In this edition of 5 Questions we meet Lee Fried.
1. Who are you, what organization are you with, and what are your current lean-oriented activities?
My name is Lee Fried and I am an internal Lean consultant at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, WA. Group Health is an integrated health system (insurance and delivery) that serves approximately 570,000 patients across Washington State and Northern Idaho. We have 10,000 employees and approximately 3 billion dollars in revenues.
We are four years into our Lean journey. Our leadership is primarily focused on developing and deploying a management system across the organization. This includes implementation of a Strategy Deployment system, implementing linked measurement systems supported by management standard work across all work teams, implementing a Daily Management system within all work teams, as well as beginning the process of re-organizing around enterprise value streams.
Personally, I am spending most of my time these days working with the leadership of our Delivery System to put in place this Lean based management system. Additionally, I am supporting the “on the ground” efforts we currently have underway to implement a Medical Home Model within our Primary Care system. This Model is truly transformational for the patients we serve and puts us in a position to lead the nation in providing high quality, affordable care. You can learn more about this model at www.ghmedicalhome.com
2. How, when, and why did you get introduced to lean and what fueled and fuels the passion?
I was introduced to Lean by a graduate school professor of mine, James Hereford at the University of Washington. I was fascinated by the case studies from class and did a lot of after class reading including the book Better Thinking, Better Results. Basically, I got hooked on the principles and concepts. When my professor, who happened to be an Executive at Group Health asked me to intern with him and help bring Lean to the organization I jumped at the chance to learn by doing. We started with point improvements and quickly moved to an enterprise wide transformation. It’s been a crazy ride, with a lot of ups and downs. What fuels me is watching the organization transform one person at a time. There is no greater thrill than watching when team member’s lights go on.
3. In your opinion what is the most powerful aspect of lean?
In my opinion the most powerful and mostly untapped aspect of Lean is to focus on creating a Lean Management system. At Group Health we have only just begun to learn how transformational it can be to apply Lean principles and practices to the processes of management. Like many organization we started with a focus on Lean tools and mostly at the frontlines. Staff became very engaged and we got great short-term results, but we have really struggled with sustainability. We have slowly learned that this is because we have lacked a consistent, capable and disciplined set of management processes. You can’t honestly expect the frontlines to follow standard work and improve their processes if management doesn’t do so as well. This is why a Lean transformation will only be successful if it is led from the top and is a complete business strategy.
4. In your opinion what is the most misunderstood or unrecognized aspect of lean?
As I mentioned above I believe the most unrecognized aspect of Lean is the lack of understanding of what a Lean management system is and how an organization can put one in place. It is only over the last year that our senior leadership has stopped talking about Lean as a set of process improvement tools. Most organizations approach Lean as a set of tools and never address improving the underlying management processes or overcoming the systemic management system problems. This typically looks like short-term success that over time erodes as design and policy issues are not addressed.
5. In your opinion what is the biggest opportunity for lean in today's world? How can that be accomplished?
I am biased on this question and will answer from what I know and say that biggest opportunity for Lean is in healthcare. Our healthcare system is broken and a fundamental redesign that starts with the customer (patient) is required. For years politicians and healthcare executives have given speeches and made claims that this transformation is imminent and things have only gotten worse. Many people have tried but lacked the ability to execute. Lean provides a means by which healthcare organization can truly provide higher quality care, faster at a lower cost. People in healthcare are amazingly committed and caring individuals and over the last couple of years have gotten a preview of what is possible when you channel this commitment with Lean. Yet, we have just scratched the surface and there is so much more to do. My hope is that Group Health or some other healthcare organization is able to break free of the pack and show others just how much improvement is possible. No doubt we have the commitment side covered, but the jury is still out on whether we are capable of executing.