon that philosophy, many hospitals have adopted the practices of lean into their organizations and now understand the value of lean not only in their processes, but also of the people that make up the workforce.

According to a Mayo Clinic study, lean management is defined as “an organization’s cultural commitment to applying the scientific method to designing, performing, and continuously improving the work delivered by teams of people, leading to measurably better value for patients and other stakeholders” (Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research).

Just like the manufacturing industry, healthcare is constantly changing and advancing. There seems to always be new government mandates and protocols to take better care of patients and newer, better technology on the market. The rapidity of growth makes providing the best care to patients a constant challenge while also delivering the most effective assistance; but when an organization implements lean practices, they have the ability to manage employee talent and improve processes to ensure quality service simultaneously.

Often times in healthcare, there is a constant influx of new initiatives that are all presented to leaders to be of the utmost importance to the hospital. Those are then handed down from leadership for others to take on. The problem that comes into play is employees are overloaded with these initiatives and it causes projects to be left on the back burner when new ones come about. Staff becomes confused by all of the new initiatives, which happens because the new projects aren’t integrated into their existing protocol. This makes the processes much more confusing as more and more pile onto existing actions.

Instead of making jobs more difficult and less efficient in hospitals, why not use resources within reach to make the entire hospital function more fluidly? With lean, an organization is capable of lessening the pains associated with constant changes. Not only are operations lean through and through, but so are employees and their talents.

First, it’s important to understand that this isn't a process that occurs overnight. It is something that executives and top level managers have to be on board with as well. Once the decision is made to go lean, the organization must find and mold employees to fit into this new, high-energy culture.

With lean, instead of managers being the problem solvers, employees take on that role. No longer is upper management going to solve issues that arise. Those who are closer to the problems should be the ones working to find the solution. The former hierarchical structure isn’t useful because the lean management model requires that all employees be trusted with the best interests of the hospital (most importantly its patients). Respect isn’t just something that goes upward anymore. It goes both ways.

It’s a culture change because not only is the hierarchy being diminished, but lean management also encourages a positive, go-getter attitude from all employees The success of lean depends on the optimism, willingness, and diligence of its staff. Essentially, staff turns into a “community of innovators” that is always looking to improve the current processes (Mayo Clinic). By having this type of ever-innovative environment, more collaboration will occur and more communication will exist, thus creating a lean culture where processes and employees are always improving to meet current needs.

Here are some tips on using lean management not only in a hospital, but in any workplace. After all, have you ever heard a company say “Let’s try to be as inefficient and ineffective as possible and spend as much money as we can to make our business grow?!”…I highly doubt it!

  • Encourage an attitude of continuous improvement.
    • “Lean management is a cultural transformation that changes how an organization works; no one stays on the sidelines in the quest to discover how to improve the daily work” (Mayo Clinic).
    • The power of lean lies within the abilities of the employees because they are the first hands on deck. Their knowledge and feedback is essential! When they see a positive change as a result of lean practices, they will most likely be driven to continuously improve process plans. Ask questions like: what practices do you see working well? What processes need improvement?
  • Before handing off a new initiative, talk about the benefits of the new action. Communication is important to ensure the initiative is in line with the goals of the organization as a whole (Huffington Post). You should ensure that the purpose and the goals of the initiative are clearly understood during hand off too.
    • How does it benefit patients or customers and how much human capital is needed to move forward?
    • Look at the long-term investment: how does this improve the organization?
  • Evaluate initiatives to see what is most critical within a year (Huffington Post). Take the time to truly understand the mission of the new project. During this process, you can also combine any actions that are similar and discard those that are irrelevant to the goals of the organization.
  • Utilize the tools of workforce planning (Human Capital Media).
    • This helps to keep your processes, information, and analytics integrated throughout the company. (see for more information on integrated talent management)
    • Focus on the goals of the organization to develop a plan. This helps to identify roles and closes the gap between the talent available and what is needed for the company to excel.

These tips should be helpful when transitioning your organization into a lean organization. The benefits alone of lean management are enticing. Through lean, a workplace can eliminate waste, reduce costs without sacrificing quality, and increase efficiency by constantly aiming to improve current standards.

“Running lean is not about doing more with less, it’s about leveraging the best talent to do more”(Human Capital Media).

By fostering an environment keen on lean, an organization can use its current resources and employees to have effective and efficient processes to give patients and/or customers the best care and experience.

Topics: Leadership, Product News, Healthcare Reform, Empowering Your Workforce, Talent Management