Structured Problem Solving has been one of the foundations of Lean transformation, and of almost any high performing company over the past 50 years. However, many labs reject Structured Problem Solving techniques outright, or use them as a ‘box – ticking’ exercise to satisfy management that they are adhering to the latest directive. Why is it, when successful organisations pride themselves on a culture of continuous improvement and problem-solving, that in Labs, it is often the missing link to true transformative improvements…?
To an outsider (and often even the insiders) laboratories can seem like a workplace hovering on the brink of chaos. The lab is constantly bombarded with hot requests for this lot or a special test for that project. Investigations, vacations, changes in product, adjustments in mix, FDA inspections, equipment issues and narrowly specialized analysts can often add to this sense of chaos. Usually it is difficult to see how work flows in the lab, if in fact it does flow. It can also be next to impossible to identify what is “normal” behavior. One of the critical steps in creating a Lean Lab is separating the routine (or in some cases, the most routine) from the non-routine or non-predictable.
Deployment of 5S in a laboratory setting is a time consuming effort and one which in itself delivers little in terms of productivity gains. So why bother…?
While it might sound like some sort of fad diet, “lean” in the context of business improvement refers to a specific methodology that originated in the Japanese motor industry toward the end of the 1980s. Over the decades, this lean philosophy has been successfully adopted by many companies across a broad spectrum of industries and, more recently, lean thinking has filtered into laboratories. The focus of a lean laboratory is to test samples in the most efficient way possible in terms of cost, or speed, or both. Although most of the key principles of lean apply in labs, the specific challenges facing laboratories require significant adaptation of standard lean tools.