But take a look anyway, if you have an interest in process improvement in hospitals. This is a collection of my best posts on this topic.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

La méthode Toyota pervertie

An article last month in Montreal's La Presse, entitled "Soins à domicile: tollé contre la méthode Toyota" ("Home Care: Outcry against the Toyota Way") set forth a terrible scenario in which the wrong application of the Lean approach in the home health care setting led to awful results.

Here's a rough translation of some excerpts (with thanks to Google translator and apologies for inaccuracies. Je ne parle pas français.):

The implementation of the famous Toyota Way in home care in Montreal by a private firm is currently causing nurses, social workers and occupational therapists to be on the verge of hysterics. And it is on track to cost a small fortune in the health care system in a context of budgetary restrictions. The new Minister of Health, Dr. Réjean Hébert, has also pledged to hold accountable those health centers that are in the process of implementing the method.

In Montreal, a dozen centers of health and social services centers (CSSS) recently approved contracts with a private firm for a sum of at least $12 million. Fees are up to $27,540 per week (excluding taxes) for a period up to 35 weeks, it was found.

The firm, named Proaction, was founded in 2004 and first imposed its approach in the manufacturing sector. Its founders had never set foot in a hospital or a health center before 2009.

"Currently, many employees are exhausted, emotional and in physical distress. And when we try to denounce the situation it is perceived as a sign of weakness and we are afraid of the consequences," said a social worker from CSSS Canvendish. The lady preferred anonymity for fear of reprisal, but a dozen nurses, social workers and occupational therapists with whom La Presse spoke were outraged by the situation.

According to what La Presse has seen, the Proaction method is largely based on the creation of a grid of "planning and implementation" on which all acts . . . are timed. This grid is developed by an internal committee consisting of a few handpicked employees. For example, washing one ear by a nurse should take 15 minutes. Two ears 20 minutes. A single wound care should not take more than 15 minutes. There is provided a time of 30 minutes for follow-up "post death". 

On the ground, it will even tell therapists not to intervene with patients in cases of psychological distress, and transfer the task of the social worker to save time. If an employee has not been able to perform his or her task in a timely manner, he or she shall explain the reasons.

In a follow-up article, "La méthode Toyota pervertie," ethics consultant Pierre Deschamps noted, "The correct approach would not have led home care nurses to the edge of a nervous breakdown."

In fact, what it is has nothing to do with the Toyota method, but instead is a practice of Lean, disembodied from the fundamental values of the Toyota approach.

At Toyota, the continuous improvement process is based on the respect that the company provides to its customers, suppliers and employees. Continuous improvement, yes, but never at the expense of respect for persons.

In recent years, several consulting firms who see the Toyota approach as a business opportunity have appropriated some of its processes and argued that organizations that adopt it would rapidly increase their performance and efficiency.

What these companies have forgotten is that the Toyota is successful when it is part of a corporate culture that is strong and in businesses where there is a healthy work environment. There is no success in organizations where there is a significant psychological distress and mental suffering high among employees, as appears to be the case with several employees of the health system.

In addition, the Toyota approach to be successful within an organization requires that those who want to use have an excellent knowledge of the culture and to develop a profile of the organization in terms of governance, leadership, ethics, practices, traditions, etc.

In a book called The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership, the authors make a serious warning in regard to the use of external consultants.

The traditional role of external consultants is to manage a project and produce a plan of action. Indeed, the consultants step into the customer's shoes. They claim to have expertise in Lean methods and guarantee that they will make the client organization more efficient by eliminating all unnecessary tasks and standardizing work.

However, in reality, learning new methods remains with consultants and what they leave at the end of their mandate is very fragile.

Several months ago, I declaimed:

If there were a form of medical malpractice lawsuit that I would like to encourage, it would be against those consulting firms that promise hospitals that they will teach them how to "do Lean."

