Growing up, my dad loved to poke fun at my girlish interests. As I left for manicures, haircuts, and other girlhood obligations, he would facetiously wish me luck on my “pursuit of eternal perfection.” Only since my introduction to Lean has this once torturous rhetoric begun to resonate again.
When I came on as an intern at the Lean Enterprise Institute in 2012, having just concluded my sophomore year at Boston University, lean fundamentals were abstract at best. I was thrust into a world of Kaizen, A3s, value streams, 5S maintenance, and Hoshin boards. Despite my reading, workshops, and participation in meetings, I struggled to understand why any of this mattered. Sure efficiency seemed important. Problem solving was necessary to… solve problems?! But what exactly was so different about this way of working? I was a fetus in the lean womb.
Things became more clear when I went along with lean coaches to a local nonprofit organization providing food to Boston’s low income community. My co-intern and I were asked to to help assess the challenges volunteers and staff members faced, exploring how a lean culture might benefit the organization. This was the beginning of my birth into real lean understanding. Seeing “problems as opportunities” became the most significant thing about my summer. After talking with staff and management, I became excited (perhaps a bit over-eager) to find solutions to every problem/opportunity we came across.
This project became the foundation for my growing lean knowledge. “Learning by doing” was finally settling in. This training helped me clarify the necessary questions to be asked, how to ask people questions about their work, and how to embrace the challenges that result from hearing their responses.
What else did I learn? Identifying change agents was one of the hardest parts of that experience. Determining just who exactly had ownership over certain processes and how that clarity (or lack of clarity) affected improvement was one of the most enlightening parts.
The following summer, I was an intern in the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation’s Office of Innovation and Efficiency. Under Joanna Omi, I joined a new a lean world. “Breakthrough”, as they call it at HHC, was the daunting lean implementation and training across an enterprise with 40,000+ employees, 11 acute care centers, and five rehab and nursing home facilities. With patient care at the forefront of all objectives, this was an opportunity to see just how vital financial and clinical efficiency and the elimination of waste is in healthcare.
Several days a week, I went to a blood and urine lab in a Bronx hospital. There, I applied skills I learned on the floor at the food bank. Still, experimenting without compromising current operations and getting strong buy-in from staff was challenging. I repeatedly asked myself, how do you convince hardworking, busy people to put faith and effort into change? How do you create a culture that encourages seeing waste in processes and determining what is just disguised as productivity? More and more, I am learning that change, and the belief that change is possible and it will actually be beneficial, takes time. It’s one step at a time.
Lean has showed me that pursuing perfection requires A LOT of active learning. With tools, Lean is usable, sustainable, and rewarding but like most things, it takes work. Thank you LEI for raising me. I’m so excited to continue learning.