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A Glimpse into Lean Medical Management Tools and Techniques

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A Very Brief Review

By Dr. Mark Matthews with Dr. David Marcinko MBA

As most medical and healthcare executives and consultants are aware, there are a few tools and techniques that are unique to the world of Lean process improvement and management.

These  include: Kaizen Events, The 5-S Technique, Standard Work, Visual Controls and Human Factors Engineering.

We will review the first two techniques in this ME-P. Of course, the last three are reviewed in much greater detail in our new book complete with checklists, figures, tables, drawings, graphs and other illustrations.

Kaizen Events

Kaizen is one of the most powerful tools in the Lean methodology. These events involve intense work sessions aimed at making concrete decisions in a short time period without the need for much data collection. Kaizen events are fairly narrow in scope, ideally concentrating on making one or two decisions at the most.

For example, there may be competing improvement ideas that require more exploration. Using a Kaizen event can provide the necessary structure to make the decision needed to move forward with implementation. The steps in a typical Kaizen Event often include:

  • Determine and define the objectives
  • Determine the current state of the process
  • Determine the requirements of the process
  • Create a plan for implementation
  • Implement the improvements
  • Check the effectiveness of the improvements
  • Document and standardize the improved process
  • Continue the cycle

The 5-S Technique

This technique was developed to allow employees to visually control their work area around visual management techniques. The principles involved in visual management include:

  • Improving workspace efficiency and productivity
  • Helping people share workstations by providing standard layouts
  • Reducing the time required to look for needed supplies or tools
  • Improving the work environment

Each “S” in 5S stands for a step in the process:

  • Sort – classify every item in the designated area as either needed or not needed
  • Set (Straighten) – put “everything in its place”
  • Shine (Sweep) – clean all work environments for order and organization
  • Standardize  – document what goes where, who will clean and who will inspect and on what schedule
  • Sustain-design a system for monitoring process, providing feedback, and rewarding good outcomes


Prior to conducting a 5S event, a significant amount of planning is vital. It is important to scope the target area as something that is manageable, draw a physical map of the area under consideration [hospital, ED, OR, clinic, office, etc], and assemble a list of current items in that area. This is usually accomplished by taking photographs (both before and after) of the area.


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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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One Response

  1. Best qualities of healthcare’s lean leaders

    Proponents of lean management argue that whether or not healthcare providers realize it yet, there is a major demand within their organizations for the model because, they will tell you, lean improves patient safety and reimbursement rates, and creates new standards around transparency.


    But, getting healthcare organizations on the lean bandwagon takes leadership.

    Ann Miller RN MHA


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