A Continuing Culture of Continuous Improvement at UMass Memorial Health


I was really happy to see this recent blog post from my friend Dr. Eric Dickson, the CEO of UMass Memorial Health System:

More than 75,000 Ideas and Counting!

Eric writes:

“Other than seeing patients, huddling with frontline caregivers is my favorite part of this job. The one constant at the huddles is that there are always more ideas coming from the team then there is time to implement, and that's a good thing. I coach the teams to have the courage to prioritize the ideas that will have the biggest impact with the smallest amount of effort.”

But he makes a good point about not only focusing on BIG ideas:

“Some ideas are huge and will take months to accomplish. If you take too many of these on, you will have an idea traffic jam of sorts.”

Many many small ideas can make a difference, as UMass Memorial has learned, as Eric writes, “… often these ideas are true innovation.”

It's helpful to count HOW MANY ideas have been implemented, not just a financial impact (something that's NOT reported in Eric's blog post, and I think that's fine):

To date, we have implemented 78,087 ideas! That's incredible! I don't know of another company in New England that can say they've implemented that many ideas from their frontline teams.”

I think it's great how Eric plays the role of encouraging MORE kaizen — stating his belief in people:

“And let's keep the ideas coming. We generally generate 13,000 to 15,000 new ideas a year. Do you think we can exceed that goal and hit 100,000 by the end of fiscal year 2020? My money is on “yes we can”!”

I hope you find this to be inspiring.

Here is a 2014 blog post about his goal of a culture of continuous improvement:

You can also see what I wrote about their work five years ago:

And you can listen to our podcast from earlier this year:

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  1. Steve says

    I feel joy for the ideas being implemented and I feel horror for the small ideas withheld. Small ideas are necessary for the building of your new management system. Coaching staff to focus on big ideas is a concerning message. What will staff do when the big idea is obstructed by many small barriers to implementation?

    It sounds like you found a bottleneck for your huddle system. What is the constraint that is preventing the flow of small ideas to implementation? If an idea is small, it doesn’t risk harm or cost money, does staff have the authority to try it while they work? Keep elevating ideas and don’t sacrifice the small for the big.

    1. Mark Graban says

      Thanks for your comment, Steve. I can’t really answer your questions on behalf of UMass. Maybe Dr. Dickson will see this and will reply after I tagged him on social media.

  2. Adam says

    It is great to see this approach being utilized. These small ideas can lead to large impacts down the road, and on occasion can be more successful than large undertakings. I personally have been in positions where I have seen multiple meetings a week built upon addressing smaller ideas, and the opposite where multiple large projects have been occurring at the same time. Thank you for sharing, and it will be very interesting to see the improvements they make to their Kaizen practices going forward to reach that goal of becoming a world class organization.

  3. Jim says

    Number of ideas is a rather unbalanced key metric to focus on and compare to other organizations. It my experience it created a culture of misreporting (to show progress) and submission of completed tasks versus valuable ideas of any size. I guess you really do get more of what you reward. Perhaps balance this more valuable metrics of improvement.

  4. Mark Graban says

    I was asked by somebody at UMass Memorial Health to share this job posting for “a blackbelt in the transformation group.” It’s a “Lean Six Sigma” role, as it’s framed.

    Click here to learn more

  5. Mark Graban says

    Here is another blog post from Dr. Dickson’s blog (written by their Chief Quality Officer and Chief Informatics Officer):

    Quality and Patient Safety are Job #1

  6. Mark Graban says

    They did, by the way, surpass 100,000 ideas:


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