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Featured Lean Thinker: Mark Graban

This week’s featured Lean thinker is Shingo prize winner Mark Graban. I suspect that many of you are familiar with his LeanBlog.org and his work in Lean healthcare. If you are not, you should be.

So, here’s how Mark answered my Lean questions…

What does Lean mean to you?

I haven’t revisited my blog’s “What is Lean?” page in a while and I think it still accurately summarizes my take on Lean. It’s critically important to understand the two-part description of The Toyota Way, the two “equally important pillars” as Taiichi Ohno wrote – both eliminating waste AND having “respect for humanity.” At its core, Lean is not just a bunch of tools that you can jam into any organization – it’s a philosophy and a management system. It’s that management system that’s so very transferrable to healthcare, since Lean isn’t about tricks and tips for how to build cars.

What was your first experience with Lean, and how did you know you were hooked?

When I was an Industrial Engineer at GM, right out of college, our new plant manager was one of the original GM people to be sent to NUMMI when it was opening, one of the “NUMMI Commandoes” as they were called in the recent “This American Life” radio program on the rise and fall of NUMMI. I learned early on that Lean helped address technical and social aspects of a factory or an organization. I saw how miserable people could be in a non-Lean environment, the traditional management system, and I saw how our plant manager was trying to change that, it was very inspiring. I was hooked because the “old way” clearly wasn’t working for GM, Lean was a clearly better alternative. After 10 years in the manufacturing world, I had the opportunity to move full-time into lean healthcare back in 2005, so I’ve been fortunate to become known for my advocacy of lean healthcare.

What is your Lean claim to fame?

I was part of an early wave of lean bloggers back in 2005. As my readership grew, that led directly to the opportunity to write a book for Productivity Press, “Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Satisfaction.” The book was awarded a Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award in 2009. I’m also known for coining a really awkward acronym, L.A.M.E. (Lean As Misguidedly Executed) to describe “fake lean” or the force fitting of lean tools into an inappropriate situation (www.leanblog.org/lame).

Where do you see Lean going in the future? What is on the horizon?

I’ll address that in terms of healthcare. Awareness of lean and its adoption is still increasing in hospitals around the world. As lean becomes more popular, there’s a risk, I’m afraid, that lean will become trendy and there will be a rush to “do lean” because others area and enthusiasm for lean (or what people think lean is) will outstrip real understanding of lean. I’m afraid this will lead to lean failures and leaders saying “see, lean does not work in healthcare” and the decline of lean. But those who truly get it, like ThedaCare and others, will continue marching ahead, meaning lean will be “rediscovered” again. I hope we can avoid the cycle that the manufacturing world went through.

Click this link to learn more about Mark.


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