Establishing a Lean Culture that Sustains Improvement

February 16, 2017   |  Tags: Blog   |  Tags: Care Teams , LEAN , Leadership
Akira Templeton

Toyota has developed a practical application of a human-centric production system that is deeply rooted in management philosophies and workplace culture. This philosophy, which they’ve dubbed the Toyota Production System (TPS), is built off of Lean concepts and elimination of waste. Sound familiar? In recent years, the “buzzwords” and strategies of Lean have trickled their way into the healthcare system as a way to improve delivery of care. Although different industries, we can learn a lot from Toyota about how Lean can help the healthcare system move toward ideal patient care. That is, care that is safe, defect-free, efficient and exactly what the patient needs, when they need it.

For those who are familiar with Lean, we know that 5S, Value Stream Mapping and A3 Problem Solving are key concepts to Lean implementation. However, while we may receive training on these tools and how they can be used to eliminate waste, we often find that it’s hard to get organizational consistency and buy-in. In other words, the grassroots work needed to establish a culture of Lean is often missing. One of the reasons TPS was so successful is that they uphold a Lean culture at all levels of the organization model, from executive leadership to front-line staff. They have fully embraced “the Toyota Way,” which identifies two critical principles: continuous improvement and respect for people. They constantly strive to improve their processes in a way that respects both staff and customer (or patient). But how do they do this?

While I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of how Toyota established this culture, I have some ideas as to how you might consider taking the first steps to developing a similar culture in your organization. Here are some questions that may be helpful to consider:

  • Does my organization have knowledge and a shared understanding of the two principles of “the Toyota Way”?
  • Do we have a common Lean language (e.g. tool set, “buzzwords”)?
  • Do we employ this language in how we do our work each day?
  • Do we know our key performance indicators, and have we set goals on them?
  • Do we have standard work for staff at all levels?
  • Is the work clear, streamlined and organized around the needs of our customers/patients?
  • Do we have engaged, self-directed interdisciplinary work teams?
  • Do work teams communicate with each other in a way that supports daily work?
  • How do work teams share learnings and successes with the organization?
  • What is our organization’s approach to problem solving?
  • How do we train and develop the skills of staff at all levels?
  • Does Leadership understand the work of the organization?
  • Does Leadership trust, support and empower work teams?
  • How does our organization celebrate and recognize success?
  • Do our organizational policies and procedures help foster Lean discipline?

If you don’t know the answers, or feel there are opportunities for improvement, Lean is here to help!

Want to learn more about Lean Culture? Download these presentation slides and recording.

Akira Templeton received her MBA in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior at the University of New Mexico’s Anderson School of Management. During this time, she also developed a special interest in working for non-profit organizations, which has been the focal point of her career to date, most recently in the healthcare field. Currently, Akira works as Quality Initiatives Specialist for the Oregon Primary Care Association, where she supports the Data Transparency Project and other quality improvement initiatives among community health centers throughout Oregon. Akira has a strong background in process improvement, standard workflow development, relationship management and coaching. Additionally, she recently received her Green Belt Lean Certification, which allowed her to gain practical experience in applying Lean methodology in a healthcare setting.