A tale of two solutions

Making the effort to understand and better serve your customer is the first step in the right direction. From there, it’s very easy to go wrong. I’d like to share a few examples of how lean thinking works – and where it can go off the rails.

A hospital I recently visited had conducted a patient survey to address difficulties they face while maneuvering the health system.  A chief complaint was difficulty finding one’s way through the hospital. This hospital’s “solution:” Hiring a concierge and using many volunteers to help patients navigate. Did this address the issue? Sure. But has the hospital addressed the crux of the problem? I don’t think so. Many organizations come up with temporary solutions to big problems that seem to correct it but really just neglect the needed fix. 

Sure, older facilities weren’t built based on how the process flows and it isn’t always possible to change design without much time, money and effort – but hiring more people doesn’t solve the problem either. I’m reminded of a story Taco Bell COO Rob Savage told in a recent visit to the Fisher College of Business for our Center for Operational Excellence. In a customer survey a few years back, the company discovered a key gripe with its food that was driving people to competitors: Its food wasn’t easy to eat on the go. Did they hire more workers to hold the food tray while customers ate their burritos? No! They developed new products, such as wraps and quesadillas, that gave a new ease to eating on the go.

Seattle Children’s Hospital used a methodology called 3P (stands for “production,” “preparation” and “process”) at its Bellevue outpatient facility to reduce patient and provider walking and wait time. This involved everyone who touched the workflow in any capacity designing a new building using paper and cardboard cutouts. In a 3P process, participants are challenged to come up with up to seven different ways of doing work, then each is scored and the winner is chosen. In Seattle Children’s case, the result was an efficient self-directing visual layout with almost no wait time, little walking, better communication among providers and staff, an airtight inventory system and very proud employees. 

Seattle Children's Hospital
Seattle Children’s Hospital completely revamped its process for patients to create virtually no waiting time

Meeting you customers’ needs doesn’t mean bulldozing the building and starting all over. Start on a smaller scale by focusing on just one department or area. Understand that workflow and pinpoint the waste. Use a spaghetti diagram to highlight the movement waste. Head to a conference room or empty parking lot and get teams to brainstorm multiple options with paper or cardboard. This is a highly charged and very involved process that’s invigorating for all participants. And most importantly, it creates that sense of process ownership that fuels the motivation to keep things running smoothly. That’s lean.

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