Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why Lean Is Important: From An Informed Client's Perspective

Today's post comes from Gerald Cronin of the Vivarium Operational Excellence (VOE) Network.

The VOE Network is a worldwide group of Lab Animal and Biomedical veterinarians and experts that have discovered and been successfully utilizing the Toyota Production System, or Lean,  to reduce valuable research costs while at the same time improve research quality and animal quality of life. 

From thier own website:

"Every modern industry and organization has been influenced by the operational advances of the Toyota Production System, the thinking that made Toyota the #1 auto manufacturer in the world.   Decades of research has proven that Toyota's systematic approach to improving operations has tangible long-term benefits to customer service, quality, productivity, adaptability and ultimately to reduce costs."

"The Biomedical Research community recognized these advances over a decade ago and thus began the adaptation of systematic continuous improvement techniques to the Lab Animal Industry.  Consistent with Toyota's philosophy of "sharing what they have learned from over 50 years of experimentation with the world", the Biomedical Research community understood that together, we could improve operations better, faster, cheaper if we shared our knowledge with each other." 

"With over a decade of experience, the VOE-Network was born to help the entire animal care community improve operations through members' experimentation, learning and sharing."

"The Vivarium Operational Excellence Network is a consortium of animal care institutions and companies committed to quality clinical and veterinary research driven by operational excellence.  We are a members-run organization that responds to the evolving learning needs of its members.  Learning spans the organizational spectrum from front-line technicians through Webinars, videos and Lean Belt certification to leadership skills gained from our Leadership Academy events and offerings.  We also look to industry for insights into the best ways to improve operations as well as ways to build a problem-solving culture."

Today's post:

I took my dog to a large Veterinary practice about a year ago and needed to use the restroom.  The restroom was tucked inside the clinical staff area, so I needed to navigate through some hallways to get to where I needed to be.  Along the way, I was able to see “behind the curtain” of this operation.  I was disturbed to see rooms full of medical supplies in random areas, cardboard boxes both opened and unopened piled on top of each other, medical devices stacked on top of unfolded towels and on top of unopened boxes, there was almost zero floorspace for staff to move around.  Random bottles that looked to contain some sort of medication were in random locations.  Then there was the office with piles of paperwork, computer terminals were poking through the mess, almost as if they were struggling for air.
The staff was walking from room to room and asking each other “have you seen the (X clinical item)?”  “Did you call Mrs McGillicuddy or was I supposed to”? “Sorry for the wait, Mr. Cronin, we’re really busy today” and “We will need to schedule your next appointment, we were hoping the machine would be ready today, but it’s in need of maintenance”.

I made it to the restroom and got to see more of the same on the way back. The trip made me pause, as I now questioned the quality of care my dog was about to receive.  I’m also thinking about what I was going to get billed for and why I need to come back. Piles of inventory and random clutter, medications that didn’t seem to belong there, medical devices mixed with cardboard boxes filled with supplies 3-boxes deep.  Machines that should be operational but are not. The red flags were popping up everywhere.  What am I paying for?  Can I trust this clinic?  Who can I trust here? Do they know what they are doing?

You can tell a lot from what you see in a clinic. Maybe some of the judgements are assumptions, but often they are pretty accurate. The telltale signs of disorganization, the questions staff ask each other, the delays, the missed information, the clusters of inventory that often contains expired materials; all give me the chills, no matter if I’m going for my annual physical or if I’m taking my dog to the Vet.   To me, the paying customer, they all tell a story of wasteful processes that I know are built into my bill.

I’ve been a Lean practitioner in healthcare for a few years, watching and helping clinical teams improve their care to the patient in the bed. If they can do more for the patient in a better, easier way, they are all over it.  I now work in the Veterinary world, and I have seen amazing transformations of quality of animal care and improvements to the Veterinary staff quality-of-life by focusing on improving small (sometimes tiny) process that support their daily work.  It’s so exciting to see folks enjoy the teeny challenges of improving their own work. Lousy processes are like “pebbles in your shoe”; workers agonize through the customs and clutter; given the chance, they would stop and remove the pebble to make life better.  Lean thinking does just that for workers, and the animals and their owners benefit exponentially. 

If you ever feel frustrated, rushed, frazzled, buried by complaints, or workers constantly asking questions looking for “common sense’ answers, the prescription may not be buried in a store room or office, but right here, sitting out in the open at no charge to you.  The world of Lean thinking is liberating, and Lean thinkers are eager to share their learnings and experiences with you.  We are here to help you; we’ve all been through the same frustrations and we found the prescription.  Take one small dose daily; you will be amazed at how your quality of life will improve. (My dog is OK by the way).

Gerry Cronin
Vivarium Operational Excellence Network

Thank you so much, Gerry. If any of my readers would like to contribute to this blog, please contact me through 

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