While patient care is still the primary goal of any histology lab, efficiency has increasingly become more and more important as well. The desire to produce accurate results with as little waste as possible, has led to the adoption by some labs, of a management approach known as Lean Production. Lean Production, also known as the Toyota Production System, was first introduced in Japan in the 1980’s. This management theory focuses on reducing waste, while promoting quality and productivity.
When we refer to waste, we aren’t just referring to physical waste that you would throw in a trash can. Waste applies to other facets of a workplace, such as wasted time caused by inefficient processes. Think about the layout of your lab. Do you have to do a lot of walking around to get from one station to another, or is there a natural progression of equipment based around your workflow? This can even be as simple as, do you need to do a lot of extra reaching or twisting to get something done. These extra movements are wastes of time, according to Lean Production theory. Delays can also be caused by equipment downtime, or a bottleneck caused by capacity issues. When something needs to be redone, that is a serious delay, that can also affect quality of patient care, so Lean Production also emphasizes the importance of identifying problem areas and correcting them, to eliminate the need for work to be redone.
To eliminate these waste areas, the Lean Production system advocates for the 5s System: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. Sort refers to going through your inventory and getting rid of anything that you don’t need to keep. This can apply to equipment, office supplies, catalogs, even data. Set in order means organization; making sure there is a place for everything. This is also where the layout for workflow considerations comes in. You want to make sure everything at your workstation is organized for easy access. Shine simply means cleaning. Create daily checklists for what needs to be cleaned, and how things should be cleaned. Step 4 is standardization. This means keeping a process for the previous s’s. Lastly, you need to be able to sustain this system, to make it a recognized way of doing business with buy in from your team.
Another key principle of Lean Management is the Kanban System. This is the concept of only replenishing materials when they are consumed. This is a highly visual system that involves color coding, and empty space to signify when something needs to be ordered. You can also use cards, attached to specific bins or shelves that have key product information, such as manufacturer and item number, for easy re-ordering. This card can also list the lab’s suggested minimum and maximum that they feel should be kept in stock for this product based on consumption, so it is easy to tell when something needs re-ordering.
Finally, the Lean Production system emphasizes continuous improvement, known in the Japanese system as kaizen. Brainstorming and process mapping sessions with your team can help identify problems, set clear objectives to address the problem, and layout the team members and resources needed for implementation of a solution.
You can learn more about Lean Production in the webinar, The Basics of Lean Production, one of the on-demand webinars included free to Enhanced Education Members.