Getting Started with Lean

You’ve read Should you be getting lean? and Lean principles for pharmacy and long-term care. Now you are looking to get started. Forget, for a moment, about the intricacies of a lean transformation. If you think lean may be right for your organization, here’s a good way to start:

  1. Identify the pain. Whether it’s broken or just injured, find the process or procedure that has the potential for significant and visible improvement that is also within your domain of control (if you aren’t in a position to initiate a project, your first step should be to recruit someone who is).
  2. Map the stream. Map the process you identified in step one as it currently exists for both material and information, and then create a lean map, eliminating or consolidating wherever value doesn’t exist.

    If you need to do a little bit of research on how the mapping process works, that’s fine. Don’t get bogged down in the minutia, focus only on the information you need to create a valid map and move on.
  3. Create a baseline. At this point, you’re no doubt fired up to make some changes. Stop. Make sure that you’ve documented, including supporting data, the issue you are addressing. You’ll need to be able to effectively and quantitatively demonstrate the impact of your efforts.
  4. Make changes. Implement your new lean map! At this point you can decide to share your philosophy and goals in creating a new lean process, or you can simply implement and monitor a “process revision”. Which you choose will depend upon your situation and organizational culture; however, the safe play is to save discussions about lean transformations until after you have demonstrated its value. Having those discussions, even within a small group, can introduce change management challenges that will complicate your efforts.
  5. Expand. To move forward, depending upon your level of control and influence within the organization, you are going to need to get some key players behind your movement. Use your recent success to sell them on the value of creating a lean organization and get the funding needed to bring in a lean consultant to help. Changing an isolated stream that is directly within your control is one thing, creating a lean organization is something else entirely. You will be dealing with cultural changes, organizational structure changes, procedural changes, and business system changes. Could you do it all? Perhaps, but an experienced consultant to help you navigate around the many pitfalls is well worth the cost.

If you’ve enjoyed this series on lean management, email us at and let us know! We’d also like to know what other topics you’d like to hear about.

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