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April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality “Gemba Bots”

by Mark Graban on April 1, 2012 · 7 comments

MDbot 150x150 April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots leanEvery few years, we see news articles about virtual reality robots that will roam hospital hallways – delivering medicines or supplies or allowing remote physicians to examine and communicate with patients in far-off locales who might not otherwise get to benefit from their specialized expertise (see this recent news story with video).

boardroom April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots lean

What’s less widely known are the experimentation with executive “Gemba Bots” that allow hospital CEOs and senior leaders to “roll the gemba.” This technology promises to let CEOs visit “the gemba” (the place where the actual work is done in the Lean parlance) without leaving the comfort of their own office or board room.

In this post, I reveal some of my exclusive research into this technology – the promise and the downsides….

Early Management Robots in the 1980s

While hospitals in the 1980s weren’t practicing Lean management (and people weren’t calling it Lean in the mid 1980s anyway), they did experiment with robotic enhancements to management methods of the day. As “management by wandering around” became fashionable, time-strapped executives looked for ways to automate this time-consuming practice. Enter – management by wheeling around.

80s robot 288x300 April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots lean An early management robot: BlameBot

Since MBWA was popularized by Hewlett-Packard, it was natural that they would borrow technology developed at Xerox Parc and partner with  GM Fanuc Robotics Corporation (part of General Motors). They developed BlameBot, pictured at left.

BlameBot was a huge time saver, as it  rolled randomly around the hospital greeting employees and saying things like “Be careful…. shame on you… we are going to hold you accountable” over and over.

A rare recording of a BlameBot in action was shared by the W. Edwards Deming Institute and the family of the late Dr. Deming. During a hospital stay, Dr. Deming encountered a prototype and was so disturbed that he asked his assistant to record some audio as she followed it down the hallway (audio used with permission, copyright 1988, W. Edwards Deming Institute).

Use the audio player below to listen to this exclusive audio:

Dr. Deming is reported to have muttered “robots painting robots” as he went back to his room.

Later versions of BlameBot included more advanced chitchat such as “how are the kids?”, “how about that local sports team?”, and “hot enough for you?” Staff satisfaction scores declined and BlameBot’s use never extended beyond a few cutting-edge hospitals.

An Idea Revisited in the 2000s

Traditional managers always find robots and automation to be very appealing, so, not surprisingly, the idea was revisited during the dot com boom of the late 1990s. The dot com bust brought us failed companies such as:

  • iCEO
  • Managr
  • Blahyoo (which famously spent $2 million dollars in an ad in the 2000 Super Bowl, forgetting they had only raised $1 million in venture funding)
  • BuddyBot (the latest version of  BlameBot)

Some of the internet enable CEO robot technology was acquired by Intel, which continued the push into the hospital space.

This MSNBC article from 2004 described how “robotic doctors” would visit patients. I certainly remember these stories, but the media wrote less about the applications for robotic CEOs.

As I  continued my research, I asked John Toussaint, MD, former CEO of ThedaCare, if he knew any hospital CEOS who had participated in these experiments. He was embarrassed to recall this, but he actually participated in some of this round of experimentation before he became a Lean thinker and a great Lean leader.

Toussaint recalls:

“I was just learning about Lean and my staff members were doing all of those Rapid Improvement Events. One of my mentors, George Koenigsaecker told me I needed to get to the gemba and see what was really happening. But I was a busy, all-knowing CEO… I didn’t have time for that. So BuddyBot seemed like a great way for me to reduce wasted motion, saving time for the important CEO stuff.”

GEMBA1 215x300 April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots lean

See the picture, at left, for a photo of these early trials, shared by the now-defunct ThedaCare Center for Advanced Management Robotics (copyright, 2003).  As you can see, all that appeared was a static image of John,  but he could see and talk with staff members.

Toussaint says the BuddyBot (with its built in sensors) measured that it saved him 1400 miles of walking alone in that first year. “We would dress BuddyBot up in a Packers uniform in the fall… everyone thought it was quite a hoot.”

