I have been working with several management teams who are beginning their Lean transformation journeys. At the end of each engagement, we always discuss the power of auditing any new process improvement initiative that they want to sustain. The reasons you may want to include auditing as a leader’s core competency are as follows:
1. Any new change to a process should be monitored for a while in case there is a need to tweak the process to eliminate unplanned wastes. (The “check” part of a PDCA Kaizen event.)
2. It takes time to embed a new, better process into the work routine of your staff. Your visibility serves as positive reinforcement for the change in process.
3. Auditing provides you an opportunity to observe the changes in action and suggest further refinements to your staff: mentoring and coaching with "kaizen eyes."
4. Auditing provides you an opportunity to communicate regularly with the value-adding operators and solicit additional process improvement ideas from them, i.e., tapping into your wealth of human talent.
Audits should be performed on a random basis and not advertised in advance. They should be frequent at the beginning of all new process improvement initiatives. Results from all audits should be signed, dated, publicized in the area's process improvement board. Here is an example of how this auditing process is handled by one of my clients:
The Kaizen Event Problem: About 7 years ago, a laboratory at a small community hospital was not meeting physician expectations for turnaround times on their morning draws.
The Voice of the Customer: The physicians’ expectation was that test results from the morning, be RN reviewed, and charted by 7:00 AM each morning.
The Current Situation: Specimen collection began at around 4:00 AM each morning and ended at ~7:00 AM at which time all the specimens that had been collected were receipt verified and deposited in the specimen processing areas of each lab section for processing and testing.
Kaizen Plan: Since the hospital had limited pneumatic tube capabilities, a milk run was planned to get the specimens to the lab for testing as soon as possible after the patient draw. (Eliminating the transportation, inventory, and overproduction waste the specimens were undergoing.) Staff schedules were changed accordingly and new assignments made to the process.
A centralized specimen processing location was established at the top of the instrument cell; incoming and outgoing specimen areas were clearly defined using 5S techniques.
As specimens appeared in the incoming location, the technologist pulled the specimens and placed them on the appropriate analyzer.
Other changes included instrument preventative maintenance and setup including when daily QC was run. A Lean equipment cell was put in place so that a single technologist could easily load, cycle, unload, and verify test results for 95% of the morning workload.
Implementation Plan execution was a huge success. Over the past three years, the process has been continuously improved, monitored daily, and randomly audited. The laboratory has added Collection Manager, a Sunquest product, to ensure patient safety: no “WBIT” in this hospital (Wrong Blood in Tube)! A recent challenge that the lab is working into their morning draw routine, is a 5:00 AM start time to begin drawing patients; they are losing 1 hour from their available time to meet their 7:00 AM service promise to physicians. Using Lean continuous process improvement, they are confident they can meet this challenge.
Auditing: Some people believe that audits are static and do not provide any real value. I contend that if you act on the finding to improve the process they, audits are very valuable. This lab has had success using them for the past 5 plus years with some very substantial changes to their process in the interim.
To sustain a Lean transformation, remember the following saying: "You get what you expect, and you deserve what you tolerate [or simply ignore.]"