Embracing Virtual Facilitation to Remove Boundaries in Continuous Improvement

Melissa Lin

In the COVID-19 pandemic era, healthcare organizations around the world are finding themselves scratching their heads about how to practice continuous improvement, or kaizen, when masks and physical distancing are new societal norms. How can we observe waste on the genba – the area where the work happens – when more of us are asked to work remotely for safety? How can we bring an RPIW team together to test new ideas when distancing is required? How can we brainstorm without sticky notes? The pandemic has called into question the mental valleys we may hold dear about how to conduct continuous improvement, along with many other standard healthcare processes previously agreed to be the norm.

But the urgent need for improvement waits for no one. One of our favorite mantras remind us not to delay for too long: “There is never a good time for improvement.” So, why wait? By breaking down the philosophy of continuous improvement into its basic building blocks, there are ways to harvest new ideas and perform PDSAs while ensuring the safety of your team members, patients, and involved stakeholders.

In our own exploration of continuous improvement during a pandemic, we have uncovered some surprising advantages that we did not realize in the past. For example, holding a kaizen activity on a process that was predominantly information flow was often deemed difficult to achieve in a traditional physical setting. With technological advantages and participants joining with a 1:1 person-to-screen ratio, the event leader can share their screen, giving everyone a personal, intimate view of the operator’s process steps live. Essentially, we can now lead a virtual genba walk without huddling en masse around a single computer! Team members have also shared how elements of familiarity, like sticking to standardized forms and templates associated with continuous improvement, help to offer comfort and focus while they adapt to all the other changes. The marriage of innovation and standard work shines through as we rethink how to tackle continuous improvement in new ways.

Visit our updated Tools page to download new virtual improvement tip sheets to help you hold a kaizen activity in person or through technology that doesn’t sacrifice the power of kaizen or one’s safety. If you have any tips or best practices to add, please share with us!

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