[They] leave behind your "trained" cadre of managers to carry on -- which they cannot or will not do.  Charge the hospital several hundred thousand dollars for this "service."  But not before you have given Lean a bad name and, worse, have caused it to be associated with layoffs.

In their search to find financial savings, hospitals and health care administrators are often carried along by the latest fad.  Governments, too.  Here, the previous government health minister of Quebec opened the financial gates to support his "transformation" intentions several years ago.  But the concept was not well thought through.  The consultant community responded as you would expect.

As I have said:

You don't "do Lean."  Lean is not a program.  It is a long-term philosophy of corporate leadership and organization that is based, above all, on respect shown to front-line staff.  There are two essential aspects, training front-line workers to be empowered and encouraged to call out problems on the "factory floor," and training managers to understand that their job is to serve those front-line workers by knowing what is going on on the front lines and responding in real time (when problems are fresh) to the call-outs.

Please, if you are hospital or government leader and are not prepared to adopt the overall philosophy, don't start down this path.  You will just pervert the nature of Lean.  Soon enough, la merde va frapper le ventilateur.  (Again, a Google-assisted translation.  No doubt there is a better idiomatic version, but you get the point.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Who needs a waiting room? (Part 3)

In a post below, I report on Dr. Sami Bahri's use of Lean principles to improve patient flow in his clinic.  In their comments, Sami and others explain more about how this is done.  Upon reflection, I need to issue a caveat:

You cannot just extract Sami's recipe for scheduling appointments and expect it to work  The cultural and thinking shift that he led for his staff is really central. Having now watched a lot of medical people in hospitals and outpatient settings, I have seen a tendency to try to take shortcuts, not knowing the depth of what is involved.   As I have said before, you don't "do" Lean:

Lean is not a program.  It is a long-term philosophy of corporate leadership and organization that is based, above all, on respect shown to front-line staff.  There are two essential aspects, training front-line workers to be empowered and encouraged to call out problems on the "factory floor," and training managers to understand that their job is to serve those front-line workers by knowing what is going on on the front lines and responding in real time (when problems are fresh) to the call-outs.   Yes, there are all kinds of methods and tools and terminology, and as Virginia Mason Medical Center's Sarah Patterson notes, "Lean provides a common language for process improvement." She also reminded us, though, that it is a focus on process, not on the outcomes.  The idea is to "build key features into processes that are waste free, continuous flow."  To do this we need to "grow leaders-- to respect, develop, and challenge your people."

This may scare some of you away, but it's important to know there is no silver bullet.  This is hard work and needs a strong and steady commitment from senior clinical and administrative leaders.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who needs a waiting room? (Part 2)

In a post below, I give a short summary of Dr. Sami Bahri's dental clinic in Jacksonville, FL, and how he has employed Lean principles to make things better for patients and staff.  That elicited some good questions.  Answers have now been provided by some real experts, including Sami himself. 

If you are at all interested in applying Lean to clinical settings, these comments are worth a look.  Click here.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who needs a waiting room?

Passing through Jacksonville, FL, I took the opportunity to catch up with "the Lean dentist," Sami Bahri, about whom I have written before.  Walking into his office, I was struck by this view of his waiting room.  This is a more or less typical situation.  Patients entering the clinic are immediately escorted into a treatment room.  Organizing a clinic's work flow to produce an efficient treatment of patient flows is a direct result of Lean process improvements.  I joked with Sami that he should find some other use for this space, like starting a book store or something!

One of the things I like about this clinic is the practice of treating a patient for all of his or her needs during one visit.  Most of us go to dentists who require us to come back for a second visit if we have a cavity that needs filling or some other procedure that emerges from the cleaning and examination.  Not here.  If they find a cavity, they fill it on the spot.  The result has been a 24% reduction in the number of appointments at the clinic (for the same number of patients.)  Besides making life more convenient for the patients, the office has eliminated the make-work associated with second or third visits: scheduling, confirmation, extra cleaning of each exam room, billing and collection.

