Hospitals Implementing Lean Management: The 4 most common areas it can fail

Whatever the nation, Global Healthcare is it’s own worst enemy when it comes to managing costs and service quality. Well you will keep us all alive longer!!

To this end, Lean management has increasingly become a method of choice for hospitals seeking a creative solution to cost and quality


Done well, there are literally thousands of examples around the Healthcare world, where lean management and coaching has lead to significant and sustained cost savings, with concurrent performance improvements.

However, like any sector Healthcare has it’s nuances within it’s typical modus operandi that set up some significant barriers to success, right from the outset.

Let’s look at the four most typical barriers to Lean success:

1. Not devoting enough resources.

One of the most common mistakes hospitals make when adopting Lean is not devoting enough resources to Lean projects. Transforming hospital processes with Lean requires a commitment of time and energy by both leaders and staff. Hospitals should have one person or a team of people responsible solely for Lean projects instead of relegating Lean as a side project for staff.

A route to almost guaranteed failure is taking a department like quality or human resources or Re-admissions, and assigning someone responsibility for Lean on a part-time basis.

Assigning a staff member to Lean full-time does not necessarily mean other departments will be short-staffed, however. Employing Lean techniques streamlines processes can allow hospitals to redeploy staff members to different areas in the hospital.

2. Leadership not fully engaging in Lean.

In addition to the need for full-time commitment by at least one staff member, Lean requires leaders to be fully engaged in the adoption of Lean management.

“The classic under-resourcing and delegating from the corner office — those two things combined are the usual death of Lean transformation,” Lorne Walters, Managing Director at Value Stream Experts says.

Transforming a hospital to Lean means shifting the organisation to an entirely new way of thinking about and designing processes, which requires full involvement of hospital leadership. The level of engagement Lean demands of leaders may be a new experience for hospital executives and one they may fully struggle to see the relevance of their clear participation and support.

After all, enormous IT projects for example, such as those to automate patient records, patient communications or human resourcing, could be and were delegated, so why can’t Lean? The answer is an organisation transforms from the top down and through complete buy-in, if, and only if, the people on the shop floor can believe the passion and determination that exists at the every top, to overcome each and every barrier (that will come up), during the Lean journey.

3. Getting stuck in trials.

When first adopting Lean, many hospitals start with pilot projects to evaluate its effectiveness. "Healthcare especially likes trials, likes to have proofs of concept that are validating their philosophy they can then incorporate into future strategies," Lorne Walters says. Many hospitals start with projects in the emergency department, wards or operating room, he says. While it is useful to run pilots and start slow, hospitals will need to move beyond this stage to take full advantage of Lean.

Developing a Lean culture takes time and a lot of effort but the rewards are enormous if executed correctly. It’s perfectly understandable to commence slightly tentatively and for that reason, Lorne remarks "it usually takes a little bit of time for them to become true believers in what's possible."

Ultimately, once the full realisation of what can and will be achieved is understood, hospitals should use a Lean approach to all areas of the hospital — not just clinical areas. For example, hospitals may use Lean to improve their revenue cycle processes, Lorne Walters says.

4. Not standardising practices.

Possibly the biggest challenge to developing a culture of Lean. Continuous improvement, one of the key goals of Lean, relies on standardised work flows. "One of the big challenges in healthcare is getting these highly educated, highly trained healthcare individuals to agree on what best practices are and to agree on conforming to standardised work practices and work flows," Lorne Walters says. "Without standardised work, there can be no continuous improvement." Again, more reason why the executive level play such a crucial role in the Lean Journey.

So they are the typical problems, what is the solution?

Education is the solution

To avoid these mistakes, hospitals need to become educated in the Lean method and philosophy. Hospitals can then better understand how to use Lean as part of their strategy to meet goals. "It starts with education, then creating their strategy around lean," Lorne says.

To successfully make this change, hospital leaders need to first evaluate their hospitals' culture, mission, goals and vision; educate themselves on Lean practices and then establish how they can use Lean to support their culture, mission and vision.

We specialise at both developing this process and engaging the entire company towards their goal of an efficient, increasingly productive, sustainable Lean Culture for our clients but specifically so within the Healthcare sector.

Call us today for more information on how we can help: 0207 412 8995 or drop us an email through on and we’ll be delighted to discuss our successes in the Healthcare sector further with you.

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