Iain Smith Head of the North East Transformation System
Later in June the UK Improvement Alliance will meet in the North East of England with a focus on Lean thinking and learning about the journey of the North East Transformation System (NETS). As a quick reminder, Lean is a way of thinking about how to organize activities to deliver more benefits and value while eliminating waste. It is particularly associated with the Toyota Motor Company in Japan, and in health care with the Virginia Mason Medical Centre in Seattle – dubbed the US ‘hospital of the decade’ in 2010. Virginia Mason has come into the UK spotlight in recent years, with Jeremy Hunt paying them a visit in March 2014, and are now working with five trusts across the English NHS to help them improve.
At NETS we are now celebrating our tenth anniversary of working with Virginia Mason in thinking about Lean, prompting someone to ask me recently what I’ve learnt over that time.
That’s not an easy question to answer – particularly when trying to distill it into 750 words. Over the past decade, I’ve worked as part of the NETS programme in various roles – including the North East Strategic Health Authority where I helped set it up, a Primary Care Trust where I took Lean ideas into general practice and, of course, in our current form as a source of support, training and facilitation in all things Lean and improvement for healthcare. I’ve led and coached dozens of improvement events and trained hundreds, maybe thousands, of people in Lean thinking. I’ve met international experts on Lean from healthcare and industry and I’ve studied at two universities.
So I’ve learned a lot. And I guess that’s the key point – I’ve learned that Lean is about learning. My thoughts on this are threefold:
Learn from anyone you can
One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is helping others learn to improve – the moment you can see the light go on and they take an idea forward that makes a difference to our patients. I think even more rewarding though is when I learn something from them. Our staff have a great way of revealing new and innovative ways in which Lean ideas can be applied to improve healthcare. Everyone has something to offer and leveraging the collective knowledge of our organisations can be very powerful.
There’s always more to learn
No matter how far I dive into the world of Lean, I never reach the bottom of the pool. It always goes deeper. Just when you think you might have it figured out, you start to see it from another perspective and you’re off – learning it all over again. As such, I consider myself an enthusiast, rather than expert. If ever I start calling myself an expert please remind me that experts have nothing left to learn, and for successful Lean and improvement that should never be the case.
People make Lean work
Lean, or any improvement method, is nothing without people. People make it happen. And people make it happen because they have an infinite capacity to learn. If we don’t recognise this we miss a huge opportunity for improvement. In fact some Lean texts regard the waste of human potential as the greatest waste of all.
So if Lean is about learning, what will we be doing when the UK Improvement Alliance meets in June? Well, the plan is to explore the ways in which Lean is being applied to improve healthcare and to learn from our collective experiences. We’ll be offering opportunities to tour some of our hospital’s facilities that have been designed with Lean concepts in mind.
We’ll also be holding discussion sessions exploring how Lean and other improvement methods are perceived as either similar or different, complimentary or contradictory and the reasons put forward for the success or failure of attempts to implement Lean in healthcare. We plan to engage delegates in sharing their learning using a rapid report-out format common to Lean improvement workshops.
And if that’s not enough, we will also be hosting a discussion session with Jim Mackey on developments at NHS Improvement. If you’re a UKIA member, I looking forward to learning with you. If you’re not, don’t hesitate to get in touch to find out what we’re up to at NETS – and watch this space for a read out from the June event in a month’s time.
Iain Smith is Head of the North East Transformation System. Follow Iain on twitter at @nhslean.