BlaineI’m told it’s a common response to the news that one’s lab is going to get “Lean” to think, “uh oh, what are they going to do to me?” From the accounts we hear the answer is, allow people to feel more productive, to be more empowered, and to grow with their jobs. Lean is not mean, and it makes itself successful by replacing panic with planning and chaos with comfort.

The simple concept behind Lean Thinking is to focus on customer satisfaction and identify as wasteful activities that don’t enhance customer satisfaction. Eliminating wasted activity makes each person more productive in meeting a mutual goal. It is a “pull” rather than a “push” perspective. And it gives greater voice to both customers and employees, while satisfying the need of the organization to generate a product of increased value at decreased cost.

For the lab, increasing productivity and achieving process excellence doesn’t mean that each employee does more work or works longer hours – it means that she or he gets better results, and works in an environment of continuous improvement where good ideas can be implemented. The goal is for people to be constantly busy but not overwhelmed, and to use the efficiencies and time saved to stretch into other areas or to concentrate their expertise where they are, in fact, expert. Work is shifted to what is of value to a customer – and in the case of the lab, that means doctors and their patients. And as value grows so will demand.

As we note in this month’s Industry Overview on page 26, the first step is to want to change. Process improvements begin with the company culture. They require leaders with vision and drive. They require leaders, or innovators, at all levels. And they require that everyone have high expectations for customer satisfaction. The transformations can be radical, but changes do not have to be made all at once. They can be eased into with time to feel comfortable. After all, it is an ongoing evolution of both the process and the people so critical to making it better.

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Ellen Blaine