Be lean, not mean

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Applying lean principles, particularly in the healthcare industry, is “catching on fire,” says consultant Janice Ahlstrom.

Why? “Because we have healthcare reform and meaningful use, and we have $155 billion in declining Medicare reimbursement in the next 10 years,” said Ahlstrom, a partner in the healthcare practice at the consulting firm Wipfli. “The healthcare industry is being forced to do more with less or the same with less.”

Consultant Chris Calderone agrees.

“I started consulting five years ago and we’re busier than ever,” said Calderone, a managing partner at Lean Homecare Consulting Group.

Here’s what Ahlstrom and Calderone had to say.

You don’t have to do it all at once

“Look for a place to start,” Ahlstrom. “Inevitably, people can tell you exactly where their problems are. They’re smart and they know their own businesses. So you look for a place to start, pick a team and get started on solving and fixing something.”

It’s all about infrastructure

“But you can’t just solve and fix a problem,” Ahlstrom said. “If you just do that, the chances of it sticking long-term are 50/50. You have to put an infrastructure in place. How do you, for example, integrate lean into your hiring and performance evaluation process? How do you integrate it into how you hold meetings? So you have to decide: Do I want to problem solve or do I want to transform my organization into a lean organization?”

It’s not for commitment-phobes

“Lean makes sense—it’s easy to understand and it’s easy to apply,” Calderone said. “But it’s not always easy to sustain. That’s where it takes leadership and commitment. So the most successful companies are those that have a commitment from leadership.”

Don’t think lean and mean

“I hear people say, ‘We have to get lean and mean,’” Calderone said. “But lean isn’t about cutting employees; it’s about cutting waste. As you cut waste, you get more capacity and you can move employees around and get the most out of them.”