Monday, September 16, 2013

Six Sigma versus Lean Manufacturing : Motorola vs Toyota
Two comparable techniques and a discussion on integrating them for the benefit of hospital system

While Toyota is known for its strategies to reduce the wastage in different areas, Motorola on the other hand is known for its technique that harnesses the potential of statistical tools to reduce variability. While the outcome of both the processes could be compared by quantifying the dollars saved, it is definitely a subject of discussion on which is better for the healthcare system. To examine and compare the commonalities and the differences, lets consider the two systems from the standpoint of process improvement and human resource utilization.
Process Improvement - To begin with, the Lean Manufacturing System was initiated by Toyota to reduce the obstructions in flow of entities from one process step to the following step. Their focus was to reduce stored inventory and also decrease time wasted (besides concentrating on reduction of several other kinds of wastage).
Applying this to the healthcare system has its own advantages - definitely by reducing inventory stored in huge rooms, we will decrease costs but is this worthy of the risk? Like in the first reading which detailed the impacts of a quake in Japan, can we afford to not have safety stock which will keep us prepared for any unforeseen difficulties? Of course we read about the two drawers system wherein if one is out of supply the other comes into use but in case of drastic calamities that might disrupt the entire supply chain - will the hospital be ready to face the large numbers of patients who will be inundating the hospitals during such times?

Human Resource Utilization
Furthermore this system from Toyota, benefits tremendously by placing trust in its individual employees such that an individual assigned to a particular task takes liberty and pride in thinking differently to enhance the process - this leads to innovations that are more practical as they came from the people on the floor and not by administrative people in air conditioned offices.
A similar situation; if introduced in the hospital system might tend to be beneficial because eventually it is the nurses who serve the patients and they know what is best. Hence suggestions from these nurses on modifying the system will be effective and easy to introduce (thereby avoiding any kind of strike or revolts).

Now comparing these facts to the 'Six Sigma' -
Process Improvement:
This method reduces variability (primarily) and by applying it to the hospital system, we can notice that while it helps to reduce the variability (is bad!); it may or may not really benefit the hospital system. There definitely is a lot of variability in the hospitals with different patients having different needs, but every patient with a similar disease needs more or less a treatment that has similar requirements. Given the fact that most hospitals are specialized today, will changing the procedures or operating system in order to save some dollars will be worth the effort? May be not; if devising these changes and adapting to them takes considerable efforts, time and investment. Rather, the Lean Manufacturing with a provision wherein we stock the basic supplies in order to run the hospitals during times of emergencies caused by natural calamities or other reasons; might be a better solution .

Human strategy perspective
Six Sigma varies hugely from Lean Manufacturing in that they provide a clearly defined organization chart, sorting people into different belts (Green Belt, Black Belt) and thereby assigning the roles or duties and powers to each group. The Lean system defines a team with a team leader and probably a few roles under him but not a very structured organization. While Six Sigma gives the top level leaders the apparent power and right to make decision and take immense responsibility for it, it might not give the floor workers a pride and liberty to think innovatively. With defined sequence of steps and quantifiable results the Six Sigma is known for reducing variability and identifying cause of errors but might not be renowned for innovation as Lean Manufacturing. Application of this system in the hospital system might be a little challenging and its integration could be difficult.
Though I could mention only two factors of these systems, after studying a bit extensively anybody would agree that - In fact a combination of the two systems might prove to very beneficial for the hospitals wherein the nurses (floor level workers) take liberty and pride in innovating new processes and the higher level authorities (analogous to the green belt) make the decision about its integration all throughout the organization. If the two are employed in synchronization like the heart and the mind; it could be a successful combination!


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