"True North" is a key concept in Lean process improvement. It might be viewed as a mission statement, a reflection of the purpose of the organization, and the foundation of a strategic plan.
Here are illustrative thoughts from two observers:
The "ideal vision" or "True North" is not metrics so much as a sense of an ideal process to strive for. It sets a direction, and provides a way to focus discussion on how to solve the problems vs. whether to try.
If we don't know where we're going, we will never get there. "True North" expresses business needs that must be achieved and exerts a magnetic pull. True North is a contract, a bond, and not merely a wish list.
Lean is inherently the most democratic of work place philosophies, relying on empowerment of front-line staff to call out problems. The definition of True North, however, does not rely on that same democratic approach. Instead, it is established by the leadership of the organization.
At BIDMC, we have been engaged in a slow and steady approach to adoption of Lean. Our actions have been intentionally characterized by "Tortoise not Hare," as we methodically train one another, carry out rapid improvement events, and integrate the Lean philosophy into our design of work. As you have seen on this blog, staff members have come to embrace Lean and have used it in a variety of clinical and administrative settings.
(For more examples, enter "Lean" in the search box above. I have been presenting them here for some time in the hope that they would be useful to those in other hospitals who are thinking of adopting this approach.)
We have intentionally not, until now, tried to define True North, but things have now progressed sufficiently in terms of our application of the Lean philosophy that the organization is crying out for it. This is just as we had hoped. Establishment of True North before this time, i.e., without an understanding of its role, would not have been as useful in our hospital.
So, the clinical and administrative leaders recently met to try to nail this down. The process is not over. Indeed, our Board of Directors has yet to pitch in and offer their thoughts. But, we are far enough along that I thought you would enjoy seeing the draft.
Here it is:
BIDMC will care for patients the way we want members of our own families to be treated, while advancing humanity's ability to alleviate human suffering caused by disease. We will provide the right care in the right environment and at the right time, eliminating waste and maximizing value.
Here is some commentary to help you interpret and deconstruct this. The first sentence is based on the long-standing tradition of our two antecedent institutions, the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Beth Israel Deaconess hospital. The late doctor Richard Gaintner used to refer to the Deaconess as, "A place where science and kindliness unite in combating disease." That could just as well have been applied to the BI. As an academic medical center, our public service mission of clinical care is enhanced by -- and enhances -- our research and education programs. Our mission is to help humanity, not just the people who live in our catchment area.
The second sentence is offered in realization that the Ptolemaic view of tertiary hospitals as the center of the universe is no longer apt (if it ever was!) We need to view ourselves as being in service to primary care doctors, community hospitals, and other community-based parts of the health care delivery system.
On another level, it is also reflective of the fact that society expects us to be more efficient both within our own walls and in cooperation with our clinical partners, adopting approaches to work that do not waste societal resources.
In contradistinction to what I just said about this not being a democratically established statement, I offer our draft to you -- both those within BIDMC and worldwide -- for your criticism and suggestions. I don't know of other places that engage in this form of crowd-sourcing with regard to True North, but readers of this blog are unusually informed about health care matters, and I welcome your observations.