Talking Kaizen and Lean with Mark Hamel

Mark Hamel

In this week’s interview, we are highlighting the expertise of Mark Hamel, a leader in lean and six sigma implementation, as well as an established author and blogger. He authored a book entitled, “Kaizen Event Fieldbook” and is an avid blogger for In this interview he answers questions related to Kaizen and Lean in the field of Healthcare. In addition, he also discusses the key components within his book.

How can the tactics associated with Kaizen benefit the effectiveness of how healthcare facilities operate?

Mark Hamel – Kaizen is universal and therefore applies to all industries. Here we should distinguish between system-driven kaizen, which is predominately kaizen events pulled by value stream improvement plans, and principle-driven kaizen which is system-driven kaizen, plus (mostly) daily kaizen. Principle-driven kaizen is the kaizen true north. Healthcare value streams are primarily about the flow of patients and the value added to them (diagnostics, treatment, consultation, etc.) and the flow of information. That said, there are other healthcare related value streams around things like the flow of tests materials, prescriptions, etc. as well as traditional business support streams – talent acquisition, accounts payable, and so on. Kaizen is “simply” the rigorous application of PDCA (plan-do-check-adjust) and it’s brother SDCA (standardize-do-check-adjust)…ultimately by every person, every day.

In your opinion, how does Lean improve the safety structure in Healthcare?

Mark Hamel – Lean is about making things easier, better, faster and cheaper. The Toyota Way pillars are continuous improvement and respect for people. So, lean, by definition, should be wholly concerned about the safety and well-being of the patient and that of the healthcare providers and staff. Certainly, kaizen helps address some big drivers of safety – waiting, excess motion, transportation, excess inventory (think about expired medications) and defects to name a few. As improvements are made, standards are implemented or, if they already exist, are elevated (see SDCA). These standards ensure that healthcare is administered in the best way we know how to do it right now –whether it is how we admit a patient, prep a patient for surgery, ensure that instruments, meds, and materials are properly identified and presented to the healthcare worker, patients are moved from gurney to bed in the safest and most ergonomic manner, etc. As we apply SDCA’s leader standard work, we continuously ensure that we are adhering to the standards and we also assess whether the standards are sufficient. In a kaizen culture, with the help of an effective lean management system, providers and staff are constantly identifying, acknowledging and fixing problems.

What was the main purpose behind writing “Kaizen Event FieldBook” and how can it be beneficial to others just starting the lean journey?

Mark Hamel – I wrote the Fieldbook because I saw a distinct lack of understanding about kaizen and I witnessed a lot of kaizen event malpractice. Ineffective kaizen events can quickly maim or kill a fledgling lean transformation. The Fieldbook takes the lean practitioner through the foundations of kaizen, the role of lean leadership within kaizen, strategy, kaizen event standard work around pre-event planning, execution and follow-through, and ultimately how to develop internal kaizen promotion office capabilities. The book is less about tools and more about the thinking and framework. So, while it may be used as a sort of “cookbook,” it should really help folks understand and apply kaizen events more deeply and effectively. This should result in more effective events, better, faster, and more sustainable results and, most importantly, organizational learning and growth that will position the company for principle-driven kaizen.

How has your book, “Kaizen Event Fieldbook” made an impact in your life?

Mark Hamel – The personal impact of the Fieldbook is three-fold. First, it was an affirmation that I could contribute something to the lean community. That really felt (and feels) good. Secondly, it has given me the encouragement to continue sharing. For example, we recently launched a new blog, Lean Math, to provide some help for math-assisted kaizen. Thirdly, I have had the opportunity to meet a bunch of great folks in the lean community – fellow practitioners, bloggers, and authors.

Mark R. Hamel Bio

Mark brings experience gained from a successful 19-year career in industry and a decade as a lean implementation coach. An award-winning author, he has played a transformative role in lean implementations across a broad range of industries including aerospace and defense, automotive, building products, business services, chemical, durable goods, electronics, insurance, healthcare and transportation. Mark has successfully coached lean leaders and associates at both the strategic and tactical level. He has facilitated many hundreds of kaizen events and conducted numerous training sessions and workshops.

Mark’s pre-consulting career encompassed executive and senior positions within operations, strategic planning, business development and finance. His most recent industry roles included that of COO, VP of Operations and Director of Strategic Planning. Mark’s lean education and experience began in the early 1990’s when he conceptualized and helped launch what resulted in a Shingo Prize winning effort at the Ensign-Bickford Company.

Mark holds a BS in Mathematics from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, MS in Professional Accounting from the University of Hartford and a MA in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is a CPA in the state of Connecticut and is dual American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) certified in production and inventory management (CPIM) and integrated resource management (CIRM). Mark is a national Shingo Prize examiner. He helped develop exam questions for the AME/SME/Shingo/ASQ Lean Certification. Mark authored the Society of Manufacturing Engineers published book, Kaizen Event Fieldbook: Foundation, Framework, and Standard Work for Effective Events. The Fieldbook was a recipient of a 2010 Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award. Mark is also the founder of the lean blog, Gemba Tales, co-founder of the Lean Math blog, and a regular columnist for Quality Digest. He is a faculty member of the Lean Enterprise Institute.

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