“Practicing Lean” Excerpt: Joe Swartz and His Early “Oops”

Practicing Lean book by Mark GrabanAs I’m documenting in the comments here, the collaborative eBook Practicing Lean has now generated more than $500 of donations to the Louise Batz Patient Safety Foundation.

Today, I’d like to share an excerpt from a chapter written by Joe Swartz, my co-author for the Healthcare Kaizen books. Early bird pricing, by the way, is still available through March 5 for the “Kaizen Live!” event we’re hosting next month at his health system, Franciscan St. Francis. Come see what a culture of continuous improvement looks like.

Joe has been “Practicing Lean” for over 20 years and, in keeping with the theme of the book and the other contributors, Joe humbly shares a story about a mistake made in his early days of Lean.

Here is part of that chapter:


Oops, I Shouldn’t Have Said That

By Joe Swartz

One of the first events I facilitated on my own didn’t go so well. I had a few years of experience in Lean, but I wasn’t ready for this job. It wasn’t the best setup because the corporate office had tried to help them, but didn’t have much luck, so they sent me in to fix them up.

They were a manufacturer that made a unique set of parts that they provided to other OEM manufacturers. However, their operations were a mess. After some analysis during the pre-event discovery process, I concluded that the first high leverage area to focus on would be setup reduction at the welding operations. The manager disagreed, as he felt that no further setup reduction was possible. As I probed with the manager, he kept countering every possible opportunity to make an improvement.

I was getting a little frustrated because I saw so many opportunities. Then, he asked me how his operations stacked up against many of the others I’ve worked with. I said, “This is the worst operation I’ve ever seen.” He got quiet. I was being honest with him. It was the worst I’d seen. After some awkward silence, he concluded that he didn’t need my help. I tried to assure him that I could help him, but he wasn’t willing to move any further.

It was a big lesson for me. I learned not to do that again. That was an honest comment, but it wasn’t what I should have said. I didn’t know the history. He may be a good manager stuck in a bad situation. All I saw was the bad situation. I learned that you don’t say anything unless it will move the conversation forward toward the mission at hand. I don’t believe he had any intention to work with me, but, if I had managed my conversation better, I may have been able to help him. Because of my lack of patience, I missed an opportunity to help make dramatic improvements to an operation that desperately needed help.

Years later, when I moved into healthcare, I learned to be patient and keep my mouth shut unless I could structure the conversation to move it toward accomplishing the mission at hand. I’ve avoided straying off topic and it has paid off.

Lesson Learned:

  • All conversations, like activities, must be aligned toward achieving the objective.

Thanks to Joe and the other authors. To buy the book (all proceeds to to the Batz Foundation), visit www.PracticingLean.com.


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Now Available – The updated, expanded, and revised 3rd Edition of Mark Graban’s Shingo Research Award-Winning Book Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Engagement. You can buy the book today, including signed copies from the author.

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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 eBook 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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