Reader Question: Short Definition of Lean?
The reader, who works at a hospital and health system, was asked by a colleague to provide a short definition of Lean that could be referred to on a business card. My reader hesitated as he was afraid that the person wanted a cookie cutter definition that would replace thinking.
His full email and our opportunity for discussion follows:
Here is the full email question:
I have a question I would like your help to reflect on.
I had a manager today ask me, “Can you please write down your definition of lean on a business card so we can refer to it and know what it means?”.
This is someone that has been through Lean HC 101 training, seen a number of presentations, etc., but when it comes down to how they apply it in their job, they want to get the cookie cutter definition so they do not have to think.
My initial response was to say no, but then I decided to say yes because of the particular project and intensity of what is going on (build a lean hospital).
Do you actually know of a one sentence definition for what we refer to as lean? I know we can ask for lot of clarification – you mean tool, culture, etc., I just wonder if you have some experience to define in one sentence, what exactly is lean, beyond the traditional “decrease waste” or “optimize value”, which I find is too abstract or limiting.
I will tailor this definition to the audience and need.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts (leave a comment) about:
- How would you have handled this situation?
- What single sentence would you try to use, and for what audience?
Here was my initial response to the email, with a few small edits upon reflection:
I guess I'd throw it back at them (in a non-confrontational way) and ask “how would YOU define lean in sentence?” if they already had training and exposure to Lean.
I'd be curious to hear their thoughts and what they could articulate.
Lean's hard to summarize in a sentence in a way that's not trite or not just a slogan…
What's the purpose of them having a one-sentence definition on a card? They'll just rattle it off and use it to somehow get people to go along with lean????
I agree with the reader's idea that the single-sentence definition would have to be tailored a bit depending on who you're talking to. It's not that Lean concepts are different, but the emphasis and focus you might choose in a single sentence could be varied depending on whether you're talking to a patient, a nurse, a doctor, or a hospital board member, perhaps.