Lean Success at a Blood Bank


Carter streamlines production – Fort Worth Business Press

I had a chance, last year, to take some local hospital clients to Carter to see their blood processing operations. So, it's nice to see them recognized for their Lean efforts. It can take a lot to get past the “we're different” hurdle.

Now, the manufacturing area contains four pods, or work stations. Small batches are made at each station, and depending how many products are moving through depends how many of the pods are up and running at any given time.

I saw these “pods” — they're basically U-shaped cellular processing areas. They reduced batching, which of course reduces throughput time and helps preserve the freshness of the blood.

As with other good implementations, it's ultimately not about “doing Lean,” it's about improving service and quality.

With a streamlined operation, Graham believes Carter will be better able to handle a crisis situation.

There are other new demands on the blood center. The growing population of the Metroplex area, new Carter clients like hospitals and the need for more blood products by patients that live longer have all contributed to increasing demands on centers like Carter BloodCare.

It also sounds like they went about it the right way – involving the front-line employees and committing to not laying off people as a result of efficiency improvements.

Michelle Stefan, chief administrative officer for the blood center, said that it was important to find a way to bring employees into the process of planning for change. Also, the company made it a priority not to cut any employees during the process.

“They're the experts, they're the ones making the changes,” Stefan said.

Their consultant described a scenario that should be familiar to manufacturing folks:

About 95 percent of process lead time, from start to finish, is non-value added. It's stuff that the customer is not really worried about,” Reddic said, explaining that these are things that don't effect the final product.

Many factories, before Lean, have 98% or more of their time as delay or waste.

It sounds like, as it did during my visit, that the culture of kaizen (or “continuous improvement”) is taking root:

Carter will also continuously be looking for new ways to make things more efficient, Stefan said, and even as something as simple as putting frequently called hospitals on a phone's speed-dial list can make an impact, she said.

“Now they're thinking about it all the time,” Stefan said of employees. “I'll be standing in line at the grocery store and wonder, ‘Why don't they put this here? Why don't they move that there?'”

Yes, it's hard to turn off your “Lean mind” once it's started developing!

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Mark,

    There’s one other benefit from the lean approach that is often overlooked and that is the ability for lean to improve the safety of employees. Mentioned here are the benefits of cycle time reduction from removing non-value added motions and other waste. Those same non-value added motions (Waste of Motion), can adversely affect an individual’s ability to perform and contributes to sprains, strains and other musculoskelatel disorders, which in turn create more waste. Focusing on the employee’s work environment (for their benefit)also reinforces the proposition that this process is about bringing “employees into the process of planning for change.”


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