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.