Lean at Denver Health

Denver Health's Unique Approach to Lean

Unlike many other hospitals in the nation who only implement select Lean tools, Denver Health has installed a unique strategy-based approach to Lean systems deployment:

  • Lean Management Systems: Lean provides a philosophy, methods and tools that enhance our organization's success in today’s changing healthcare environment. A robust Lean Management System (LMS) promotes a culture of rapid learning and improvement at all levels of the organization. Such a culture creates an organization that is not just responsive, but one that identifies and navigates challenges proactively, efficiently and successfully. LMS is an intentional leadership development program that develops Lean leaders across the organization and motivates and sustains a Lean culture. Among other things, the LMS program emphasizes developing leadership skills; aligns and strengthens the Denver Health strategic planning process to our department annual plans, pillar metrics, balanced scorecards, and visual management boards; and stresses accountability at all levels of staff to meet departmental and organizational goals.
  • Lean Tools Deployment: Rapid Improvement Events (RIEs) and other Lean tools are carried out in selected cross-sections of the system called Value Streams. Each Value Stream conducts an analysis (VSA) to define an improvement plan which includes RIEs, A3 problem solving, project implementation and "Just-do-Its." Value Stream metrics are identified, tracked and reported directly to executive staff.

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History of Lean at Denver Health

In 2005, Denver Health began to embrace the Toyota Production System and its Lean principles. The goal was to identify waste and improve efficiency. Denver's safety net hospital, with 525 licensed beds, was ready to undergo a cultural change that would allow it to remain financially stable and continue providing high-quality patient care in the presence of uncompensated care and declining reimbursements. Since then, Denver Health has experienced unparalleled success integrating the Lean philosophy into its culture:

  • Denver Health is the first healthcare organization in the world to be awarded The Shingo Bronze Medallion for Operational Excellence.
  • Denver Health has involved more than 2,000 of its employees in Lean improvements.

Why Denver Health Chose Lean

Originally developed for the manufacturing industry, Lean has found great success in the healthcare setting. Denver Health selected the Lean methodology for the following reasons:

  • Total package: a philosophy, set of principles and a tool set
  • The philosophy fits healthcare
  • The tool set is intuitive
  • It generates meaningful employee engagement
  • The results are rapid
  • Power to change culture