5S in Hospitals and Service

Groucho Marx, circa 1931
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I made the mistake of going to the LEI website today.  They have chosen not to post some of my comments, but I saw a conversation in the Lean Forum about 5S in hospitals.  I had to read on.

The participants were all looking for case studies and pictures of using 5S in a hospital setting.  I couldn’t believe the amount of copying being promoted. “Send me pictures of what you did.”

All these approaches are inside-out and not outside-in.  There is no discussion of customer demand, purpose or measures.  Is this a really effective approach?

Will improvement result from these activities?  Possibly, but the tool-laden approach without the insightful study of demand means we have little chance of finding a more purposeful design. What if demand changes (which happens  in service environments), will hospitals be able to absorb the variety of demands?

More importantly, I can predict that everyone will be forced to comply.  The compliance police will be right around the corner to make sure that you do.  After all, these are the folks that love tools, rules and order especially while wielding misguided authority.

So, when hospitals begin copying 5S activities from one to another, do they have the same demands?  Did anybody ask? No, because the functional thinking that we didn’t change before embarking on 5S allows people to make assumptions that one function is like another.

The reality is that you can 5S until the cows come home and still have lots of waste.  Maybe better with 5S that I dance with the cows until you come home (thank you, Groucho Marx).

5S had a purpose in manufacturing and a different problem to solve.  The codification of 5S for hospitals or any other service is erroneous until we ask the three questions:

  • Who invented the tool?
  • What problem were they trying to solve?
  • Do I have that problem?

And please stop the incessant copying and work on the thinking first.  A good place to start is understanding the type and variety of demand before tools.  When you start this way, you may discover that you never really needed the tools.  Better yet, you may discover a new tool that solves your problem even better . . . innovation is OK.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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