Is LEAN Really Your Answer? No.

I was drawn into an online conversation recently that, frankly, turned rather absurd. It even started to get a little hostile (which I certainly added to with my opaque view of LEAN) so I stepped away. It started out with a very simple question: How would one go about evaluating and improving the customer experience at a elder care facility? I thought that rather simple but a legion of consultants demonstrate just how messy, confusing and costly it can be to address a simple question.
We do not need LEAN or any of its mutations to handle this question in spite of the grand pronouncements of the army of belted ninjas ready to rescue this business.
I’ll say upfront that LEAN and 6-Sigma have a place. That place is somewhere around 1985. Seriously, there are limited applications for these programs but those applications are rare.
A search for “LEAN” quickly finds hundreds of articles about, not the glowing successes, but rather the abysmal failure rate of LEAN initiatives. As you can see from my screen capture, the real success of LEAN is pretty low. Some put the success rate at 2%.
LEAN is costly too. Be prepared to spend thousands of dollars for your shot at that 2%. Small wonder there are so many belted experts ready to guide you through the graphs and charts of continuous improvement. It pays well.
Do we need continuous improvement? I question that. If the village blacksmith had adopted LEAN, he’d be producing some very fine horse shod today. And in fact, there are some blacksmiths who employ state-of-the-art technology to outfit great runners like California Chrome who unfortunately failed to win the triple crown of racing because of a foot problem. Well, there’s opportunity for study and improvement. Stick with it.
My point is two-fold. First and foremost, as directly related to the elder care facility in question, we don’t need LEAN, we need common sense. Common sense isn’t very common these days so it might take some consulting, some educating, to get the thinking right. But if a facility with the sole purpose of providing care and comfort to the elderly isn’t doing so very well at that, it’s time to take a look at what is wrong. I proposed in the discussion group that various staff members experience the facility first-hand as patients. Spend 24 hours in a bed. I promise they will learn enough in that 24 hours to stay busy improving things for a very long time.
The other point I’d like to make is that there is a time to abandon improvement. These continuous improvement initiatives have been around for 30 years. You’d think American business would be perfect by now. Problem is, General Electric, the birthplace of American 6-Sigma, father of LEAN, Step-father to LSS, had only limited success with the whole thing. Jack Welch managed to achieve sainthood rather like the Polish pope. Apparently the 3 miracles were waived and his big one considered sufficient when bundled with charisma. I can’t recall JP2’s miracle, but Welch saved the greater General Electric by closing down the divisions that failed to reach the proper number of sigmatic merit badges. GE returned to profitability and Jack to Martha’s Vineyard to live out his monastic life. Except there is a piece missing from the tail. [sic] GE still can’t make a washing machine that can last 2 months beyond the expiration of the warranty. God knows [really sic] St. Jack tried. The appliance division never experienced the success experienced by what survived as the greater GE.
Back to my point. There is a time to abandon improvement and turn to innovation. Stop putting on the bandages and figure out how to prevent cuts.
In the case of our rest home (can we call them that?), it’s time to do 2 things:
1) Experience as a customer what the business does and learn from it.
2) Innovate. Surely there are things that no other facilities are doing for the comfort of the patient that can be innovated at this facility.
Innovate? Yes. I can think of something after only a moment’s thought.
What’s the first impression you get when you go into one of those elder care facilities? Think. You’re right.
Smell. Man, I don’t want to end up in one of those.¬† Do you? I know that something can be done about the smell. That alone would set a facility apart. That’s one thing. One. Innovate. Don’t cover it up with bleach. Make it an obsession to make the air fresh. Innovate. Don’t just buy an air filter. Innovate.
Come on! That’s one thing and it would make a huge difference.
Let’s wrap this up.
When a business wants to improve, most of the time LEAN isn’t the answer. The failure statistics of LEAN initiatives support that. Do some research.
There is a time to stop improving and truly innovate. Stop making the same thing in new ways. Make new things.
Common sense trumps graphs and charts. Don’t pay consultants for data. If you have the resources, buy education. Education will spark innovation. Improvement should be a by-product of constant innovation.
I’d like your thoughts. I’d also like to help your business.
Chris Reich, TeachU