Ideas and Root Causes

What is Kaizen?

By Mark Graban

In the Kaizen process, we ask everybody to identify problems (or opportunities) and then to write down an idea that could potentially solve the problem (at least to some extent). What’s written down on the card is the starting point for discussion within a team or with a supervisor.

When coaching an organization on Kaizen recently, I got a really good question from a physician who had taken the excellent week-long Lean healthcare training at the University of Michigan. She said that, in the Lean training, they said you should never “jump to a solution” in the course of problem solving. She raises a good point.

Many of the things brought up through this Kaizen process don’t require any root cause analysis. Some problems, “Our IV trays are disorganized” have a somewhat obvious solution, “Organize the trays and remove unneeded items.”

Some problems are more complex, such as “Patients are waiting too long in the waiting room.” We couldn’t really jump to a solution there. We’d want to do root cause analysis and maybe manage this through an “A3 problem solving process” or something more rigorous.

As leaders, we learn how to triage things that are submitted through the Kaizen process. It is an easy “just fix it”? If so, we can have a bias for action and test ideas experimentally, in the PDSA approach. If it’s a more complicated problem or something with a non-obvious solution, we can start an A3 or get a Rapid Improvement Event sponsored. This can all work together.

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