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Lean: Tortoise not Hare

Posted Jul 21 2009 10:13pm

Here's an update for those of you interested in our process improvement efforts at BIDMC and our preliminary thinking about the next stages. Back in March 2008, we rolled out our BIDMC SPIRIT program, our first formal experiment with staff-based call-outs based loosely on the Totoya Production System, aka "Lean." It has accomplished some good stuff, and we have learned from it. (Search "BIDMC SPIRIT"and "Caller-Outer" on this blog to see a collection of those items.)

From the very beginning, we said that BIDMC SPIRIT would itself evolve, and now we are at the latter stages of thinking through how to do it. This process included some in-depth training of several of our senior clinical and administrative leaders, a cadre of the next organizational level of directors, and several of our medical trainees. Beyond training us, those sessions served as test beds for the specific curricula developed by our staff, in cooperation with and building on materials from the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership. Meanwhile, too, Steve Spear invited several of our folks to audit his process improvement class at MIT, where they have had more advanced exposure to Steve's work but also healthy interactions with people from other industries.

As the graphic above displays, we view ourselves at the very beginning of a long journey to full implementation of Lean principles in our hospital. Others, exemplified by Gary Kaplan and his colleagues at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, and John Tuissaint at Thedacare, started earlier and are further along.

As I was discussing with Jim Womack the other day, it is an interesting paradox that while an important part of the Lean philosophy is the concept of standardizing work (to avoid waste and unnecessary variation), when it comes to implementation of Lean, each organization is essentially sui generis. That is, the plan for diffusing the concepts of Lean in an institution like ours has to be cognizant of the people and the culture of the place, an environment that has evolved over decades.

The idea here is to be slow and steady -- "Tortoise not Hare" -- in both planning for implementation and executing the plan. I present, for your viewing, a simplified chart of the roll-out proposal we are currently thinking about and will be sharing with our leadership groups and staff. You can click on that chart and expand it. You might not get all the points, but you can see the major themes: Lots of training; application by the trainees of what they have learned; focus on broad system work across the hospital, but also specific project work in high priority areas; and a small, nimble governance structure to keep track of things and make mid-course corrections.

I hope, by presenting these materials here, to encourage others of you who have been through this kind of transformation to submit comments to share your experiences, and to encourage those who are thinking about doing this to reach out to others who are in mid-stream. As the US considers its options with regard to health care reform, the real action will remain in each hospital and physician group. Public policy instruments are blunt and imprecise. Unless we take charge of the manner in which we do our work, the broad general policies being considered in Washington, DC will make very little difference in the quality of care and the efficiency with which it is delivered.
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