Sami and his staff are very proud of customers' reviews on Angie's List--all "A" grades.  Comments reflect the perspectives of patients.  They don't know that this is a Lean clinic, but they do notice the aspects of customer service that result from the Lean philosophy:

This group is wonderful. Personnel are all low key.  I had a crown pop off.  No pain but they offered me a same day appointment if I wanted it.  Fixed tooth with the same crown.  None of this high-priced push for work you don't need.  I can really get intimidated at dental office and I didn't here.  My old dentist had retired and the new one was sell sell sell.

Thorough, professional and kind.  I was seen today and will be taking my children to this office also.

They are kind and compassionate.  They are all encompassing.  They will squeeze you in if you need them even if it is night.  You never seem to have to wait more than 10 minutes.  The staff is great and knows you by name.

There is not a single person there that I would not trust to provide 100% excellent service with skills, knowledge and compassion.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"What" before "Why"

As the Lean Coaching Summit drew to a close, John Shook, head of the Lean Enterprise Institute, offered a summation that included the slide above.  Although I have been practicing and/or coaching Lean for many years, it made a big impression on me.  Let me explain.

One of the techniques used in Lean and other process improvement approaches like Six Sigma is to employ the "5 Whys."  Wikipedia explains:

The 5 Whys is a question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem.

The premise is that the root cause is often hidden and requires inquiry beyond the simple first answer.  Wikipedia goes on to give an example:
  • The vehicle will not start. (the problem).
  1. Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
Lean practitioners spend a lot of time on the 5 Whys, and John's slide properly incorporates the "why" portion of a problem solving.  But he also reemphasizes the need to understand "what" happened.  As he said to me before the talk, we often do not spend enough time at the site of the problem to comprehend fully its characteristics and nature.  Failing to know what happened means that the root cause analysis can be off track, and the designed solutions therefore will not offer a complete or sustainable solution.

As in many things related to Lean, this kind of advice can either appear to be self-evident and simple, or too nerdy or techy for real-world situations.  But it is neither.  It represents a codification of an essential aspect of process improvement, an aspect often observed in the breach.

How often have you been in an organization where a supervisor learns of a problem, does a cursory review, and then decides what has happened without a full understanding of important factors and details?  I know I have been guilty of this flawed approach in every leadership position I have had.  It occurs because we are creatures of habit, and the framework we use in viewing problems or defects has developed over the years based on experience, anecdote, and impressions.  It takes real insight to overcome our habitual view of the world and have the clear vision to see a problem and fully comprehend its characteristics.

It also takes a lot of practice to learn how to see a problem and to fully comprehend its characteristics.  An essential aspect of leadership training should be to create comfort in spending time on the front lines, where the work is done and value is delivered to customers.  Beyond physical presence, leaders have to be taught to quietly observe the work patterns of the front-line staff, and especially to see how the staff people create work-arounds to overcome obstacles to the tasks they are trying to carry out.  Excellent coaching is required to teach leaders the observational skills they need to answer the question, "What happened here?" 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Double-Lean focus on coaching

The Lean Enterprise Institute and Lean Frontiers joined together to create the Inaugural Lean Coaching Summit, a collaborative and hands-on learning environment to address coaching in companies and institutions that have adopted the Lean process improvement philosophy.  As noted by the hosts:

“Most lean practitioners have heard the principle ‘Before we make product, we make people.’ This embodies respect for people and describes the two responsibilities of every leader: Get work done and develop people. To accomplish these as separate activities is difficult, if not impossible. So the lean leader’s solution is to develop people through getting the work done. Easy to say, but what does it take? It takes coaching.” 

I was pleased to be invited to deliver the keynote address, based on the coaching themes and stories from my book Goal Play! But as usual in these sessions, I learned a lot of new things.  There was one bit of history from the original Toyota Lean work several decades ago.  They employed a four-part mantra that could apply to any organization today that hopes to become a learning organization:

Build people before cars;

Establish mutual trust;
Lead as if you have no power;
No problem is problem.