By Dean Bliss
As someone who's been doing Lean in healthcare for several years, I hear a lot from recruiters, as well as from other healthcare organizations. They are usually looking for someone to help them get started. When I read some of the job descriptions, however, I see a pattern. One I saw recently was looking for an RN who is a black belt and Lean certified with 5-10 years' experience. Uh, that's great, but there are maybe a dozen people in the U.S. that fit that description, and it's likely that they won't find them. Also, with a job description that restrictive, it's likely their HR or recruiting service will screen out some qualified candidates.
So what should hospitals, hospital systems, and other healthcare organizations be looking for? Here are a few thoughts. There are more and more healthcare Lean people being developed all the time, but don't be afraid to go outside healthcare for help. Most of the expertise in Lean is still in non-healthcare organizations, primarily manufacturing entities. But be careful. Changing industries is not as simple as changing offices. The candidates should be interviewed for fit. Do they act like they have all the answers, or are they willing to learn? Have they worked on improvement in multiple areas, or has it only been in one setting? Are they coming in with a plan of how to get things started, or are they vague about what they plan to do?
If you decide to start with a consultant or a consulting group, my advice is to select one that will teach you how to become self-sufficient in a certain period of time. The Lean tools and philosophy are not rocket science (or, in healthcare terms, not brain surgery). The only magic is in building a culture of continuous improvement, which is a leadership philosophy, and doesn't happen in a series of week-long kaizen events. Have a plan for education, training, and handoff to people who will carry the activity forward internally. The consultants can then be used for periodic advice and evaluation of progress.
If you decide to train someone in-house to be your Lean leader, make it a full-time job if you can. It takes focus and drive to get started with Lean in an organization, and having the quality director do it part-time may not get you there, unless you are in a small hospital with limited resources. And send that person to see Lean in several settings, not just hospitals. Learning from other industries can prompt ideas for applications back at home. That's how Toyota learned back in the day, and it's how we in healthcare can learn as well.
So as healthcare organizations search for help in getting started with Lean improvements, I suggest flexibility. There are many ways to get started. The key is to start. And to start as soon as you can.
Dean Bliss is a Lean Healthcare Coach for the Iowa Healthcare Collaborative (IHC). He assists healthcare organizations in learning and applying continuous improvement activities and philosophy. He is an original member of the IHC's Lean workgroup, which has conducted statewide Lean healthcare conferences and Lean learning opportunities since 2005. Dean joined IHC in August 2011, after 6 years working in healthcare in various Lean consultant roles and 25 years at Rockwell Collins, an aerospace and communications electronics company. Dean has a BS degree in Business Administration from Iowa State University. He has spoken at numerous Lean conferences and seminars throughout the country.
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