UMass Memorial Aims to Become a “World Class” Kaizen Organization


I was really happy to see this article about Kaizen and employee engagement at UMass Memorial Medical Center:  What's good for Toyota is good for UMass MemorialWhen I was with LEI in Boston, I had a chance to meet Dr. Eric Dickson before he became CEO at UMass, knowing him as a serious student of Lean.

From the start of the article:

“UMass Memorial Health Care is asking each of its 11,400 front-line employees to come up with one good idea to improve a process at the largest hospital system in Central Massachusetts.”

It's exciting to see any health system realize that their employees (all of them!) have ideas for process improvement. These ideas are an amazing resource that far too many organizations don't tap into (hence the reason why Joe Swartz and I wrote our Healthcare Kaizen books).

Their program is led by a former Toyota employee, which makes me particularly optimistic about their success.

The article includes a classic example of Kaizen – a low-cost, low-risk, inexpensive idea that could be implemented easily. The hospital identified a problem – the wands on portable ultrasound machines were getting broken because the cords are long and sometimes get run over by the wheels. This cost the hospital about $20,000 a year to replace broken pieces.

They solved the problem with Velcro. They spent basically nothing and they solved that problem – reducing cost, reducing staff frustration, and reducing delays in patient care.

Lori Pelletier, the former Toyota employee who is leading this effort says:

“The idea system is meant to drive employee satisfaction and improve the system and improve the care we give to our customers,” she said.

Dr. Dickson, the CEO said:

UMass Memorial President and CEO Eric W. Dickson, a former emergency department doctor, has embraced the Idea System wholeheartedly. He told a room full of UMass Memorial managers this week: “You have to embrace this. This is not going away. This will become a part of our culture.” 

He told me, later, that getting managers on board has been the biggest hurdle. Employees have been enthusiastic, he said. 

“Managers have this feeling that good ideas can only come from the managers,” he said. “That has been the hardest thing, getting managers to believe that people on the front lines have better ideas than they do.”

I've seen this a lot. When we work to introduce Kaizen into hospitals, the frontline staff are usually excited that management is finally going to listen to their ideas. The skepticism usually comes from employees who ask, pretty directly, “How do we know management won't get bored with this after a few months?”

Employees want to improve. They have ideas about how to improve.

A lack of ideas is hardly ever the problem. The problem is managers who don't want to engage and collaborate, for a number of reasons.

When the CEO sets this expectation and models Kaizen behaviors and mindsets, great things can happen.

Dr. Dickson has learned what's taught by Robinson and Schroeder in their recent book The Idea-Driven Organization (and something I believe to be true from my own experience)”

Mr. Dickson said that 80 percent of change in any organization happens out on the front lines, and improving things in little pieces often adds up to a big good. Only 20 percent of change, he said, is accomplished by the kind of restructuring that UMass Memorial is engaged in: moving departments, redeploying resources and since October 2013 laying off several hundred employees.

He added:

“This is our secret sauce,” he said, of the Idea System. “There is no health care system that I know of that has a world-class idea system. We want to be that health care system that has that world-class idea system.”

I think “world class” is defined by basically having 50 ideas implemented per employee per year — or one per week.

Many of the leading Kaizen organizations in healthcare are implemented two to four ideas per person per year, on average. This is far better than the average hospital (that implements just over zero) but it's not as good as organizations like ThedaCare or Autoliv in the manufacturing realm.

We know there's a ton of waste in healthcare processes. There's so much opportunity for improvement. Let's engage people and make it happen.

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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.



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