By Denise Bennett
I hoped that my reflection on 2021 would be different. I hoped that we would be meeting face to face again as normal and that an in-person networking event for Lean Enterprise Australia might have been possible to learn more from you and your organisations about successful lean management and improvement implementation.
For most of us there have been challenges in our personal lives. The opportunity to connect with family and friends in times of celebrations and mourning have been limited and many of us who were not impacted by this in year one of COVID were in year two. We felt incredibly lucky and grateful when we managed to hold or attend an event or gathering between lock-downs and restrictions. In 2022 we now have the freedom to travel and be part of crowds, but this comes with a risk, both personally and to our wider community.
The health system pressure is immense. Even in Victoria where they have had the most COVID experience, OMICRON is throwing up new problems every day. Staff are sick, overwhelmed, burned out and patient numbers keep increasing. More and more clinicians must work long days in PPE which makes everything harder. The community is frustrated with health care processes that are unable to cope with the OMICRON demand.
In my daily observations as a user of the system or in my work with healthcare organisations, I see so many opportunities to improve things. Most of these improvements do not rely on more resources, but in a landscape where the energy is low and just surviving each long day is the key objective, continuing with clunky, waste-ridden processes just seems to be the easier path. I have never known a time where healthcare needs the essence of Lean Thinking more – respect for people and continuous improvement.
On a positive note, we are happy to share that Lean Enterprise Australia has been called upon to work in the healthcare sector more than any other year. Generally, not because our customers want a lean transformation within their organisation, but because they recognise the value of designing processes that deliver the highest value, in the fastest time with the least resources. This value was demonstrated in our work with vaccination across several states and showcased in the collaborative work with Mater Health QLD and Eastern Health Victoria.
Eastern Health has worked hard on their daily management system to ensure they can continue to deliver safe, high-quality care amidst the problems that the pandemic creates on a daily basis. Leader Gemba provides them with an ideal opportunity to understand the work and problems more deeply and connect with and recognise staff.
A highlight for the Lean community in 2021 was the Lean Global Connection where more than 6000 people from across the globe registered for our 24-hour event of sharing and connecting. The output was hundreds of hours of learning about lean in many sectors. The event was hard work, with a huge contribution from the LEA team, but there was much joy in seeing many of our colleagues from around the world participating together, demonstrating the value of cross country collaboration. This was a feature in the digital, sustainability, vaccination and hospitality presentations. Many of us volunteered hours of our time to bring this event to fruition, making it possible for anyone to attend with free registration and a 24-hour program. Thank you to our LEA community who generously contributed to the event.
My key reflection for 2021 is that we have had to learn to live differently in the COVID era. We have come to terms with the fact that this is indeed a marathon and not a sprint. Making plans well ahead now feels a little like waste, as they usually need to be abandoned or re-worked. Booking a flight on the day of travel, or the day before if I am really game, has become the norm for me. Avoiding crowds is a key objective for many of us and we are lucky that our warmer summer months have meant that we dine outdoors to support local businesses. The line between our work and family lives are increasingly blurred as we continue to work mainly from home. We know that working routines have changed forever.
As I turn from reflection to looking ahead, I have some hopes for 2022.
In 2022 I hope to see people working together face to face, really connecting, creating and learning together.
In 2022 I hope we get to do more gemba to deeply understand the work, the problems and engage with front line teams.
In 2022 I hope we can provide more opportunities to collaborate across organisations,ideally face to face. We want to create an organisation where there is learning, networking and a sense of belonging.
In 2022, I hope to continue to work and grow with the LEA team who bring diverse experience and creativity to our mainly virtual workplace.
In 2022, I hope that together we can continue to make the world a better place by applying lean thinking to important problems; and by developing caring and capable leaders who in turn create workplaces where staff feel safe, heard and are engaged in customer-focussed improvement.
Whilst we don’t know what 2022 has in store, we know that we will continue to respond to the surprises and challenges that come our way and have many opportunities to apply our problem solving skills. We will continue to reflect, learn and adapt and in any way we can make our work and processes better for those who perform them and those who use them.