Month: February 2013

How NOT to Implement Lean – Thanks for the Lesson, Grey’s Anatomy

There are right ways and wrong ways to implement lean at a company.  True lean improvements have a benefit for the business, the customer, and the employees.  If you only focus on a single area to create benefit in, there’s a good chance that you will alienate the other two.  If you make it a perfect world for employees, you may not make any money.  If the customer is put on too high of a pedestal, you also might not make any money.  But if you only work to maximize how much money you bring in, there’s a good chance customers and employees alike will seek to go elsewhere.

Grey's 2A recent episode (aired 1/31 – “Bad Blood”) of Grey’s Anatomy features an “efficiency expert” who is essentially in charge of making the hospital run much, much more efficiently and cheaper because they are out of money because several of their doctors sued the hospital for negligence for flying them on a cheap airline where several of them were severely injured and several more died.  Following me so far?  Great.

The opening scenes caused my lean implementation radar to scream “No!  Wrong thinking!  Why would you do it this way!”  At least they weren’t calling it “lean”.  But in the first few minutes, the efficiency expert told them all they would be following new equipment storage standards to reduce their surgery changeover time, and an “eye in the sky” security system with a doctor behind it would be monitoring everyone and making improvement suggestions in real time.

Grey's 1Later on in the show, a guest is in the hospital teaching everyone his standard method of closing an incision, and that it would be the new standard that everyone throughout the Seattle Grace hospital system would be required to perform in order to help cut their surgery time in half.

I’ll give you just a few seconds to guess what the reaction of the employees in both scenes was from being dictated how they were going to operate from this point forward.  Rebellious, frustrated, not on board, rolling their eyes, combative… the list goes on!  So, what could they have done differently to implement their “efficiency programs” with more buy-in from their employees?

A really simple answer is, involve them in the problem solving and the solution.  There is great power when employees have ownership of both the problems and the solutions.  If employees and management are both aligned at the outset to the question of “what problem are we trying to solve”, and then both work together to develop solutions, implement them, and study the results, then adoption of the countermeasures across the company / hospital would happen much faster.  (it’s never that easy, of course – but better than not doing it together!)  So really, it is all about involving everyone in PDCA (or PDSA), and not just specialists.

Now, if you watch the show, you’ll counter with “Well, they are under a serious budget crunch, the hospital is going to run out of money and close down in a matter of weeks, and they have to make these drastic changes quickly in order to help everyone keep their jobs, so they don’t have time to involve the employees and do a proper job.”  And I might agree, say that’s true, but then I’ll counter with, “If they had only been using lean thinking all these years, their standards for approving private airlines may have caught a potential risk situation early on and prevented all the chaos, or they might have already made a lot of efficiency improvements that would have made them a profitable hospital in the first place.”

Are you going to wait until a crisis happens to implement or adopt lean thinking at your company?  Or are you going to implement it so that you avoid ever getting into a crisis in the first place?

Visual Management on WIKA Corporation’s Press Release Page

During a recent trip to Atlanta, our Continuous Improvement group had set up two benchmarking trips near the area to companies who had been practicing lean for far longer than us.  I really enjoy these benchmarking trips because they can open your mind up beyond the limits of your current thinking to see what is possible when you stick with lean thinking for several years, or decades.  The team originally asked us to choose between the two groups (HON and WIKA) for planning purposes.  I decided to take a few minutes and see what each company was about, and whether or not Lean thinking was prominent on their company websites.

As I visited the WIKA Press ReleaseWIKA website, I found several mentions of their lean journey on their Company News page.  What I really liked though, was the visual management they used in their press release area.  Once I knew that the “Six Sigma” style logo tended to be associated with stories of lean, it was really easy for me to skim through and find exactly what I was looking for without having to read all the titles or search around in various articles.  The only thing that would have been easier would be the ability to “filter” based on the logo, or category type.

While reading one of their lean themed releases, I found that their Continuous Improvement and Quality Director, Rick Reed, was featured on the “Lean Nation” Radio Program in 2011.  Overall I came away impressed that within their corporate website WIKA celebrated how much their lean and six sigma culture contributes to their success.

I ended up assigned to the group visiting the HON corporation (which was a WONDERFUL visit and might be the subject of an article at a later date) so I didn’t get to see WIKA in action.  I’ll be very interested in hearing the report from my colleagues though, because if they’ve applied lean thinking to their press release page, imagine what they’ve done in areas where they create real value for their customers.

What Can You Learn About Lean From a Garbage Can?

You can learn a lot about Lean from a garbage can.  Don’t believe me?  Well, let’s try a case study.  Here is a recycling trashcan from my office building, which has two openings for recyclables.  Someone has taped a sign over one side that instructs us to “Use this side only when right side is full”.  It is only taped on the top edge so you can flip it up very easily.  Study it, pause, don’t read ahead, take 2 minutes and extract as much about lean as you can.  Think deeply!  Then continue reading.

Recycle Garbage Can









Done?  So, here’s what I saw the first time someone pointed this can out to me.

Overprocessing waste – Someone recognized that the can capacity was overdesigned for the area.  Both sides were being used, but were not filling up by the time the cleaning crew came around to empty it.  There are two separate bins with garbage cans inside, so a crew member had to empty out two half-full, or less than half-full cans every time, even if only a few empty Coke bottles were in one of them.  It may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but take x number of cans in the building, x number of minutes to empty and replace the bags, x number of times per month… it does add up to some real time.  Cut that time in half and you have opened up whitespace for that crew member to do other value-added work, and likely cut in half the number of bags you use.

Empty Wallet Approach – When this problem was first recognized, one solution could have been to replace all the double trashcans in the building with single ones that were half the size.  But that probably would have cost someone some money.  They tried a very simple, cheap countermeasure first.

Poke a yoke – Another countermeasure could have been to put a sign up on the wall behind it, stating the guidelines, asking us to follow them.  I envision a bag of mixed results with that one.  Some people might read it and commit it to habit, but some will walk by and never even read that sign, and just throw their recyclables in either open hole.  What are you going to do then – hold a site-wide training session on the most efficient way to use a recyclable bin?  Send out a mass email with instructions that most people won’t read?  By placing a physical, visual sign over one of the holes, you are error-proofing your countermeasure by preventing someone from just tossing a bottle in the overflow side unless they were to “override” the system.

Knowledge waste – This sign was in place on all the cans I saw in our office location.  However, I happened to be walking around in another one of our buildings soon after this and saw the exact same can, but no sign on it.  And sure enough, there were bottles in each side.  Someone had developed this great countermeasure but they hadn’t shared it with others, and so their fellow employees are still dealing with the waste.  So to speak.

Did you think of some other lean concepts while studying the can?