What Housing Authorities Can Learn from Seattle Children’s Hospital

I will start this blog by saying I think staff at housing authorities or social housing companies in Europe need to get outside of our industry.  We need to go to the private sector and see what is happening.  We need to learn as much as possible whenever possible to see if there are ways we can improve the way we work. We are doing this more at our agency and I encourage you to take the time to do the same.  Although we are all super busy, these trips can set off fireworks in the brain and allow us to think outside of the typical affordable housing mindset that can sink in.

The main point of this blog is to discuss one of our recent visits to an outside agency.  Seattle Children’s Hospital is one of those organizations that just impress.  The mission is important and the work they do saves life’s.  Outside of being an amazing organization they also use lean process improvement methods to be as efficient as possible.  The hospital is well known in the Northwest for their methods and being welling to share best practices with government agencies from throughout the area.   I am always looking for ways to learn from other organizations that are strong with lean continuous improvement methods, so this presented a great opportunity.

I recently started working on a new project.  It is a project I have no background on and can not claim any special knowledge. This does not bother me.  I am very comfortable walking into new projects.   This particular project has to do with supply chain management and the logistics of our warehouses and inventory.  The project is in the early define/measure phase but I wanted to get out and see what other organizations using lean are doing.

That led me to Seattle Children’s Hospital.  If you are from the Northwest and are into lean, you already know the Seattle Children’s is a force within the region.  They implemented lean nearly two decades ago and did not look back.  We visited the hospital this last week to view only their inventory management system.  In particular we wanted to learn more about how their Kanban system was set up and operated.  What is Kanban?

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Kanban is an inventory management system often used in lean production and manufacturing.  There are two bins of each item; when one bin is empty, the second is pulled forward.  In the picture above, you can see the blue bins.  Empty bins go to the central supply office and the bar codes are scanned to generate a new order. For larger items, a card is used.  There is more to this than just bins.  You need to truly understand every item in your supply chain.  What is coming in and how much is going out.  You use this knowledge to load your bins.  Each bin is calculated by usage rate and how long it takes your supplier to resupply.

Our host, the Director of Supply Chain, Greg Beach greeted us in the lobby and gave us a quick brief on how they went to a Kanban system and how things used to work.   Before moving to a Kanban system, nurses would grab what they needed when they saw it and stockpile.  This created all types of logistical problems when it came to supply chain management.  It became hard to know what was being taken and when exactly something should be re-ordered.   The hospital storeroom is now half its original size, and fewer supplies are discarded for exceeding their expiration dates.  Now when a nurse is going to look for something, it is neatly arranged in the same place and easy to access.   This system used to be used in manufacturing and production but is now spread widely to other industries like healthcare and office/service sector.

The system is just one example of how Seattle Children’s Hospital says it has improved patient care, and its bottom line, by using practices made famous by Toyota and others. They use lean ideas and concepts to eliminate waste throughout the hospital.  One great example is Greg showed us a tracking sheet of different process improvement projects completed.  They are called Kaizan events.  They tracked one small project that saved the hospital 5 minutes a day.  Over the course of the year, it will save the hospital $275.  This may not sound like a lot but all the projects add up to thousands of dollars a month and millions a year.  Any employee can start a process improvement project by submitting a Kaizan idea sheet. (See below)

This is only a few examples of the systems being used at Seattle Children’s Hospital to improve customer service and workflow.  As always, I appreciate seeing how others improve their work.  We in the housing world need to get outside of comfort zone and see what is happening in other industries.  Most agencies in the private, public and non-profit arena are willing to share their best practices.  It is up to us to take the time, to learn, and then try to implement solutions that might meet our needs.

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