So, the blue yarn. What does it mean?
The best way to understand the blue yarn is to follow it. That’s exactly what Dr. Gary Kaplan did. In 1998, he was CEO of Virginia Mason Medical Center, which was losing money. As he searched for a better system to manage the hospital, he ‘wound up’ at a Toyota factory in Japan where he spoke to a sensei familiar with the Toyota Production System.
What he found was something very simple that, at the time, had been around for nearly 100 years. Sakichi Toyoda developed a self-correcting loom that could stop when thread was broken or defective. They ultimately automated the process and made it mistake-proof. This process is called Jidoka, or autonomation, and means automation with human intelligence.
Jidoka is important because it stops a process immediately when a problem first occurs. Not only does it fix the condition, but it ultimately eliminates the root cause of the problem or defect. In an automated Jidoka process, equipment monitors its output (products) independently from operators, thereby enabling operators to operate multiple pieces of equipment and improve productivity.
Why the blue yarn?
Back to the hospital. The sensei used the blue yarn to map the path a patient would follow in a visit through cancer treatment. What they found was a mess. Cancer patients were already low on time and energy, but this ‘process’ had them winding all over the building in a seemingly needless pattern: a waste of time and energy.
When they ‘re-mapped’ the process, the savings from insurance expense alone were 37% and they were able to increase the number of patients without additional staff. Ultimately, they reduced patient receive treatment time by 50%. Dozens of hospitals have since adopted the Virginia Mason Production System. Based on a recent study of US hospitals, for two years Virginia Mason has placed in the top one percent in safety and efficiency.
Clearly, the flow of the process is one piece of the puzzle. Of equal importance is the decision to enable employees to: monitor a process, identify defects, stop the process, fix the problem, identify the root cause, and, ultimately, help eliminate the root cause of defects.
Imagine following a blue yarn through every step of one of your processes, including mistakes, corrections, delays, handoffs, miscommunications, etc. Recurring mistakes building on other recurring mistakes will create a big mess. Now imagine every person in that process having the ability to address those gaps and improve the process. Addressing the root cause will build a mistake-free and efficient process that is much cleaner and direct.
There is a method to achieve this. It starts with:
- Clarity around your dream or whatever it is you want from your business (i.e., ultimate business outcome and whatever ‘freedom’ means to you)
- Your mindset to achieve your dream
- Your decision to use a methodology and management system to bring your dream to life.
Ready to achieve your dream?
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