Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lean Coach vs Technical Supervisor

I was talking with a CFO from a Midwestern hospital today about transforming supervisors into Lean coaches. Dave Krebs ( does a nice job in discussing how a sports coach is similar to a Lean coach. In the laboratory environment there are two kinds of supervisors: technical supervisors and staff supervisors, which may complicate the process in transitioning to a coaching environment.

To automatically assume that a technical supervisor should become a Lean coach is a huge leap. A technical laboratory supervisor is in charge of a particular department or area of the laboratory. It usually is one whole department, such as Chemistry, or Hematology, or Microbiology. This type of supervisor is in charge of the technical operations: instrumentation, adding new testing methodologies, quality control, maintenance, proficiency testing, correlations, etc. They may or may not have staff responsibilities and some technical supervisors prefer to manage the technical environment more than the people working in the lab.

One of the reasons that some medical technologists have such a hard time with people skills is because there is no emphasis on management or manufacturing in their training at the college level, nor in their registry exam, and hence the student does not value learning any of those skills. Once graduated and employed, the employer must bear the burden in teaching the new tech these important concepts, which is time consuming and expensive.

When I worked at Allina Health System in Minnesota, we had technical consultants that filled the technical supervisor role and then we had Site Managers that were in charge of hiring/firing, evaluating, and scheduling the staff. In this environment, it would be easier for the Site Managers to become the Lean coaches, and they may be better suited to the role.

There certainly needs to be an open collaboration between the technical supervisor and the Lean coach, but to have separate roles may enhance the Lean process. It would allow two points of view to analyze a particular process; one focused internally on the operation of the instrument; and one focused on the processes that produce the product, the data. Smaller hospitals may not be able to afford the luxury of having staff for both roles. In that case, selection of Lean coaches will be more challenging.

Laboratorians need to dialog on these topics and share successes professionally. Our careers will depend on it.