Lean Thinking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lean Thinking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

n 2016, the staff at the Lynn Community Health Center (LCHC) implemented a PDCA approach in the clinic. PDCA is part of the Lean thinking process. They began by trying to reduce chaos. Part of the PDCA approach is to reduce factors that impede work flow, by doing so the staff is able to gain stability. Every week team members documented problems they were facing and the impacts of those issues to develop experiments which would help the leadership pin point issues and find out the best way to address them. This experiment process encouraged continuous improvement. By working collaboratively to trouble shoot these issues the staff was overall able to elevate their mindsets about their workplace and shift to a Lean thought process.

This was just the beginning. Overtime they saw the need to improve staff flow, patient flow and material flow. Which got the leadership team wondering, does the physical space we are working in support the flow that needs to exist to optimize performance? They utilized a 3P work model to get the stream and flow of traffic working better to cut down on patient wait time.


Fast forward to March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. LCHS was faced with the problems that the pandemic brought to every healthcare facility. Their Lean thinking system, which had been working very well since its implementation, was pushed to its limit. The work flow that had become part of the culture at LCHC saw strategic adjustments to keep staff safe. Teams created initial standards for safety. These “standards” were the cornerstone for creating a foundation which would keep the clinic running at top performance while dealing with COVID-19 patients. The leadership at LCHS put into place a plan which prioritized safety. After putting the plan into place, it quickly revealed which standards would and would not work to optimize the work flow and treat the most patients as quickly and safely as possible.

Adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for many. Healthcare facilities needed to adjust their way of doing things pretty much overnight when the pandemic swept the US. LCHC is a fantastic example of how Lean thinking was able to support that process of shifting gears without having to change the work flow drastically.

Lee, A. (2020). Using Lean Thinking to Create An “Emergency Management System”. Knowledge Center. Lean Enterprise Institute. 

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