• Industry: Healthcare
  • Type: Survey report
  • Date: 4/1/2013

Making Lean sustainable 

Making Lean sustainable
As more and more institutions embrace Lean techniques, specialist Lean practitioners and healthcare professionals are together learning how best to apply these principles to sustain early successes and expand the approach across the entire organization.

The first phase of the Lean journey in healthcare is characterized by operational improvement projects that lead to advances in efficiency and performance (often in areas such as the Emergency Department, Laboratory, Surgery or Ambulatory Care). After a couple of successful years, however, hospitals often hit a brick wall for a number of reasons:

“The question is not whether there is opportunity to improve. We are falling over opportunities, as most staff and patients can readily see. The real challenge is sustainability.”

Nigel Edwards
Global Center of Excellence for Healthcare
Director, Global Health System Reform
KPMG in the UK

  • The gains from the initial pilot projects start to slip
  • A majority of staff remain disengaged from the improvement process, as only a small group were involved in initial efforts
  • Given the significant resources required for each project, it is difficult to scale up efforts across the hospital
  • Frontline managers spend too much of their day managing the unit or firefighting, and have insufficient time to devote to change initiatives



Those hospitals that have managed to maintain their momentum recognize that Lean management is not a series of projects but a new approach to working, where continuous improvement is part of everyone’s job. The challenge for leadership is integrating this approach into everyday working life.

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