Empowering Problem Solvers with Dr. Billi
August 11, 2021
by Cj Pettus
Lean Healthcare instructor Dr. Jack Billi recently shared some of his experiences and insights about the transformative five-day course.
We recently sat down with renowned continuous improvement expert Dr. Jack Billi. As the lead faculty member for Nexus’ Lean Healthcare program, Dr. Billi has a wealth of knowledge about Lean and continuous improvement topics. He shared some of his experiences and insights about Lean Healthcare, the five-day non-credit course.
HOW HAVE LEAN PRINCIPLES AND STRATEGIES IMPACTED YOUR CAREER?
Dr. Billi: I have to say that I was an amateur problem solver until I discovered Lean thinking.
Once I discovered this basic science, I was like a kid in the candy store. All of the sudden, instead of flailing around, just throwing solutions at problems, I could actually take a step back and systematize my thinking. What was the gap I was seeing? Why was this important? How is this work done now? How can I see what’s happening? How can I ask people who are doing the work what’s going on in their problems? What ideas do they have about solving their problems—what do they think the causes are? What experiment do they want to try first? And how do they want to run it? Who’s going to do what when?
That simple, systematic, sort of A3 in a nutshell is an approach that I use, essentially, every day in my life and work. I’d say Lean thinking consolidated my problem solving skills and strategies in a way that has transformed my life.
WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO TEACH LEAN HEALTHCARE?
Dr. Billi: I’ve been involved in this course for over 15 years, when I first discovered Lean thinking as an empowerment strategy for problem solving and realized its tremendous power in healthcare. I realized we needed to have a way to communicate this powerful method to other people in our institution and throughout the country.
The reason that I like it so much is that—unlike a lot of other workshops or training experiences—this is hands-on, using real-world problems. Teams come, bring a problem that they need to solve, and they learn about problem solving while working on their own real-world problem. So it’s interactive, small-group, hands-on learning. . . (when possible) with intact work teams who are working on their own real work problems. It’s the best kind of learning to do. It’s complemented by, of course, lectures and brief vignettes and videos and lots of questions and answers by the learners who are working on their own problem with their own team—and hopefully learning skills that they’ll then be able to continue growing and using when they’re back in their home institutions.
IF SOMEONE WERE TO ASK YOU WHY THEY SHOULD TAKE THE LEAN HEALTHCARE COURSE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Dr. Billi: If people asked me why they should take this course, I’d say, ‘think about your workday and how long you go in your workday before you run into a problem.’ A lot of times people don’t even see it as a problem, it’s the workaround, it’s the way they get through. There’s a [paraphrased] quote from a famous Toyota leader [Fujio Cho], “Brilliant people, broken processes, and mediocre results.” So when you think about your work, often that’s what you see. So what we’re trying to do is empower people to be able to fix those broken processes.
What we want to do, though, is instead of having people feel like they’re victims to these broken processes, and just feel overworked and burned out, we’d like to empower people to take responsibility, pull the authority to be able to make the changes and start improving the processes.
The only people who should take this course are people who see problems in their organizations.
WHAT FEEDBACK DO YOU HEAR FROM PARTICIPANTS ABOUT LEAN HEALTHCARE?
Dr. Billi: I’ve had people tell me—one guy who was the head of human resources, another was the head of marketing for a health system—that this was the best professional development experience they had in their entire career.
And people give us constructive feedback as well. This didn’t work so well for them, they found this part was a little slow, which is why I read every word that people give us in feedback, especially the open-ended comments. We modify this program every time we run it based on what we’ve heard and what we need to do in the future.
HOW HAS THE COURSE EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
Dr. Billi: The course has changed dramatically, and the biggest changes have come just in the past 24 months as COVID hit. We went from having this very successful, hands-on small group and moved it to a virtual program. We ran the program several times virtually. We used jamboards and other sharing technology to still have the interactive group feel to it.
We’ve learned a lot from the virtual experience and plan to bring what we’ve learned into the real-world setting, especially some of the sharing technologies—virtual and electronic sharing technologies—that I think can be powerful. The whole purpose of the course is do try this at home, not don’t try this at home. We’re trying to encourage and empower people to bring this back.