Lean Experience “A Plus” for Lean Healthcare Job?


Via Google Alerts, I try to regularly scan and see where hospitals are posting jobs related to Lean. I found (OK, Google found) one posting last week that I shared on my “Move to Healthcare” networking site (free registration required to view and participate fully). You can also see the posting here on hotjobs.

One frequent topic of discussion on MTH is how some hospitals are very open to hiring experienced lean and process improvement people from outside of healthcare, while others are insistent on only hiring within the industry. This one position, for a fairly deep “Lean Specialist” job at a hospital in Connecticut not only calls for “7 years of health care experience” yet also says “Lean experience is a plus.” No joke. Read that again.

Now, I'm not saying that healthcare people can't learn Lean. Not at all. I'm not saying that someone from manufacturing can automatically come into healthcare, either. From what I've seen, you need a mix of inside and outside perspectives to be successful with Lean in a healthcare organization.

In the case of this posting, I'm less flummoxed by the requirement for healthcare experience than I am the “lean experience is a plus” part.

This doesn't sound like a job for a lean newbie, with responsibilities including evaluating and developing training materials and training others. This isn't an entry-level lean facilitator role…

I'd think a better requirement would be “7 years of lean experience required, healthcare experience a plus.

One can only hope that H.R. messed up the job posting and got things backwards… they might have a defective process.

The job description concludes:

The incumbent must be willing to challenge the status quo to ensure that Lean principles are implemented, as well as be able to understand the organizational change strategy and articulate this to external audiences.

Do you think somebody put into that role who is brand new to Lean is more likely to challenge the status quo or get steamrolled? Is this likely to lead to “L.A.M.E.” (Lean As Misguidedly Explained) instead of Lean?

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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. I know every hospital has the hierarchy of titles set up differently, but at Barnes-Jewish a specialist is the lowest level of professional personnel – right out of college. So maybe they have worked at the hospital as a patient care tech for four years in school, then as a nurse for a year or two, and want to check out Lean. That way, said employee can stay with the organization they love, or at least the industry, and move into a new career.

    Just a thought :)

    • Thanks for commenting, Sarah. I see what you’re saying but this seems like a pretty high level lean job the way it is written. To me an entry level lean job might deal more with running kaizen events or more local detailed work. I could be wrong on my read their posting.

  2. Mark, I’ve seen this all too many times, unfortunately. And not just in healthcare.

    Organizations in need of change are often very reluctant (fearful?) of recruiting outsiders with the very expertise required to lead to their salvation (or at least on the right track of their Lean journey.

    One of the biggest challenges I face in my work of recruiting executives to drive Lean initiatives is this resistance to non-industry Lean Leaders. The question we regularly hear: “How can she help us; she’s never been inside a hospital; how can she understand the issues we face?”

    I believe that through education, and examples of the successes we’re already seeing from such executive “transplants,” senior healthcare leadership teams will soon become more receptive to putting the emphasis on the Lean change skills and less so on candidate familiariaty with what goes on in the healthcare setting.

    And, no, this is not a job for a Lean newbie.

    Adam Zak

  3. I see your point about bringing lean into health care not the other way around. When we (being the lean group and me because I am their dedicated communications person) were asked if we would rather hire someone with health care experience that didn’t know lean, OR a lean person who knew nothing about health care for the open “director” position, the response was overwhelmingly Lean experience. They didn’t even hesitate. I think that solidifies your concern for putting a less experienced lean person in a leadership position in health care.

  4. I’m with Adam – I smell fear, but we really can’t see inside this situation, can we?
    The kind of skills required to do the job described would only come with years of leading change. It almost seems as though they don’t want to fill the position, describing a profile that very few candidates will fit. And those who would fit ought to command a pretty high price. I don’t think you could match candidates to this description unless you were cherry picking from ThedaCare, Virginia Mason, etc. My guess is that the talent in those places is probably pretty happy to stay put (and would be turned off by the “lean experience a plus” problem anyhow).
    Not filling the position would certainly reduce a perceived threat of bringing in an outside change agent and new ideas!
    There are lots of other possibilities, of course (naive recruiter with poor direction from management, springs to mind) but most of them I can think of point to a recruiting process that’s broken somewhere.


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