Lean Process Improvement – How it can make you more effective

Donna White

Donna White

By Donna White, Principal Consultant and Owner of Legacy Consulting Services and Legacy Billing Solutions in Montgomery, Alabama.

Process ImprovementLean Process Improvement. It is one of the new services Legacy Consulting Services is excited to offer. But what exactly is it? How does it relate to healthcare? Can it relate to business in general? I interviewed our Legacy Revenue Cycle Consultant, Sally Wiggins, formerly a Lean Leader for Baptist Health System in Birmingham, Alabama, for a more in depth view of what Lean means to you and your organization.

The History of Lean

Let us start with some history. It started with a manufacturing company, Toyota, to develop the processes and tools that we have come to know as Lean. Eventually, the ideologies around Lean were found to be just as useful in other industries, like healthcare. This meant that prioritizing patient care can still be the fundamental goal of a practice, while not losing sight of the bottom line.

The Definition of Lean

So what is the core definition of Lean? According to Sally, “Lean isn’t so much a process as it is a way of thinking – a way to transform the culture of any business or organization. The core focus of Lean is to reduce waste, improve productivity and efficiency, and maximize value. So, essentially, get rid of all the ‘stuff’ you don’t need and solely focus on the ‘stuff’ you do need to provide the best product or service you can offer.” As we know in so many aspects of business, changing minds can be the most difficult task to accomplish, but also one of the most necessary.

How does it work?

How is Lean implemented? There are several different types of Lean tools, but one of the easiest to apply is the 5 S’s – sort, set, shine, standardize, and sustain. Basically this breaks down to clearing your workspace of distractions and placing your everyday items in such a way as to promote efficiency.

Another tool is visual management. Sally defines visual management in this way, “giving employees information they need to know visually, instead of having to communicate one-on-one or even through email.” A great example that may put it into everyday terms “is a white board in a patient’s room in the hospital – it tells the patient what they need to know in a few glances (who is your nurse, your tech, what are your goals for the day, etc.).”


A major tool in Lean is a Kaizen event. Lasting anywhere from 2 to 5 days, this comprehensive process analysis involves “process experts (those that do the activity daily)” in a single room for the length of the event. Starting from current processes to future state processes, the new workflows are documented and then rolled out to the rest of the organization.

How else can Lean be applied?

Sally sees how these tools can be applied practically to any business model. “Because it is more of a collection of tools and ideas and is a way of thinking, Lean can honestly be applied anywhere that has a need in changing its processes. More often than not, employees get in a habit of doing things the same way, over and over, year after year. Lean pushes you to reevaluate the ‘normal’ and determine if there is a better way. There usually is always a better way.” And that better way is going to create a more efficient and effective work environment that allows employees to focus on duties that add value to the organization as a whole.

Why is Lean Important?

In her summary on Lean Process, Sally states, “All of the above makes Lean important in any business setting because it allows any business to provide a product or service that will be the best value to its customer/patient/end user – increasing your customer satisfaction. Lean also helps to improve employee satisfaction because it leads to employees working smarter, not harder.”Make a Change

Final thoughts

Change is hard for every company. And today the only thing constant is change. As Sally sums up, “Lean does promote change. And change is a scary word. It forces you to question your status quo and pushes you to reevaluate…just because a process has worked for the last 20 years doesn’t mean it is the best way to do it.” But finding a better way to create and implement that change is critical for any company that wants to empower their employees while impacting their bottom line. And it starts with the small step of asking why things are being done the way they are now. If your answer is, “Because that is how we’ve always done it,” it may be time to implement some Lean Processes in your organization. How can Lean Processes help your business? Reach out in the comments below or go to our contact us page to see how we can help make your organization more Lean.

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