5 Proven Tips for Making Lean Work in Your Hospital

Terry Norris
Lean Consulting Manager
Healthcare facility with doctors and nurses

A successful Lean Transformation can significantly improve patient safety, staff satisfaction and the bottom line. However, if not approached with the right understanding, the transformation can fail or produce only a fraction of its potential. So, QHR’s Senior Lean Consultant, Terry Norris, shared his insight on five proven tips you can use to make Lean work in your hospital.

1. Understand what Lean is and what it’s not.

First, let’s address what Lean is not. It doesn’t mean you’re so short staffed that you’re in constant survival mode. It also isn’t a project, program, a simple set of tools or a passing fad.

Lean, derived from the Toyota Production System, is a management philosophy and a function of leadership. It’s also what I consider a secret weapon that will significantly improve patient care, staff satisfaction and the bottom line. Lean can also give your hospital a lasting competitive advantage.

Lean Healthcare is a hospital system-wide strategy for achieving excellence:

  • by creating value (from the customer’s perspective)
  • by creating a culture of continuous performance improvement and working to eliminate ALL waste of resources and time
  • by creating high quality, stable processes and emphasizing respect for people throughout the organization

Lean is not a quick fix. Although, you will experience some significant rapid improvements. Successful Lean transformations, where the culture is addressed, take time. A common pitfall is believing that “hare lean” will beat “tortoise lean”. A typical Lean journey often looks something like this:

2. Lead the transformation from the top.

Lean is a people transformation, which means cultural change is required.

The number one reason why implementing Lean in hospitals fail is because senior management doesn’t lead the transformation. If senior leaders are not passionate about implementing Lean, and leading from the front, it will be difficult to make positive changes or sustain any improvements that have been made.

3. Build a core of internal Lean leaders

Internal Lean leaders can be chosen from any level. It doesn’t have to be just someone from your Lean or Quality department.

Because Lean is a management philosophy, it is critical that management understand it and are on board. Unfortunately, this is frequently not the case. What I often find is the only person trained, beyond some initial training, is someone working in the Quality department. This person is generally expected to lead all Lean efforts. To successfully make Lean work in your hospital, this can’t be the case, at least not for the long term.

It’s okay to train someone in a Lean or Quality department to function as a leader/trainer, but this person cannot, and should not, be the person to lead the transformation for the hospital. This responsibility belongs with senior leaders. Senior leaders, directors, managers and supervisors must understand Lean and lead its efforts across their areas of responsibility.

4. Focus on Respect for People.

Challenge your employees just as a winning coach would and the established goals will take care of themselves.

Respect for people means more than acknowledging staff, saying please and thank you or occasionally asking for their input. Respect for people means challenging them. Think of it this way: Who stands out in your life as someone you respect and appreciate? It is often a parent, teacher or sports coach who cared enough about you to push you to perform better than you ever imagined you could. This mentality is more in line with what “Respect for People” means in a Lean organization.

5. Make it Mandatory.

When a strategy is agreed upon and implemented in a hospital, all managers and staff are expected to work to achieve the goals and objectives of that strategy. The same is true when implementing Lean. Since Lean is a management philosophy, how could you ever succeed if some people agreed to participate in your management philosophy and some did not? If it’s not mandatory, no one will feel the need to participate, at least not for long.

Ready to get started, or need help getting your Lean improvement efforts off the ground? QHR can help! With more than 40 years of experience, we can assist you in Making Lean Work in Your Hospital, whether it is leading a successful Lean transformation or a targeted improvement. We also provide onsite training for your leadership team to include your board, medical and hospital staff. To learn more about Lean and how it can transform your hospital, email Terry Norris at