Tag: Customer

Keeping It Simple At Target Optical

Although my wife may roll her eyes when I point out lean principles in everyday life, it must be starting to sink in because while traveling last month, she noticed this sign and figured I’d like a picture of it. And as is typically the case, she was right!

I love the simplicity in this visual tool at Target Optical. You don’t need to wait in line to talk with someone just to find out if they have an appointment available for you today. You just look on the sign for a green dot and decide if that time slot works for you.

I love seeing a tool like this. It makes me reflect on the complexity of tools we have developed and how we might be able to get to a simpler state, and still obtain an outcome satisfactory to the customer.

Turn Our Waiting Room Into Just… A Room. How’s That For A Hoshin?

Ikitt‘ve enjoyed many of the commercials GE has put out over the last few years.  They seem to have struck a nice balance between informing about technology and entertaining the audience.  I mean, how many times do you find a new way to use KITT in today’s advertising world?  One of the first I remember was “Healthcare Re-Imagined – Love Story” which showed how improved technology can help patient care.  And who can forget the little kid capturing the power of wind?


The most recent agent smithbrings in Agent Smith from the Matrix to explain to us how GE technology in hospitals is improving patient care and reducing waiting time.  And at the end, I think I heard a pretty good hoshin!  Here’s some of the dialogue from the video, Agent of Good:

GE has wired their medical hardware with innovative software to be in many places at the same time…  Using data to connect patients, to software, to nurses, to the right people, and machines.  Helping hospitals treat people even better while dramatically reducing waiting time.  Now a waiting room… is just a room.

There are some additional videos from the GE website connected with this video, including aventura-hospitala visit to Aventura hospital in Florida where we hear snippets from the hospital staff on how they believe the technology is helping them improve the quality of care.  In an earlier video one statistic they throw out is that the system has helped reduce the waiting time for patients by 68%.  Not bad!

If you spend a little extra time, you can find little coded spots (I’m not sure why they made it so hard and repetitive) using the time bar in the first extra video that give additional facts, such as:

  • A typical hospital can expect nurses to get an hour per shift back to spend on patient care, up to 250 hours annually
  • Can help increase equipment disinfection compliance up to 90% at a typical hospital so equipment is there and ready to go faster.

Now, I’m not always an advocate of a complex, capital-intensive electronic system being a countermeasure.  In the first year, or even months, you usually find so many things you wish you had known about when you designed the system, but to change now would mean costly rewrites to software or changes to hardware that you’ve already sunk a lot of money into.  Before developing such a system, first I’d ask, is there a simpler, more manual way to get the same job done?  In fact, many times someone develops a new shiny system just hoping to find a problem to attach it to.  But, if you develop a system to solve a problem, if you take time to define the problem and study your potential countermeasures,  and then design an electronic system to implement the solution and sustain it… well, then there’s not much to argue about!

From the additional videos, I heard several comments from the hospital workers that were really focused on how they use the system to improve patient care:

  • Everything is tagged and is specific to that equipment, and I can go into the system and see exactly where it is in the hospital and see that.  And since my area is critical, it’s a matter of life or death.
  • The GE software helps me provide better care because I’m able to get to the equipment sooner that is often vital to that patient
  • When a patient comes in to a hospital, they expect to be treated efficiently, effectively, and returned to their home.  The GE software is the catalyst that has helped us improve the bed management system.
  • It wasn’t until the GE software was implemented, that we were able to significantly reduce the amount of time a patient waits.
  • For that nurse to have that extra 5 or 10 minutes to spend with a patient, it makes a world of difference.
  • What if, we were able to see that a nurse only got to spend 2.7 minutes with a patient?

Hoshin kanri is usually associated with setting strategy.  I’ve always associated it with the image of a compass pointing you in the direction you want to go, towards your ideal state, or what I’ve heard called an organizacompassnorthtion’s “True North”.  Many times a slogan, or a short set of phrases, are associated to help bring imagery and meaning to the purpose of your organization.  A simple (and Toyota) example would be Lexus with “The relentless pursuit of perfection”.

A hoshin helps focus your organization’s improvement efforts by outlining a vision of where you want to be someday, even if you may never get there.  As you implement lean, you may create a great kaizen process, hold many improvement events, reduce changeover times, 5S the heck out of your maintenance area, create wonderful management systems with visual controls…  but at some point you may sit back and reflect from a distant vantage point and ask yourself, do we know why we did all of this improvement work?  If you are operating with a hoshin in mind, you should be able to connect most of your work towards the achievement of that ideal.

