When I read last year about a three-year study being jointly undertaken by the McLaren Formula One team and Birmingham Children’s Hospital I was intrigued by the unexpected pairing. Upon closer inspection though it makes perfect sense as both organisations are operating in a high risk, fast-paced environment where potentially life-changing decisions need to be made in a split second. It also demonstrates the enormous value which can be derived from Lean collaboration and team work.
In Birmingham the hospital’s intensive care unit is trialling McLaren’s Real-Time Adaptive and Predictive Indicator of Deterioration (RAPID) technology, a wireless monitoring system which continuously records heart rate, breathing rate and oxygen levels to anticipate cardiac arrests in their young and vulnerable patients.
McLaren’s sophisticated data analytics programme is said to be “truly transformational” by the project leader, Dr Heather Duncan. In fact, she goes on to say, “I genuinely believe this will change the way we care for patients in hospitals forever.” It will be fascinating to read the full findings of the study in 2017, if only to see if they live up to this bold prediction.
Not every Lean collaboration needs to be life-changing but the best ones can certainly be transformational. There are many reasons why working with others whose area of operation is outside your own can be beneficial, and what’s more you don’t necessarily have to look too far to find them.
The most effective Lean teams are cross-functional, bringing together colleagues from across the business to learn from each other and pool their knowledge. One of the major causes of inefficiency and waste in an organisation is a silo structure where lack of communication, duplication of effort or – at its worst – working at cross purposes, cause huge problems. The costs to the business can be enormous, in financial terms as well as in staff morale.
Perhaps perversely, two areas which are most likely to be siloed are IT and finance, yet they both affect every aspect of an organisation. Workers are quick to blame their techy or bean-counter colleagues when things go wrong and they are the butt of many an in-joke, but the truth is that valuable knowledge and expertise can be found in the IT and finance teams.
Just as the computer boffins at McLaren were able to apply their technology to healthcare, so the geeks in your organisation may be able to solve some of your toughest problems. There are many ways to collaborate as part of your Lean programme and certainly no shortage of tools available, from sophisticated digital platforms to the use of an Obeya room.
However, I would also advocate a bit of lateral thinking on occasion and looking outside your usual sphere for inspiration and potential partners. Rather than worrying about the differences between you and a potential collaborator, I recommend focusing on your shared goals or the problems you have in common. You will be able to learn from each other’s experience and each bring a new perspective to a familiar issue, thus increasing your collective chances of success.
I recently wrote about Lean lessons from my local butcher and the unlikely places we can find inspiration. When it comes to Lean collaboration, whether internally or externally, look for the right fit of expertise and approach and don’t be afraid to break the mould.