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 Management Minute

Lean Thinking

I’d like to invite you to take a close look at the processes and procedures involved in your work. What does it really take for you to get something accomplished in your organization? What do you have to go through to get something reviewed, approved and moved forward? What are the process steps that feel extra, redundant or useless in what you do? Where do you see “extra” or waste in your work – all that stuff that takes up your time and effort but adds no value to the work and ultimate goal of your organization (think pointless reports, aimless meetings, or forms that ask for the same information more than once)? 

We all experience barriers and hurdles to getting things done in our organizations. We experience “waste” or “time sucks” in our work – those things we have to do that have little bearing on improving the health of women, children and families but are things we have always done or have to do in our organizations. People don’t usually question the processes that are involved in getting work done – we are trained to do our work to the best of our abilities without taking time to think through all the steps and the places where we may be creating waste, not value. But the difference between doing good and doing great in our work might just be realized by thinking about all the things that take away from our ability to create value, eliminating them, and using those resources to more effectively meet the needs of the people we serve.  

At least that is what James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones (2003) propose in their book Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation. I just finished reading it and it was a true eye opener! The premise of Lean Thinking is simple – exhaustively and meticulously assess the way we do our work, including all the processes and procedures we use to get things done, and identify the places where we have extra steps and redundancies. Cut those out and we have more efficient and effective ways to create value in our work. Of course, what sounds simple is actually quite difficult. But Womack and Jones do an excellent job thinking through how to do this in an organizational setting and their work has important insights for maternal and child health programs. While their examples are from business, I believe their analysis is also very applicable to our work in government, especially now as we face extreme pressure to “do more with less.” 

I hope you take me up on the invitation to look closely at your work and identify steps that might be extra or redundant. What activities are you currently doing that add little to the ultimate goal of your organization – to protect and improve the health of women and children in your states and communities? You might want to take a look at Lean Thinking – hopefully it will be as eye opening for you as it was for me. As we continue to face “lean” times in state and federal budgets, Lean Thinking is a resource that I hope you will use to think about your organizations and creatively adapt your work to the challenges we are certain to face in the years to come.