Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Easily making it easier at Gemba

A repetitive theme of our Lean training is that many of the best ideas are easy to implement, but they would never get management's attention absent a clear commitment to listen to the front-line staff. Here's one example that some of our senior management team learned during our visit to gemba, this time at the Hematology laboratory.

The manager of the lab took the initiative a few months ago to set up a very easy system for getting staff suggestions. It took the form of a single card on which any person could make a suggestion, give the reasons for it, and offer his or her opinion as to why it would be helpful. OK, that's just like a suggestion box, right? But the difference here was a daily staff huddle at which the crew would discuss each idea and vote on it. If it was approved, it would be implemented. (As a reward, the suggester's picture would be added to the card and it would be posted on the wall.)

When we asked Nicole Burston (shown here) what was the best idea to come along so far, she said it was an extra label printer (also shown here). Huh? Well, it turns out that some blood separation "spins" need to be "double-tubed." Each tube needs an identifying label. The old way: Walk across the lab to the area where the original tube was labeled; bother the team whose people are busy putting on the original labels by asking them to do extra work, disturbing their sequence; and then walk back across the lab. Do this dozens of times per day.

The alternative, print out a new label on the printer located at the place it is needed.

Manager Gina McCormack (shown here) was asked, "Was this a new idea that had never been raised before?" Nope, but it always got put off for other priorities and reasons. "Did you have to come up with money for this and therefore postpone another project?" Nope, I just called the IS department and told them it was part of a Lean improvement event, and they ordered it and paid for it out of their budget.

Noted SVP Walter Armstrong, "Organizations often suffer from a sense of resignation. You don't ask because you assume you will not get what you need." The Lean process helps break through that bottleneck.


Anonymous said...

The comment that it "always got put off due to other priorities and reasons" is interesting in itself. I'm not criticizing the lab, because I'm sure this goes on in every department, but it implies that the management had other priorities than listening to the bench staff; or else that previous to Lean, it WOULD have cost money. Either way, Lean is therefore both improving performance and morale.
The challenge, as I have said before, is to maintain this momentum through years and manager changes over time, since things tend to regress to the mean. The upper administrative staff (VP's) has to be very cognizant of constantly combating this tendency.

Anonymous said...

oops, that was nonlocal, late of the lab environment, speaking in the prior comment.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate that you are using Lean, this example sounds good but this the "just do it" or "low hanging fruit" that Lean and Six Sigma teach: do things that are obvious. Getting an extra printer does't necessarily require conducting a Lean event. (unless you are oversimplifying the event that occurred here). Also it sounds like this problem & your employee's good suggestion might have gotten attention because Lean is now part of your efforts. As one person mentioned, they told IS it is part of a Lean event so they ordered the printer & paid for it. What if another area wanted it but didn't call it Lean? Would they get it? The way of thinking needs to become part of an organization's culture & everyone needs to think and behave process improvement and waste reduction. Hopefully that will happen in your organization and many other hospitals in US.

Anonymous said...

"The way of thinking needs to become part of an organization's culture & everyone needs to think and behave process improvement and waste reduction." -- is exactly right. But it is not as easy as it sounds. It requires adoption of the philosophy, training, and execution. Most organizations don't even come close to doing that. Witness GM versus Toyota.

David said...

That's a great story. I'm writing an article on the role labeling can play in a Lean environment and the idea of having the labels made right where you want them is a big part.

Most people tend to take labeling somewhat for granted so it was great that Nicole saw a change in this to help improve things in her department.