To be Lean, in process improvement speak, is to maximize customer value by eliminating waste. This means that an organization can create more value for customers with fewer resources if they can understand customer value and focus key processes to continually improve.

The focus switch begins with management. In traditional business systems, managers tend to optimize separate assets and vertical departments, eliminating waste along isolated points. Managers who think Lean, on the other hand, optimize the flow of their products and services through entire value streams that run horizontally across assets and departments to the customers. Eliminating waste along value streams also creates processes that require less human effort, less capital, space, and less time to make products and services, thus enabling companies to better respond to customers with high-variety, high-quality, fast-throughput and low-cost solutions that continually improve. When combined with Six Sigma, a set of management techniques focused on eliminating variability, the Lean method is further buttressed, making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else (which does not).

Example 1: After implementing Lean Six Sigma methodologies, a healthcare system is projected to save more than $1.8 million

In 2016, the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP) released a case study that described how one of their clients, Ellis Medicine, decided to “improve quality of care and financial strength by identifying more efficient processes and cost savings,” and how that effort proved monumentally successful.

Headquartered in Schenectady, NY, Ellis is a teaching healthcare system comprised of four campuses, five additional service locations, more than 3,300 employees and more than 700 medical staff providing inpatient and outpatient services in New York’s Capitol Region. The process of introducing Lean Six Sigma methodologies into this century-old institution began in 2013, when Kristin May, director of organizational performance and innovation, sent “Lean Leaders” Angelo Paglialonga and Christine Waghorn to a dynamite facility in Connecticut to learn all about Lean management and Six Sigma principles.

“At first it seemed odd to be driving to a dynamite factory to learn about the Six Sigma methodologies we were going to implement in a healthcare setting,” Waghorn said. “But after a few classes, it began to make perfect sense.”

First, Waghorn and Paglialonga used their acquired Lean Six Sigma knowledge to complete a project on laboratory blood specimen turnaround time (TAT) at Ellis Hospital with savings estimated at more than $600,000 annually. Next, the two mentored six team projects at Ellis Hospital: Bed & Equipment Rentals, Patient Falls, Pharmacy Calls, Safe Patient Handling, Primary Care Referrals and Structured Interdisciplinary Bedside Rounds (SIBR). According to the case study, the teams used Six Sigma’s Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) methodology and Lean’s Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) approach to complete their projects, the forecasted savings of which total an excess of $1.8 million.

May and her team of seven part-time and five full-time “Lean Leaders,” with assistance from GBMP, also worked directly with nurses and other care providers to find solutions to their everyday problems. The results included a solution to IV pump shortages, which saved $500,000, and identifying lab tests that could be done in-house which saved $1 million.

There is now a waiting list of Ellis employees who wants to be certified in Lean Six Sigma. May said it’s because they have seen first-hand “the positive outcomes of these techniques” and the “new culture of change within Ellis.”

Ron Pujalte, continuous improvement manager at GBMP and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, was impressed by the Ellis teams that presented their projects to senior management.

“The passion and dedication of this particular group of people is evident in the amount of progress they’ve made, supported by these amazing report-outs and the pride that radiates because they have made a positive impact on patients’ and co-workers’ lives,” Pujalte said. “Seeing the fruits of their labor only makes people want to do more, improve more and work together more.” 

Example 2: MC Assembly’s “Lean Journey” shows the positive impact of introducing a Lean manufacturing culture

Based in Florida, with additional operations in Massachusetts and Mexico, MC Assembly has been providing full turnkey contract manufacturing services since 1989. Yet the company’s managers, including Chief Operating Officer Luis Ramirez, saw plenty of room for improvement.

“We have been an ISO-certified organization for many years,” Ramirez said, “but that was not enough to create a continuous improvement organization.”

In May, MC Assembly reported that staff in all three of their facilities (Boston, MA, Melbourne, FL, and Zacatecas, Mexico) had undergone “Incito Man” Lean training via Lean workshops run by the Incito Consulting Group. Incito is Latin for “inspire rapid change,” which, according to management and staff, is exactly what the workshops accomplished.

Thom Hansen, director of operations at MC Assembly’s Boston facility, pointed to two significant outcomes of the training in the press release.

“First, we’re seeing more employee engagement,” Hansen said. “There’s much more of the workforce bringing up ideas as we walk the floor or give our presentations.

Second, during our training sessions, the folks who have gone through the training really understand what you’re talking about and see what you’re trying to achieve when you’re bringing out new initiatives.”

Production supervisor John Burdett, who also took part in the training at the Boston facility, agreed.

“What I came away with most was the experience of watching our people come together and act as a team,” Burdett said. “It really hits home when you’re a supervisor and you see everybody suddenly working as one unit.”

Since the workshops, MC Assembly officials have continued to report marked improvements in the manufacturer’s quality and service results including Ramirez.

“At MC Assembly, we have seen dramatic improvements in our Customer Satisfaction Index and in our operations, including employee satisfaction,” Ramirez said. “Of course, we are not perfect…but with a formal CI program and a people-centric culture, we are certain we will continue to make changes through leadership and execution.”