By October 16, 2009 1 Comments Read More →

Like Lean: Solving Health Care Problems By Design

Solving Health Care Problems By Design : NPR

Thanks to Andrew B. for passing this along – audio and web text from NPR with some concepts that might sound a lot like Lean.

In an interview with the CEO of the design firm IDEO, Tim Brown, he tells the story of using visual management concepts in an emergency room:

So one very simple idea – this was one of many ideas that got implemented – was each of the various people, the health care people in the emergency room: the doctors, the nurses, the charge nurses, the porters, we designed these very simple kind of uniforms for them to wear so that it was really clear who was who. And it even said it on big graphics on their uniforms, so that you weren’t asking a nurse the question you might be asking a doctor or you weren’t asking a porter a question you might ask a doctor.

What really makes it sound “like Lean” is the engagement of the people doing the work.

Well, this is where the participation of the people themselves that are going to change in the design of the new approach was key. And we see this all the time, don’t we, in larger organizations, that when something’s designed on the outside and then pushed into the organization, there’s often a lot of resistance. But when you involve the people themselves, then they already own the new solution, and it’s so much easier then to get the change to happen.

That’s exactly the approach I’ve tried to take with Lean in hospitals. This took me some time through my career to learn. When you’re a young engineer, you’re taught (or expected) to have answers. Lean is really about teaching others to improve their own work. So when I was consulting in hospitals, I would teach Lean concepts to the front line staff (like nurses or pharmacy techs) and let THEM figure out solutions. They own the solutions, they can sell the ideas and countermeasures to their colleagues. It’s so much easier to make the change happen, like Tim Brown says.

Tim Brown is the author of the book Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation.

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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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1 Comment on "Like Lean: Solving Health Care Problems By Design"

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  1. Craig Henderson says:

    Thanks for posting about this important idea and its relationship to Lean.
    In my experience this is the best approach for solving cross-functional business process problems. By teaching Lean to the front-line staff and then positioning a team to design a new leaner business process, you get the most precise solution, high adoption of the new tools and methods, and excellent post-project job performance.

    My company has been dedicated to this approach. I recently noticed the same ideas emanating from Ideo. Those who are interested can learn more by visiting my blog post "Hoshin Kanri Strategy Deployment, Product Development, and Lean Improvement Efforts" on The post includes another Ideo webcast link.

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