Nothing Beats Simplicity

By on June 28, 2018
Nothing Beats Simplicity

While visiting us, our grandson cut his finger. I immediately took him to the nearest “Doc in a Box.” A nurse walked into their examining room. She opened one unlabeled drawer on this cabinet, then another, before finding what she was looking for. As I watched her, I wondered, why hasn’t she just put labels on the drawers, so she doesn’t have to waste time and motion to find the things she needs to do the work she does?

A couple of minutes later, I watched her reach for a paper towel, having to move a glass container holding cotton swabs before she could extract the towel from its dispenser. As I watched her, I thought to myself, why hasn’t she decided what the best location would be for all moveable objects on the cabinet top and then always keep them in these locations?

Doing these two, ever so simple things, would have, over time, saved significant time and motion in this very busy office. It would have taken some of the struggle out of her work.

Why in the world haven’t super simple improvements like these been made?

I’ve got some opinions about this and I suspect that you, my reader, do also.

(After reading this, if you’d share your observations on what I’ve just described, I’d greatly appreciate it. I’ll publish your observations in a future blog. This is a great way for us to learn from each other.)

Here’s my take on why this happened. It starts with an experience my wife and I had at a local micro-brewery. One night a month they have professors from a local university come in and give what are, for the most part, very interesting lectures. The crowd sits at tables for four, enjoys good food, drinks some of their good beer, and participates in some delightful discussions. Upon entering, Dolores and I walked by a table where another couple was seated. The man and his wife said “hello, please join us.” We sat down and the man’s first question to me was, “what do you do?” I told him that I was a consultant who helped organizations engage in Lean transformations.

Hearing this, he sat up straight in his chair and exclaimed, “So you’re one of those people who come into an organization and really mess it up.” This is going to be a fun evening, I thought, and asked him what he did. He said he was an emergency room physician. I asked what kind of a bad experience he’d had with Lean. He responded, “You’re not going to believe this, but here’s what happened. Our corporate offices sent in a guy they had hired from Toyota to tell me how to run an emergency room. When he came in, he launched into a whole bunch of jargon about Lean. And when he tried to use medical terms it was obvious he didn’t know what he was talking about. At first, listening to him made me dizzy, then I got angry. Can you imagine anything so stupid? A car guy trying to reorganize an ER.

I told him that if his corporate offices had introduced Lean to his ER just as he described it, with a car guy telling him how to run the operation, that I agreed with him. What happened really was stupid.

With that he got a quizzical look on his face and asked me what I thought should have happened.

Here’s what I told him. I said that the “car guy’s” manager should have met with you and told you that recently he had become aware of some remarkable improvements in medical operations that had been made in several hospitals around the country using techniques that came out of manufacturing. He could have referred to Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, as just one example. Additionally, he should have mentioned that some ERs had cut patient wait time by 40% using Lean techniques.

Having positioned the potential value of Lean to your ER, he should have also explained that he had recently hired a Lean consultant who had worked for Toyota and that he’d like for you to meet with him and hear him describe some of the Lean methods adopted at Virginia Mason for your consideration as methods that could improve your operations. He should have concluded by saying that the car guy was not going to tell you how to run the ER, that improving ER operations depended completely on the knowledge and creativity of you and your staff.

And here’s how he responded to what I had said. “If it had gone that way my reaction to the car guy would have been very different.

If the car guy’s meeting with the doc were positioned like this, here’s what I think the car guy should have suggested when he met with the doc. “Hospitals like Virginia Mason have found that a very simple Lean technique known as 5S really has improved operations. At its core, 5S is about creating work environments that are super lean, orderly, and clean, just what an ER needs to be, as you know much better than I.

The car guy should have continued, “Your ER is, of course, already very clean. But if yours is like a lot of ERs there are many drawers and cabinets that are unlabeled, causing staff to have to do far too much searching to find things and too much time thinking about where to put things. Here’s what I’d suggest, that you introduce me to the ER staff as a car-guy who happens to have some good ideas about ways to take the struggle out of work. Tell them that I’m going to be in the ER for a couple of weeks, helping them apply some simple techniques that will take the struggle out of their work. Finally, tell them I’m here to serve them, not to tell any of them how to run an ER.

With this introduction, the first interventions I would have suggested to the ER team would have been labels on drawers and lines on counter tops, making the things they work with daily more easily accessible.

Simple stuff. Easy stuff. Powerful stuff. Over time, beliefs about the importance of order will gradually change. And when this happens, the improvements made by the people who do the work will be sustainable. And it’s only when this happens that things can get more granular and powerful tools of Lean like Value Stream Mapping can be reviewed for possible use. But not before the simple stuff is applied. Not before the ER team experiences struggle being taken out of their work by simple labels on drawers and lines on counter tops.

I hope this approach is used in the future in the “Doc in a Box” office near my home. I’m certain it hasn’t been so far and that what I observed was the result.

Start simple. Stay focused on taking the struggle out of everyone’s work. Let the power of Lean be experienced in simple ways.

Nothing beats the power of simplicity.

St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group can help you unleash the power of simplicity, the power of Lean, in your organization. To learn more about how we do this call George Friesen at 314-303-0612 or Eric Whitehead at 314-539-5022 and let’s arrange a time to meet. I know you’ll find it time very well spent. And we’ll keep it simple.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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