Where Does Improvement Begin?

In February 2014, I was at the Lean Healthcare Awards, presenting as a finalist in the Lean Champion category when I was asked how I had started on my improvement journey? I suddenly remembered a chance conversation from the start of my career that had inspired me for more than 15 years. Perhaps it can inspire you too.

Putting the Customer or the Patient First

Since 2006, I have worked on various assignments as a Senior Manager in the National Institute of Health Research Networks, increasingly specialising in service and systems improvement. But, for eight years before that, I worked in the software industry for companies like Hewlett-Packard (France) and Micromuse Inc., a specialist in network management.

I worked as a usability specialist, designing user interfaces, writing online help and user manuals. My job was to make the systems we built as simple as possible for our customers, hiding complexity and enabling efficient use. I now channel the same desire to improve to ensuring patients get the best possible service from the organisations I run.

I had Kaizen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen) in my bones long before I knew what it was.

How Developers Can Inspire

At HP, I worked with one of the best programmers I have ever met. Not your typical programmer of cliché; he was dapper, eloquent and had arrived in software via a classical education and a passion for mathematics. We shared a drive to make things simple for our customers.

One day our team was struggling with a seemingly intractable coding problem, when a fix emerged. It looked like we could all go home, but my colleague was not satisfied. He stayed back to work on it some more. When I asked him why, he gave a simple, powerful reply:

“Because we have yet to find an elegant solution.”

When he found that solution a few days later, he solved a thousand problems in one, because the code flowed perfectly. Ingenious simplicity.

So, whatever problems you face today, look for the elegant solution and you may just inspire yourself.