"Bureaucratic Morass"

Wonder Land – WSJ.com:

Reading up on the continuing Walter Reed situation (my earlier post on the subject), I saw this in the WSJ this morning:

“Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, described the problems at Walter Reed in words that should be inscribed on portals across every bridge leading into Washington: ‘Life every day in this system is like running in hip boots in a swamp.’ He called it a ‘bureaucratic morass.'”

There’s a colorful phrase. How many of us work in an environment like that? I’m lucky that I don’t currently work in that sort of environment, but I have before. I think many manufacturing companies could be described as that sort of morass.

Our goal with lean should be to destroy that sort of bureaucracy and waste. But, the Catch-22 is that it can be very hard to get started with lean when things are that bureaucratic.

I’ve described two types of “pre-lean” companies:

  1. Those that are good at “non-lean” things, they get stuff done, just the wrong stuff (e.g., expediting, counting parts, fighting fires)
  2. Those that aren’t good at doing anything, things don’t get done at all

Type 1 companies, I’d argue, have more hope than Type 2 companies. Type 1 workplaces have to have their energy and “get-it-done-ness” harnessed in the lean direction. Might be hard, but there’s some hope. Type 2 workplaces are so demoralized and lethargic or flat-out paralyzed with bureaucracy. Moving to lean in that environment will be quite a challenge, generally speaking.

One other thing from the WSJ article, sounds like a classic description of waste and a non value-stream focus:

“…he GAO’s Gregory Kutz describing the soldiers’ problem: “overall, we found the current stove-piped, non-integrated order-writing, personnel, pay, and medical eligibility systems require extensive error-prone manual data entry and re-entry.” That’s right — “and re-entry.”

Wounded soldiers are having to negotiate this waste. “Stove pipes” or “silos” — the disconnected workings of separate departments – that leads to waste. Very often, the handoffs between silos are botched or delayed. Often, each silo has very poor visibility into what the upstream and downstream silos are doing.

The lean approach and Value Stream management push us to start looking across departments, looking at the whole process and the whole value stream. From an office standpoint (or administrative processes), we have to start breaking down department boundaries. Maybe we have to re-organize the work and space so that people who used to be in different departments are now sitting side by side and working together. If disparate IT systems are creating or maintaining the silo boundaries, we have to work toward a single IT system so the entire value stream can work together.

It sounds like fixing the Walter Reed mess will take more than just firing some people. I hope they can fix the system.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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