3 Best Practices for Implementing Lean Processes at Your Hospital With the Author of Lean Hospitals

Lean management theory and the implementation of lean processes improvement are becoming increasingly popular at hospitals across the country. Lean principles can improve efficiency, financial performance and patient care. However, unless lean management is introduced properly to an organization, its ability to transform that organization is unlikely.

Mark Graban, a senior fellow at the Lean Enterprise Institute and author of Lean Hospitals, offers three best practices for implementing successfully lean processes at hospitals.

1. Focus on the problems. Mr. Graban says that hospitals need to focus more on the problems they need to address and less on the specific lean tools that they will use to fix them.

"It's important to get oriented around what problems need to be solved," he says. "What tools to use is not the important concept. [This approach] can be a pitfall, because you may not be solving the right problems.

"People will get frustrated if a lean facilitator is using a tool to address a problem that clearly isn't the biggest concern to the surgeons and the staff…What's the key rallying cry?" says Mr. Graban. "You have to define the right problems."

2. Gain support of change agents.
Hospitals that wish to implement lean initiatives should gain the support of change agents from among both administrative and clinical leadership before introducing it to a wider audience.

"Make sure you have a real change agent, and both administrative leadership and clinical leadership. Whether it's the chief of anesthesia or the chief of a specialty, you need to have one of these involved in the effort," says Mr. Graban.

3. Start small. Hospitals implementing lean processes should start their efforts with a pilot project and then use its successes to expand to other areas of the hospital. Starting small also helps ensure that hospitals start somewhere.

"Don't spend a year planning the perfect effort," says Mr. Graban. "Keep in mind that lean involves the concept of continuous improvement."

Mr. Graban recommends that hospitals start with a pilot project in a certain area of the hospital. "Pick a pilot area, maybe one type of surgery, such as joint replacement, and then carve out the part of the organization involved in that surgery to begin to learn how to use lean methodology to enact change," says Mr. Graban.

"Most organizations are stagnant. It's a huge challenge [to enact change], so starting small can help your efforts from being spread too thin," he says. "Even small projects can have a dramatic impact, and you can use the results from the pilot to get others excited and spread those ideas."

Learn more about the Lean Enterprise Institute.

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