Monday, November 20, 2017

Lean Self

One of the aspects of the Lean methodology that I appreciate most of all is the breadth of its  application. Lean is applicable to manufacturing, retail, service businesses, professional associations (Nudge, nudge AVMA!), human healthcare, dental practice and veterinary practice. It can even be extrapolated to one’s own life.

One of my extended family members is going through a rough time, as we all do on occasion. She came to us for some help. Since I naturally think and problem solve with a Lean mindset, I took this approach. Via guided questioning, we went through considering her problems, as I would with a practice problem.

As with any Lean application, the first step is to define the ideal state: our ‘True North. If you were perfect, what would that look like? What areas of your life would you choose to define that perfection? What would be the focus areas? These might include such areas as spiritual ideals, physical ideals, financial ideals, relationship ideals, career ideals, etc. Pick four to six to work on at this time (or even just one!); choosing too many will be overwhelming and spread your work too thin. Create a True North statement in writing. Refer to this document often.

Now that you have some conception of where you want to go, you need to honestly define your current state. Where are you right now in each of your focus areas? In an organization, this would be facilitated by going to the gemba with all of the stakeholders (line workers, supervisors, managers, etc) present, in order to observe what is really occurring in the Value Stream and, perhaps, drawing a Value Stream Map. Your gemba is deep inside you. It is your true self, warts and all. No preconceived ideas, no masks, no ego. What is the reality on your “shop floor?” Who are your stakeholders? Consider spouses, good friends, clergy, close colleagues, doctors, advisors. Write down your current situations.

Identify the Gaps.
At this point, you know where you want to be, and where you are in your focus areas. What are the differences or gaps? For example, you know you would like to be at some ideal state financially, and you know where you’re at currently. What is the difference between these two states? These are the problems you need to solve now. Write these down for each of the focus areas.

Root Cause Analysis (5 Whys)
Take some time to think about this step. Why are these gaps present? How did they come about? Why did this reason occur, and why did it happen? How did it happen? Ask enough times that you feel you have identified a root cause. This is important because, until the root cause is found and dealt with successfully, it will continue to be a problem. Notice I didn’t ask who was to blame. Try to concentrate on the systems, biases, prejudices, emotional needs, habits and the like. The idea is to deeply understand how this issue came about. It’s not because you are a bad person. We all are damaged in some way and have shortcomings,but how did these root causes contribute to your current state? Talking with your stakeholders may help.

Design Countermeasures
Now it is time to actively try to remedy the gaps: the problems. In each of your focus areas, what can you do to get even a little bit closer to your ideal state? Remember, though, your ideal state is perfection, and that is not realistic. There are always going to be gaps (problems), but with patience and persistence, you can get very close, greatly reduce your stress and frustration, and greatly increase your happiness, confidence and self-actualization.

Pick the low hanging fruit. Start with the easy stuff. Rack up some small successes that will then lead to greater momentum to tackle the bigger stuff. Focus on baby steps.

These countermeasures are experiments. After the trial period, evaluate the results. If they didn’t work out as planned, reflect on why and how, then tweak the experiment and try again. Try not to get disheartened. Lean is a journey. There will always be experiments to try.

If they do produce gains, then reflect on this, also. Why did this experiment work? What did you learn about the situation, about yourself. Can this same idea or principle be utilized in another aspect of yourself? Sustain this new you and rewrite your new current state. Congratulations!

5S is one of the “tools” in the Lean system. It stands for Sort, Straighten, Shine, Systematize, and Sustain. It typically is used to reorganize a physical space, such as a surgery room, exam room drawer, office. It is used to decrease confusion, wasted time hunting down instruments or tools, and increase visual management.

Are there aspects of your life that could benefit from eliminating “garbage,” reorganizing, and/or prioritizing? What about faulty thought processes, biases, relationships, habits, wasted resources, beliefs?

Kaizen means continuous improvement. There is no set amount that is required, only that we try to be better tomorrow than we were today. There is no punishment if we are not successful on every attempt. We just try again. Again, baby steps. As stated above, Lean is a journey, it is a philosophy, it is a mindset. It is lifelong. The process of defining our current state, identifying gaps and experimenting will never end. But, success will come, if only one millimeter at a time.  “Patience, Grasshopper”!

Final Note
I am not speaking from any ivory tower. I struggle with all of this from time to time and have for most of my life. I, too, am on a journey; a work in progress. Veterinary medicine is not easy.  Veterinary practice management is even harder. I have started a practice and been a solo practitioner for over 30 years (for two of those years I owned and operated two practices), merged practices, worked for a corporation and three other employers. I have stayed awake many a night worrying about my business, my family, my health and my faith. I have experienced complete ‘burn out’ and come out the other end. My goal is to attempt to be better tomorrow than today. None of us are responsible for saving the world, but we are required to participate. Success, in my humble opinion, is to leave this world a little better for having lived here. A Lean mindset supports this effort.

Thanks for stopping by. Comments always welcome.

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