“Turning waiting rooms into rooms” may be a smaller hoshin, for one area of patient care, so it isn’t likely a rallying cry for the entire healthcare industry.  But it is connected to improving the patient experience, and is something just about anyone can relate to.

Does your company’s lean transformation have focus and purpose?  What’s your hoshin?

Vow of Silence

I was under the weather the other week, but decided to push through and ensure a couple of key training sessions I was giving occurred as scheduled.  By the end of them, I had lost most of my voice and was considerably worse off than when the week had begun.  So I decided that my first priority was to rest my voice, and so I took a self-imposed “vow of silence” for a 24 hour period.

This was an interesting experience.  First of all, it was difficult to even remember not to talk sometimes!  Cesar MillanBut it also reminded me of how much we rely on words to get our points across or get things done vs. other methods.  For example, when the dogs went to go bark at the mailman, you couldn’t yell at them to sit and be quiet.  You had to find another method not involving your voice that they would understand.  Usually, it was a much calmer method than yelling.  Cesar Millan would be proud!

Also, it meant when sitting at the dinner table I was able to simply listen to the conversation between my wife and kids, instead of trying to think about how I was going to respond.  Or when we were playing a board game I could just sit and watch as the kids took their turn and enjoy how much they were learning and growing instead of trying to make small talk.

How does all this relate to Lean thinking?  Well as I sat there in my small world of silence and ridiculous hand gestures, my mind drew parallels to two concepts – standing in the Ohno circle and listening to the Voice of the Customer.

Standing in the Ohno Circle

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by just watching”.  Early on in my lean journey I remember reading about or hearing about the concept of standing in the Ohno circle until you were able to see waste and come up with improvements to eliminate it.  WhOhnoen we were first learning about what waste was, we went out to the machines and observed what was going on, coming up with examples of all the types of waste.  We were developing our capability to see, and there were plenty of waste examples to go around.  But you didn’t interject yourself into the process, didn’t go fix something you saw right then and there without understanding the cause – you simply observed and built a deeper understanding of how the process functions.

It is a little bit harder to stand in a circle in an office environment.  If you draw a circle in the hall, you’ll probably write down lots of examples of copier waste, walking back and forth between meetings, having to get up to get a drink of water or hit the restroom… things that may not be all that useful for driving results with lean transformation.  But I’ve found it very effective if I actually sit in with someone in their office and simply watch them do work and have them describe what they are doing, asking “why?” every once in a while.  Even simple tasks such as observing them writing an email and asking why they need to write it to get information they should already have reveals gaps in the business process.  Or perhaps you shadow someone for a few hours, sit in the meetings they sit in, and record all the forms of waste you see, including how many meetings don’t result in any actual actions or decisions.

Usually if you are standing in a circle on the shop floor, there is room somewhere for you to be out of the way and slightly more inconspicuous than if you are sitting in a cube looking over someone’s shoulder.  It can be a little uncomfortable at first, both for you and the employee.  But this is where the work is done, this is where the time is spent, and this is where the waste occurs that you need to be identifying and striving to eliminate.  So maybe it should be difficult and uncomfortable – if it was easy to see, someone probably would have already improved it.

Listening to the Voice of the Customer

What is value-added through the eyes of the customer?  Knowing this is what drives us to improve our processes, because everything that is not value-added in the eyes of the customer is waste – and why would we want to keep producing that?  It isn’t always easy to hear the voice of the customer, because we don’t always listen when they talk to us.  Many times I have seen people receive feedback from a customer but during the discussion defend the way things are done currently, tell them why they can’t give them what they want, offer potential band-aids to some of their concerns, and even direct the problems back onto the customer and try to blame the problems on them and their demands!

Is some of that justifiable?  Sure, maybe, in some sense.  But the key here is that obtaining the customer’s feedback in order to understand what they are thinking, what they value, and what they wish you could deliver to them shouldListening be the objective of the conversation.  Shelve the notion that you need to deliver a solution to them that very minute.  Shelve your pride and try not to defend why things are the way they are.  Try not to interject yourself into the conversation other than to steer it and to ask questions that probe deeper into their needs.  Remember that your goal is to listen, to hear, and to understand, and to take that feedback, reflect on it, and determine if there are reasonable things you can do to improve on what the customer values.


It’s nice to have my voice back now, but maybe I’ll have to schedule myself to take a short vow of silence every once in a while just so I remember how to listen.