 

gemba33 300x239 April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots leanThe 2004 model of BuddyBot brought a sleeker design and live video of John now appeared on screen, allowing him to interact more naturally with staff members it could actually chase down.

 

 

gemba41 300x268 April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots lean

Instead of roaming on a pre-programmed track, John could now pilot BuddyBot from the comfort of a specially-constructed room that was adjacent to his office, as pictured at left.

Toussaint tells a story in his outstanding book  On the Mend: Revolutionizing Healthcare to Save Lives and Transform the Industry April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots lean, now a  Shingo award winner  (congrats!!), where a staff member challenged him on changing his own leadership approach to better model Lean behaviors. The little-known fact, now revealed here, is that the interaction was actually with John via BuddyBot… and that was the last time BuddyBot was used at ThedaCare.

Lean Trend in the 2010s: Actually Walking to the Gemba

To Toussaint’s credit, he learned that, as the CEO, he had to change. He started participating in Rapid Improvement Events. ThedaCare sold BuddyBot to a Wisconsin General Motors plant and he started actually going to the gemba to see with his own eyes, not through a digital video camera.

As Toussaint later blogged:

Going to Gemba is not an action to be taken lightly.   It’s hard work and it takes time to learn how to do it effectively. It must be done often to be learned.   I invite you to start going to Gemba once a week for  four weeks.   Each time you go write a log of what you have seen, then compare what you saw the first time to the fourth time.   I think you will be surprised you have started to learn to see.

0504 may the fourth be with you star wars leia hologram full 600 April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots leanHow do we get other healthcare senior leaders to get out of their offices and out to the gemba? Will people learn there is no substitute for actually walking (not rolling) to the gemba and seeing things with your own eyes (not via silicon image sensors)? Or will we be blogging in a few years about holographic gemba visits, ala Princess Leia in Star Wars?

Are you going to the gemba, regardless of your leadership level? Are your senior leaders doing this? Have you tried convincing them?

Past Lean Blog April Fools’ Jokes:


Mark Graban 2011 Smaller April Fool: Back to the Future: Hospital CEOs and Virtual Reality Gemba Bots leanAbout LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as the new Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Innovation and Improvement Services for KaiNexus.


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{ 1 trackback }

Happy April Fools Day! | Lean Blitz – Do it better.
April 1, 2012 at 11:27 am

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gary April 1, 2012 at 9:19 am

Took me a few paragraphs! : )

Reply

2 Chad
Twitter:
April 1, 2012 at 10:45 am

Nice. Happy April Fools Day to you too, Mark.

Reply

3 Mike The Kiwi April 2, 2012 at 4:36 am

Hi Mark,

Nice take – truth maybe scarier than reality sometimes ;-)
Honda’s brilliant “Living with Robots” offers further thinking on why we may not be quite there on Gemba bots:
http://dreams.honda.com/#/video_wi

Stay safe,
Mike

Reply

4 John Toussaint April 2, 2012 at 8:41 am

Ahhhh.. the wonders of technology!
Mark, no one can accuse you of lack of imagination!

Reply

5 Mark Graban
Twitter:
April 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Nice new annual joke from MoreSteam, Inc.:

http://www.ississippi.org/Less-Than-Free-MBB.cfm

Less-Than-Free MBB(tm)

“”There’s a race to the bottom on MBB certification standards, and we’re not going to lose that race,” said Zoltan Minsky, President of ISSISSIPPI. “In fact, we’ve redefined where the bottom is by offering a product that is less than free! Five exam questions might seem like a lot, but we’ve lessened that burden by removing other so-called ‘requirements’ like project portfolio reviews and the knowledge of obscure subjects like statistical process control, hypothesis testing, and Design of Experiments. If professionals tell us that they have executed an impressive body of successful project work, who are we to doubt them?”"

Reply

6 Mark Graban
Twitter:
April 1, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Y’all might be interested in my new book “Baby’s First Lean Book”:

http://babysfirstleanbook.com

Reply

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