Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Not manufacturing widgets

During my years as a social worker and in all the educational courses and training I have participated in towards the goal of being an effective and trustworthy social worker, one of the things stressed repeatedly was that when a consumer/client is entered into the program, the process should also be started for ending the relationship with that individual or family unit. It was surprising to me to read about the lack of planning for outpatient resources in the “Factory Efficiency…” article.  I never, ever, would have equated supply chain management with the work we did with our families and children.  However, it makes good practical (and ethical) sense to have a vision of the end at the beginning. 

By the time a Toyota is ready for the assembly line they know exactly what the car is supposed to look like, inside and out.  Before a counselor has reached the maximum number of hours with a client they should  know what the next direction is going to be.  It is a disservice to all involved to pretend that a discharge plan never entered into the process.  The tools are available, workbooks, groups, conversation, journal writing assignments.  All of these things tie together to make quality service provision a reality.

Additionally, the duplication of forms has long been a nuisance to counselors and managers of social service departments.  Every reporting organization has their own requirements and they are duplicates.  From my earliest days of working with youth, complaints were bountiful about the repetition of information in written form relative to one individual or family unit.

What does this have to do with the concept of lean manufacturing?  Principles and application.  Everything from session scheduling to post-discharge follow-up to outreach and community event planning could have benefited from the principles of lean manufacturing. 

The increased outcomes could be in the form of better counselor-counselee rapport; less last minute chart writing; less high stress days when reports and chart reviews are done; more time during the day to see clients; less time spent looking for things not in the designated place.  The list is long.

Why is it that these principles are slow to reach the community and social service areas? I’d argue that it is because many of these organizations are focused on what is immediately in front of them including budget issues and licensing regulations.  The idea of bringing in a new way to think about how services are provided would rock the proverbial boat.   (At least at one of my previous jobs.) 

Am I willing to rock the boat?  If the answer is no, then the next question should be How do I intend to make a difference in the lives of those I work with if I am not willing to make a change myself.   Certainly not every client is the same, but if all the staff made the effort to provide their best service without overlooking things such as dates and signatures, the time and worry spent ensuring that licensing regulations are met always and daily, the day to day work would flow much easier and the focus would be solely on providing the best service to the client base.

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