Lean production methods
Lean production, often simply “Lean,” is a systematic method for the elimination of waste within a manufacturing process. Lean also takes into account waste created through overburden and waste created through unevenness in workloads. Working from the perspective of the client who consumes a product or service, “value” is any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.
Essentially, Lean is centered on making obvious what adds value by reducing everything else. Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS) and identified as “lean” only in the 1990s.
TPS is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota seven wastes to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. The steady growth of Toyota from a small company to the world’s largest automaker focused attention on how it has achieved this success.
Along with Six Sigma, Lean has become popular with clinical laboratories and pathology groups as a way to streamline laboratory processes, cut costs, boost productivity, and increase quality during a time when labs are increasingly pressured by downward price trends for lab tests. At the same time, labs are able to increase value offered to “customers,” that is, physicians, patients, and payers.
Instead of reducing waste from manufacturing, in the laboratory space the waste to be reduced stem from the cost and time of labor, overhead, and low customer satisfaction.
Clinical labs often focus Lean projects primarily to the flow of specimens through the laboratory, although others have applied Lean to administrative work flow.
The goals of Lean production systems differ depending on who is describing them. While some maintain an internal focus, e.g. to increase profit for the organization, others claim that improvements should be done for the sake of the customer.
Some commonly mentioned goals applicable to labs are:
Improve quality: To stay competitive in today’s marketplace, a company must understand its customers’ wants and needs and design processes to meet their expectations and requirements
Eliminate waste: Waste is any activity that consumes time, resources, or space but does not add any value to the product or service
Reduce time: Reducing the time it takes to finish an activity from start to finish is one of the most effective ways to eliminate waste and lower costs.
Lean is often combined with Six Sigma management techniques to produce a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste (Lean) as well as defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra-processing (Six Sigma).
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