As consumers, we all have had those epic experiences with call centers, auto repair shops, plumbers, etc. Why can they not see the consumer’s point of view? Yet, back in our practices, our “provider hats” go on, and we, too, fail to consider what our clients have to deal with. In Lean, the perspective of the consumer is the priority.
One of the goals of Lean is perfection. The book Lean Thinking talks about the “continuous pursuit of perfection” (and that also might remind you of a Lexus ad slogan). We know we will most likely never get to that point of absolute perfection, but we continually try, working toward an ideal state of safety, quality, waiting times, customer satisfaction, and other meaningful measures. Just as repeatedly dividing one in half will never get us to zero, it does get us darn close. If we can eliminate 50% of waste with each attempt, then after only 5 iterations, we have removed 96.875%. That’s not perfect, but really, really close (and more importantly, far better than our starting point). With just two more iterations, we get to 99.21875%. That's really, really, really close! The Lean mindset of continuous improvement drives us to solve problems that matter and to keep working at it. Think of how to do it, not why it cannot be done.
Try to keep an open mind. Lean is not particularly difficult to understand in concept, but it is different… and it can be difficult to change an organization of any size. Discard conventional thinking. It has proven itself over and over in every company and industry that has embraced it as a complete package and given it an honest trial, practicing Lean over time. We believe the same will occur in the veterinary medicine setting.
Nothing is written in stone. Lean is about experimenting in order to deeply understand and improve. But, if that doesn't happen, we can learn from it, adjust and try again. "Best medicine does not equal absolutely correct. In school, they told us that 80% of what we were learning would be proven wrong. We just didn't know which 80%. It's the same way with best management practices. Keep iterating.
Lean takes a systems approach to management. It tends to blame faulty systems rather than people. Systems are the responsibility of management, not the workers. Workers are at the mercy of systems, and systems can be very complicated with strange ramifications.
Lean is, foremost, concerned about quality. Toyota has been able to turn operational excellence into a successful business strategy. Facebook, Twitter and practice web sites have accelerated and amplified the effects of “word of mouth” advertising. Before you promote, you better have “all of your ducks in a row” or all of your time and money may actually be counter-productive. Remember, prepare to promote and then promote!
Lean originated out of manufacturing; automobile manufacturing more specifically. And, although it has been successfully implemented in almost every industry, including human health care, it will require some adapting for use in veterinary medicine. This technology has only been experimented with very recently and only on a very small scale in veterinary medicine. This will be a new paradigm for us. We are the ones who will define Lean in our industry.