A Frustrated Lean Guy, You Have to Read This


My friend and his former company have to remain anonymous, but I really laughed (although this isn't ha-ha funny, I really empathize with him) when I saw his updated profile on one of the online networking sites.

It describes his former “job title” as: “147,100th Employee” at a large healthcare company (he formerly was in much smaller entrepeneurial environments).

His job description, in all his brutal honesty, reads:

“[Company X} is a huge, bureaucratic, politically hostile, slow dinosaur. The casualty of those attributes is often the customer. So, below is my attempt at improving the customer experience:

We identified root causes of inbound calls and stratified, by volume (8 million calls), the calls and the internal failures that caused them. We eliminated several root causes upstream in the value chain. We use control charts to monitor the impact of improvements and, so far, post-intervention, we observe a statistical shift in the mean of 8.4% reduction in inbound call volume; this amounts to ~2.4MM in cost savings and fewer irritated customers.

Yes, a very short stint. I've learned that I do not do well in companies that are navel-gazing & not customer obsessed.”

Wow, the poor guy. I'm glad for him that he got out of there. It's a lesson learned in how a company can SAY they want to do lean and it all sounds good. Then, you get in the door and find out it's not as advertised, with poor lean leadership and a recipe for frustration.

My friend points out that his boss had ZERO lean or sigma background, he was a “Malcolm Baldridge” guy. I can understand the frustration. At a prior company, my LeanSigma VP was a finance guy who was doing his rise-to-the-top rotation through Six Sigma. It's very frustrating when your “leadership” doesn't speak the same lean language that you do, as a hardcore lean guy.

Anyway, I raise my glass to all of those who are frustrated lean guys in a frustrating leaderless environment. Hang in there. You're not alone.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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