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.)

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