Ford, Henry Ford, the Model T, and a Hospital


Ok, so I'll combine a mish-mash of Ford related topics into a single post here.

First off, it's the 100th anniversary of the Model T, introduced in 1908. Yesterday's USA Today has an article about the anniversary and some interesting tidbits, including some details about what a different driving experience it was.

For all of the talk about the environmental impact that cars had, or still have, it's an eye-opener to look back and think that cars (“horseless carriages”) were a solution to an altogether different environmental (and health) concern:

When the Model T first hit America's roads, cities were choked with people and horses, and the top public health nuisances were horse manure and urine and flies. One New York forecaster warned that by 1930, manure would reach the third story of Manhattan's buildings.

So, thank you, Henry Ford (and the other earlier automotive innovators).

Speaking of Henry, I really like using the following quote from one of his own books — from almost 90 years ago (1922)!!

My life and work By Henry Ford, Samuel Crowther:

“In the ordinary hospital the nurses must make many useless steps. More of their time is spent in walking than in caring for the patient. This hospital is designed to save steps. Each floor is complete in itself and just as in the factories we have tried to eliminate the necessity for waste motion so have we also tried to eliminate waste motion in the hospital.”

Henry Ford not only created the Model T. Not only did he popularize the moving assembly line. He also dabbled in hospitals — he was helping transform the former Detroit General Hospital — the “this hospital” in his above quote.

And you know what? He was right then — and he would be right TODAY if he walked into most hospitals. I show that 1922 quote and it really resonates with people. Much of the wasted motion and wasted time is due to the physical layout of the hospital or the patient care floor/unit. The waste is also driven by processes and lack of proper organization — where are tools, equipment, and supplies stored?

So with many hospitals today trying to tackled those same challenges, it goes to show that Henry Ford was very much ahead of his time.

Today's modern Henry Ford Hospital (in Dearborn) is now using methods from Lean and the Toyota Production System. Toyota learned a great deal from Henry Ford and adapted and built upon it to create TPS. Proving that things come full circle, Henry Ford Hospital has created the “Henry Ford Production System” in their laboratory/pathology department.

What Is the Henry Ford Production System?

Last week, I saw an outstanding presentation by Dr. Richard Zarbo, the chief pathologist at Henry Ford. His talk focused on leadership and people development in a Lean setting — as shown by this quote from their web page:

“The Henry Ford Production System provides fertile ground for self growth and it breeds the next generation of our leaders.”
–  Richard Zarbo, MD

There's a good deal of information on their web pages, if you did around from the starting point I linked to above.I wonder if the hospital is sharing its lessons and methods with the modern Ford Motor Company. Now *that* really would be a full circle exchange of ideas.

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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. So Henry Ford kept the horse manure from reaching the third storey in Manhattan, but it still reaches the rooftops in Washington!


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