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Bruce Hamilton


Sorta Systems

I wish I’d invested in the whiteboard market when I began my career

Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2019 - 12:02

Last year I had a short stay at one of Boston’s best hospitals. Although I will be forever grateful for the excellent treatment I received while in their care, I wondered about a few systems that sat directly in front of my bed. So, I took a picture to share later. Here is what I saw.

1. The storage bins at the left of the photo below seemed a little messy and hard to reach, but they apparently served a useful function of putting bedside supplies near the patient. On two occasions, however, needed items were missing, requiring my caregivers to go in search elsewhere. This raised a series of 5W1H questions for me. For example, who decided what and how much was needed in the room? Why were bins sometimes empty? Who was responsible to refill? Where did the supplier go to fetch the needed items? Also, was the cause of the missing parts traced?

2. The whiteboard served only one purpose for me: It put a smile on my face. I wish I’d invested in the whiteboard market when I began my consulting career. They’ve multiplied exponentially since the advent of lean. My name, the date, and the doc’s name (redacted) were up to date, but nothing else was filled in. Who designed the board? Was all of the information needed? Did anyone really know what my estimated discharge date was, anyway? If this visual system were essential to my care, then there would be cause for patient worry. If the system was actually not impactful to either me or the caregivers, that would also be cause for concern because it was wasting wall space and valuable caregiver time.

3. The final sorta-system, a laminated visual aid that sat under the whiteboard, was never used during my visit. It appeared to be related to patient safety, but neither the patient name nor the date was correct. A checkbox on the visual aid indicated that I needed a walker. I didn’t.

My question here is not whether any of these systems were potentially useful, and neither am I questioning any of the actions or performance of my excellent caregivers and support staff. My question is, “How often do we audit systems that are supposed to be making us more productive?”

Recalling W. Edwards Deming’s 95/5 rule—that 95 percent of the variation in the performance of a system is caused by the system itself and only 5 percent is caused by the people—if a system is not working as intended, what steps do we take to analyze and adjust? And what are the consequences to the system if we just set it and forget it?  What’s the impact to our employees and customers?

How often do you take stock of the systems that run your business? When you do, what are your discoveries? Please share a thought.

Editor’s note: Bruce Hamilton, the Toast Dude, presents a free webinar, “Time to 5S Our Systems,” March 19, 2019, 12 p.m. Pacific/3 p.m. Eastern.


About The Author

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Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.