Our “Values in Action” series celebrates individuals and teams across all of MEDNAX who are living the Values of our company.
Successful organizations must be nimble, innovative and adapt in changing times.
We embrace opportunities to transform and turn concept into reality.
We encourage curiosity and new approaches to deliberate decision-making.
Change is not just inevitable, it is essential. Successful organizations acknowledge the necessity for change on a daily basis. MEDNAX has been committed to embracing change through clinical safety initiatives and quality improvement, as well as corporate diversification and adapting to meet the evolving needs of the health care industry. Recently, we introduced a new initiative on our Transformation Journey that further expands on our organization’s core commitment to continuous improvement.
Through much of 2017 and continuing this year, the Transformation team has been working in partnership with Revenue Cycle Management to pilot new processes. The initiative applies tools and techniques from Lean and Six Sigma, which are proven methodologies for eliminating waste and reducing variation. Through collaborative and facilitated delivery, this initiative sets the stage to make process improvement second nature across all areas of the company.
“As an organization, we recognize that anything we do can be improved,” said Don Kuk, Chief Transformation Officer. “By creating a culture of rapid continuous improvement — for our patients, our partners and our people — MEDNAX will continue to deliver service excellence as well as best-in-class cost and efficiency,” he said.
Small changes equal big results
Lean and Six Sigma offer techniques and tools that can help any organization and its people work smarter. Simply stated, Lean focuses on eliminating waste and improving flow through a holistic review of the overall process. Six Sigma seeks to improve processes through systematic and data-driven analysis intended to reduce variation and increase quality. A third element is Kaizen events — a term derived from Japanese culture translating to “change for better”— which bring teams together to take the first steps in rapid process prototyping for an area in need of improvement. The exercise typically involves a four-day event, working directly with team members from the area of process improvement focus to lead the effort.
Change is easier than we think
It would be naive to dismiss the challenges of change. First off, change can be daunting. While embracing change asks people to learn to navigate the maze, push through it and expect the unexpected, embracing change also encourages people to try something different, respond constructively and take positive action.
Rich Weissmark, Senior Director of Business Transformation, added to the list: “Expect to succeed, conduct small tests of change and fail early. Failure has to be accepted and even encouraged if the intent is for us to move forward towards excellence by way of continuous improvement.”
The full support of top leadership is a requirement for process improvement, and a specific expectation of Kaizen events. The team’s direct supervisors are the only management in the room during a Kaizen event, which encourages frank, honest discussions, and also respects the opinions and expertise of the individuals who do the work every day. Executive sponsorship serves to remove hurdles for Kaizen event success and confirms process improvement momentum will not be a short-lived concept across the organization.
How to improve a process
A Kaizen event occurs on site with a cross-functional team working together to deconstruct every element of a single process and rebuild an improved version of it. “We want to prevent departments from becoming siloed,” said Weissmark. “Once you get the team in a room and foster collaboration, you start to identify opportunities where improvements can be made. That is why it’s important to go where the work is happening, also known as going to ‘Gemba’.”
Kaizen events begin with staff training on the improvement principles, then a comprehensive breakdown of the process in question — called value stream mapping — “Picture colorful sticky notes stuck across the walls of the room,” said Weissmark. This showcases the entirety of a process, facilitates dialogue and accounts for a second challenge of change and a principle truth of process improvement: People experience processes differently. Open-mindedness, camaraderie and patience are essential to create a thorough and accurate map of a process that many people touch. Those behaviors also support identifying the most effective ways to make the process better.
“The first two days introduce the teams to this new way of thinking and help them understand how to put the methods into practice. Usually by the third day, once the pieces all come together, excitement builds and embracing change really begins,” said Weissmark.
With the tools in hand and a first practical experience under their belt, the teams are empowered to broaden the scope of improvement. The end goal of a Kaizen event is to instill the idea that process improvement can be a natural part of daily function, applicable to many other areas of work.
“The teams are an intimate and essential part of this process improvement initiative because each process being evaluated is one that will affect the way the team members work,” said Weissmark. “Having active participation in documenting and transforming the way an employee does his or her job — rather than having someone hand down the new process or policy — can result in deeper understanding and greater adoption. Only by believing in a change can that change be embraced long term.”