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Happy August readers. This week we are discussing the merits of the Lean Model Cell, or Model Line.

The Lean Model Cell is an alternative or supplementary method of introducing Lean thinking to an organisation. It is an approach which has been said, by internationally recognised consultant Mark Graban among others, to be effective for introducing Lean in particularly complex organisations such as those in the healthcare sector, but more broadly has been cited as a solution to a problem that we have certainly encountered in our work in St Andrews and beyond – the wall of excuses!

You probably know how it goes; “there is no evidence to support this”, “it won’t work for us”, “there’s not enough benefit in doing it”, and so on and so forth as our appositely named ‘Wall of Excuses’ indeed encapsulates. You want to introduce lean thinking in your organisation, but you encounter opposition at different levels to differing degrees across the very departments that need to effectively work individually and collaboratively so as to properly embed lean thinking in that organisation.

And that is where the Lean Model Cell is said to come in; an incubator of sorts dedicated to getting Lean up and running on a small scale in order to provide a testing ground free from organisational resistance, allowing for the proof of effectiveness which in turn breaks down resistance and allows for broader implementation. In the case of Toyota who originally developed the concept, a big part of the idea was to ensure managers would ‘gain trust’ in a new approach before rolling it out to the whole manufacturing plant, to quote Liker and Convis’ 2012 book the Toyota Way to Lean Leadership. And as you all no doubt know, for a new approach to gain real traction, Manager support is central.

In other words, to use a slightly wintery metaphor that might, for our European readers at least, take the mind off the hot and humid weather of late, part of the Lean Model Cell’s purpose is to thaw the ‘frozen ground’ of organisational resistance to open it up for the cultivation that produces on a broader scale the results we so often talk about and indeed facilitate here at St Andrews Lean Consulting. Though I will stress that our Managing Director Mark will not be ditching his day job to take up farming any time soon.

So what does a Lean Model Cell look like in practical terms? An excellent outline is provided by Mark Graban himself in his 2008 book Lean Hospitals:

‘Rather than trying to implement a Lean method (or set of methods) throughout the entire hospital, an effective approach is to establish a model line around one department (such as the pharmacy or a laboratory) or one particular patient pathway (such as patient flow starting at arrival to the ED). Creating a limited model line scope reduces the time required to implement a full set of Lean methods and management systems. Implementing Lean in a department of 100 people is far less intimidating than trying to spread the same ideas across 5,000 employees all at once.’

As far as what this might look like on our home turf of higher education,  perhaps a Lean operation over in the admissions department that spreads across once it gets up and running, or maybe a more departmental approach as that mooted by Professor William Balzer of Bowling Green State University in his Lean Higher Education Seminar in 2016, with a possible “model cell” in School XXX’.

So what do you think? Could the Lean Model Cell lack the dynamism and purpose of Rapid Improvement Events? (Bring out the wall of no excuses/”wall of opportunities” in HE Lean Practitioner Svein Are Tjeldnes’ words!) Or is this the harmonious way to embed Lean thinking into an organisation? Or maybe they could just complement each other? Feel free to let us know your thoughts!

Our very fine poster on the subject:

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