Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lean Six SIgma: Akron Children’s Hospital

The three improvement methodologies, Six Sigma, lean, and the theories of constraints, each offer a unique framework to make improvements within an organization. Six Sigma, in particular, focuses on reduction of variation in order to solve process and business problems. It utilizes a set of statistical tools to understand the fluctuation of a process, and predicts the expected outcome of that process through management. If the outcome is not satisfactory, associated tools can be used to further understand the elements influencing that process.

To me, it is interesting to consider “Lean Six Sigma,” as an extension to Six Sigma. The concept of Lean Six Sigma was first introduced in Michael George’s Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma with Lean Speed in 2002. Lean Six Sigma utilizes the DMAIC phases similar to that of Six Sigma. However, the Lean Six Sigma projects comprise the Lean's waste elimination projects and the Six Sigma projects based on the critical to quality characteristics. Essentially, Lean Six Sigma is a combination of the Six Sigma and Lean frameworks. Interestingly, the training for both Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma is provided through a belt-based system. 

Lean Six Sigma is a relatively new process. However, one interesting application of Lean Six Sigma has been in the medical field. Specifically, it has proven to be very successful at the Akron Children’s hospital over the past few years. After training employees in Lean Six Sigma, the hospital reconfigured its layout and work processes. This allowed them to avert a proposed $3.5 million expansion, while improving surgical instrument turn-around time. In fact, Lean Six Sigma allowed the hospital to identify and eliminate wasteful practices, so that overtime was cut from an average of 55 hours a week to just 9. This amounts to an annual saving of approximately $93,000. Additionally, MRI wait times were reduced by 90%, because the coordination between radiology staff and the doctors who sedate children undergoing MRIs was streamlined.

Lean Six Sigma focuses on optimizing process efficiency by minimizing production waste. However, it is also worth noting that there are further positive externalities associated with reducing production waste. In the case of Akron Children’s Hospital, the reduction of spending going towards overtime payments and reduction in storage spaces freed up space to create an exercise room for employees, as well as a dietary counseling room for patients and their families. 

To me, it seems like a lot of the success of Lean Six Sigma is due to the development of a definitive and uniform training system. However, it is important to note that this is a relatively new system, so has not proven successful over the long term. I wonder if Lean Six Sigma will be sustainable, if employee training is not updated on a regular basis.  


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