Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Our Lean Effort Has the Flu

Just like any other change effort, when we get busy, we struggle with maintaining the change. This seems to be especially true this week with the influx of patients with symptoms of influenza. I am just going to forgive us for not staying on track and hope for better times in a few days.

Over the last few days, our morning huddles have been non-existant. We are short staffed. I have been in many meetings that seem to last beyond their allotted time, and more pressing questions about testing patients for influenza have taken up our time to work on our Lean projects.

I share this because I am assuming that many other healthcare organizations are dealing with the same thing. This does not mean that we are not doing our job. Part of our job is to prioritize and to address what is most important to patient care. This week it just happens to be in the middle of a growing epidemic of influenza.

What I have noticed, however, is that we are working together better as a team. We are communicating with each other in a positive way, using active listening techniques, forgiving each other when a policy decision changes based on new information and supporting each other in the hectic environment. Even though our individual Lean projects may be temporarily on hold, we are still making a positive difference for our organization, and that feels good.


  1. First, it's important that you recognize both that you're slipping and why your slipping. When no one is really acting as the conscious of the lean journey, those small slips can quickly become new habits.

    Second, business conditions sometimes require that you adjust your lean application. We saw an organization that had low volumes so they had lots of events, and then went suddenly to fully loaded. That required a change in their approach.

    Third, I think these moments can be a good test of whether our lean efforts are truly understood. For example, if you truly believe that morning huddles are essential for efficient work and alignment, then when things get tough to stick harder to that practice, not let it slip. If it slips, then people aren't completely committed to why you are doing the "lean" things that you are.

    Good luck. And thanks for taking care of all those flu folks.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  2. Hi Nancy
    Great to see this honest and real assesment of your lean journey!
    This is also a great time to keep an "problem-solving" eye out for improvement opportunities. Times like these provide an opportunity to expose your current process shortcomings, batching, 3M's, bottlenecks, etc.
    Yes, it's understandable that things will be hectic ... however it's important for you and your team to continuously observe the "flow" (or lack of flow) of people, materials, information, etc. and to capture that somewhere on the run for problem solving once it gets back to normal. Maybe you can use a quick observation checksheet / set up an ideas board (e.g. mindmap) etc.
    This time provides all-important "stress testing" for your current processes and it will be tough and all-consuming ... however try to learn from it.
    Best wishes!
    Danie Vermeulen
    CEO: Kaizen Institute New Zealand

  3. Thanks for the feedback and the coaching. It is nice to have a forum like this blog where we can get input from throughout the world!