The Next Generation of Lean Six Sigma (Part 4): Solving the Problem of COVID-19

The Next Generation of Lean Six Sigma (Part 4): Solving the Problem of COVID-19 -

Surely everyone knows that process improvement has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and certainly there are generational differences in the practitioners then and now.

The first post in this series, The Next Generation of Lean Six Sigma (Part 1): Then and Now, was about the generational shifts in process improvement. Part 2, Old Tools for a New World, focused on uncovering new vs old tools and how we’ve come into the next generation of Lean Six Sigma. Part 3 was all about time studies.

There’s arguably no discipline more critical today than process improvement, with governments and industries desperately trying to support the ongoing efforts to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, so today James and Dodd will “write from home” and discuss a special and very important topic, Part 4: Solving the Problem of Covid-19.

How Lean Six Sigma Professionals Can Help

Dodd: Last time we talked about our generational differences, we were discussing time studies and measuring performance, and we had intended to go deeper into the use of that time study data for process and performance control. It’s amazing how much can change in a few weeks.

We’re going to have to set that aside for now and address a much more timely and critically important topic: How Lean Six Sigma professionals can help in the current fight to defeat the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s something that we Gen X’ers and you Millenials can unite to work on together, hopefully recruiting some Gen Z and Boomers to help as well! The Greatest Generation really needs and deserves our help on this one.

James: Yeah, though we may have a little work to do on recruiting the Gen Z folks—some of them are still on Spring Break… and hey, I just want to point out that it’s not us Millenials out there on the beach!

Getting Out of “Couch Mode”

Dodd: I’ve seen those stories too, and yes, we know you Millenials are too anxious and careful to be out there partying, or at least, that’s the stereotype.

We’ve all learned a lot in the last few weeks about a number of best practices in social distancing, hand-washing, self-isolation, non-essential business shutdowns, etc., but there are some differing opinions on the scale of some of those efforts, so we’ll try to stay away from politically-sensitive topics here and just talk about what all of us can do to help. Regardless, we can all probably agree that we need to limit interaction wherever possible until the outbreak subsides.

A few days ago, I saw a really well-written article from a New York City doctor, in the New York Times. The article basically says “the sky is falling” but don’t worry—it’s not political, and it’s not intended to scare anyone. The author is a doctor who’s just asking for help, and in her closing paragraph she asks,

“Please flatten the curve and stay at home, but please do not go into couch mode. Like everyone, I have moments where imagining the worst possible COVID-19 scenario steals my breath. But cowering in the dark places of our minds doesn’t help. Rather than private panic, we need public-spirited action. Those of us walking into the rooms of COVID-19-positive patients every day need you and your minds, your networks, your creative solutions, and your voices to be fighting for us. We might be the exhausted masked face trying to resuscitate you when you show up on the doorstep of our hospital. And when you do, I promise not to panic. I’ll use every ounce of my expertise to keep you alive. Please, do the same for us.”

I realized I had been in couch mode for a few days. I was thinking about our business, our clients, and my family—the right things to do. Those are under control for now, and I hope the same for all of you. I want to repeat the author’s call for us to activate our minds, our networks, our creative solutions, and our voices to help the overall effort.

Lean Six Sigma professionals have super capabilities, and many of us know how to do valuable things like streamlining healthcare operations, designing medical devices, managing complex projects, and optimizing manufacturing operations. We’re lucky we’re able to help.

3 Categories of Contributions

James: Yes! There are so many things we can do, and I’d probably split those contributions into three categories:

  1. Individual things like using your 3-D printer at home to make facemask frames
  2. Local support, such as helping a hospital optimize its patient flow
  3. Critical infrastructure development, for example helping a manufacturer of ventilator parts to ramp-up production or better manage its supply chain

We’d encourage all of you to find ways to contribute individually and locally if you can. And for those who might be able to help with that third category of infrastructure development, we have set up a web page that describes the concept of helping critical industries in a little more detail and we’d like to make two “asks” of everyone who gets a chance to go out to that website:

  • Volunteer: tell us if you’re willing to help and if so, in what capacity. We’ll keep track of everyone’s capabilities and help direct you toward opportunities to help. Some of those needs might be on the ground in scary places, and many of us have underlying conditions (or family with them), so no worries if that’s not for everyone.
  • Refer: an even greater contribution might be to tell us if you know someone in a leadership position with a company or organization that might need help, and if so, let’s get on the phone with them to discuss these kinds of opportunities:
    • Companies that are trying to ramp up production of medical devices, parts, or equipment or trying to convert to making a new product (e.g., ventilators)
    • Healthcare organizations that are trying to operate as safely and efficiently as possible during the crisis
    • National, state, and local government organizations that are coordinating various emergency management operations

Just to be clear, this isn’t intended to be a money-making effort for consultants—we’re looking to donate our time on anything that might help win the fight or save lives. We’re even willing to help pay expenses for team members to contribute if necessary and appropriate.

How Governments Can Help

Dodd: I’ll make another final request as well. If you know anyone in national government, please forward them some thoughts about their roles in enabling success. We might be able to help them as well.

Again, we’re not intending to be political here; there are just a few things that every national government can consider to smooth out the medical product supply chain, including:

Patent Release

There are a number of grass-roots innovation efforts out there right now (check out or search the internet for “open source ventilator Ireland”), and they’re doing cool things like combining electric drill motors with other 3D printed parts to make a ventilator design.

The counter-argument is, of course, that verified ventilator product designs already exist and their patents are owned by existing producers. So perhaps we could focus on (1) helping those producers ramp up production, (2) helping component suppliers increase capacity, and (3) allowing other producers to use those validated designs and component specifications to produce even more.

Governments could even compensate patent owners for the temporary release of their patents, for example paying them a royalty for each part or product produced.

Regulatory Easing

In order to allow a new supplier to produce parts that go into a regulated medical device (for example, a ventilator), that supplier would need to go through a streamlined validation process—this is a regulatory requirement to maintain quality and efficacy of those devices, but in normal times that pathway can take years. We need to do it in days.

Price Management

A number of state and local leaders have publicly noted that prices for critical equipment, including both consumables like facemasks and durable goods like ventilators, are currently seeing some wild fluctuations. While we’re not advocating for the nationalization of production capacity, some reasonable price controls might help reduce speculation and smooth out our supply chains.

Hopefully we can all find a way to contribute, and hopefully our national leaders and agencies can help enable that!

Focusing on What Matters

James: Yes, it’s great to talk about something even more important than usual here, and hopefully it’ll help. We appreciate everyone considering how they can make a difference. And we appreciate the support of in helping us share this important message!

Last time we said that our next edition would look at the data that time studies produce and talk about how to use it to make improvements and enhance performance, particularly in the Control Phase. We’ll get back to that topic soon, hopefully in a calmer time! Meanwhile, stay safe out there.

Next Up: The Next Generation of Lean Six Sigma (Part 5): New Tools for a New Normal

As the Managing Partner for Implementation Partners LLC, Dodd leads transformational strategy and performance change efforts for a diverse set of clients, tailoring each client’s journey toward a culture of excellence. Implementation Partners exists to inspire and enable every leader to transform their organizations by giving every employee a chance to contribute their best work on an engaged, sustainable, winning team.A certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, James specializes in driving process improvement efforts by combining business operations and IT strategy to create holistic solutions. He has worked in the public and private sectors in technology (SaaS), consumer products, and distribution logistics industries.

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