Laying off Lean People


Mass General cuts 200 jobs – Daily Business Update – The Boston Globe

Times are tough, financially, for many organizations — hospitals included. About two weeks back, a Lean specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston posted on the Yahoo “HME” list (Healthcare Management Engineers) said she was getting laid off from MGH and was looking for a new opportunity.

Doesn't this seem short sighted, firing the very resources who should be able to help reduce costs and improve the organization for the long-run? Who knows the particular situation here, but are you seeing similar things in your organization — factory or hospital??

I know one hospital that tells the story of how “back in the day” they were under financial pressure and reacted by firing the whole “Management Engineering” department (industrial engineers). They're trying to be careful that they don't repeat the same situation with any dedicated Lean resources that they might add.

What are your experiences?

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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. At my last job in healthcare our process improvement department didn’t appear to accomplish anything in the 4.5 years I was there. If the healthcare IEs at Mass Gen were as useless as the ones at my hospital then I agree whole-heartedly with firing them and saving that money.

    I now work on lean/six sigma projects for a Fortune 500 manufacturing firm and I probably save more money and/or wring more efficiency out of processes in one day than that hospitals IEs have since their departments inception. It was ridiculous.

  2. Anon — you’re right, that can happen. Part of the the story I was referring to is that the Management Engineering dept had become completely ineffective….

    So when a Lean/IE/ME group gets to be (or always was) wholly useless, we can use a “5 whys” type analysis to figure out why, right?

    It’s probably not that there were bad people in the group. Maybe they weren’t pointed in the right direction or there wasn’t good alignment with hospital leadership?

    An internal improvement group like that can’t typically do much on their own without good cover from top leadership?

    Agree or disagree?

  3. I hope Mass General also fires someone up the food chain where the MEs reported. Obviously with so much opportunity failure to make improvement with multiple salary paybacks is a system problem.

  4. The same thing happened to me this year. I was asked to come into a company and get the lean initiative up and running. I got all the lean leaders in plants trained and started on their path. When times turned tough in the spring, I was one of the first people on the list to get laid off. After I got all the other site leaders up to speed, the VP saw no need for me.

    As bitter as I want to be, I landed a better job with a company that has 98 years of dedication to doing everything possible to not lay off people. A company that does see its people as its biggest asset. Now they just have to learn how to tap into that asset more from a lean perspective.


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