Applications of Lean Six Sigma in an Irish hospital

Laureani, Alessandro and Brady, Malcolm and Antony, Jiju (2013) Applications of Lean Six Sigma in an Irish hospital. Leadership in Health Services, 26 (4). pp. 322-337. ISSN 1751-1879

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a case study of the implementation of Lean Six Sigma techniques through a series of student projects carried out in a hospital setting. Design/methodology/approach – The five projects were carried out by teams of Masters’ students taking a module on operations and quality management. The students were all staff members of the hospital. The study analysed each of the five projects under a number of headings: setting and context, approach, key success factors, benefits and lessons learnt. The projects were then examined to identify patterns among the projects. Findings – All student projects adopted a single foundation methodology as the basis for the project, but supported this with additional techniques from the Lean Six Sigma stable. The primary methodology was Lean in the case of three projects, Six Sigma in the case of one project and mistake proofing in the case of the final project. The most commonly used supporting techniques were process mapping, seven wastes, 5S and logic tree/root cause which were each used in two of the five projects. Other techniques used were control charts, checklists and theory of constraints, which were each used by one project team. Support from top management and regular communication with stakeholders were identified as key factors for success by three of the five project teams. All of the projects, although implemented during a time period of less than three months, and by relatively novice users of Lean Six Sigma techniques, yielded practical benefit to the hospital. Research limitations/implications – This paper examines a number of Lean Six Sigma projects carried out in an Irish hospital. Students were tasked to examine and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a clinical or/and an administrative process within the hospital. Arguably, a single module on a Master’s program in healthcare leadership and organisational change is insufficient to bring about large-scale process change in a single hospital in particular, or to the Irish healthcare sector in general, but it is a start, and as these projects demonstrate it provides a set of tools, techniques and effective methods for instigating process change. Practical implications – Lean Six Sigma offer a variety of methodologies and techniques for use on a process improvement project. It is vital that the project team select for use those techniques which are most appropriate to the particular context of the project. Adoption of an overall methodology (philosophy) supported by specific techniques, proved to be an effective approach. Originality/value – This paper provides useful information for practitioners who are introducing the Lean Six Sigma approach into a hospital setting. The study demonstrates that relatively novice users of Lean Six Sigma can provide value to the organisation in a relatively short period of time. The paper also demonstrates that Lean Six Sigma can be used and provide benefit in a variety of settings within a hospital.