Your life. Our life’s work: Reflections from May 2012 mistake-proofing tour

Car crash blog 2012-05-22

Autoliv ( estimates that 25,000 lives are saved each year because of the airbags they produce for several automobile manufacturers worldwide. Their motto –Your life. Our life’s work — embodies their commitment to automobile safety.  Saving lives. Hmmm…sounds like another industry I know.

Last week, I had the privilege of learning from this inspiring company alongside colleagues from HQC and Five Hills Health Region. Our visit was part of a Mistake Proofing Study Tour.

What did I see?  A lot of things that we don’t commonly see in our health care system…yet:

  • An incredible visual management system that cascades vital performance intelligence from where the work is being done all the way up to top management.  The clarity and line of sight is powerful: It’s self-explaining, enables self-direction, and most importantly, facilitates real time self-improvement. To paraphrase: the right information for the right person at the right time.
  • Recognition that excellence resides within and is the result having of a highly engaged and valued workforce. This company doesn’t leave to chance the building and nurturing of  behaviors essential in a continuous improvement culture.  Improvement ideas that come from those doing the work are regularly applauded and prominently displayed on the shop floor – which demonstrates to everyone that continuous improvement is expected and celebrated.
  • Leaders who ‘go and see’ the work daily; Rather than bring answers, they ask questions because they know and trust their associates have the knowledge and creativity to test changes and make improvements.

This company began its Lean journey about 15 years ago.  Their commitment to zero defects means they never stop asking “why?” and testing ideas that get them closer to that target (by the way, they’re currently at 8 defects per 1,000,000 units delivered).

Our health care system is not defect free.  Some say it can never be.  Autoliv isn’t complacent when it comes to safety.  Nor can we be.  We have much to learn and far to go.

Perhaps my most important takeaway from this visit was the unwavering commitment to bringing value to the customer. Whether it’s building airbags, or caring for people who are sick or hurt, this important work demands our undivided, unrelenting attention, each and every day.

The next time I hear someone say health care has little in common and nothing to learn from manufacturing industry, I will use that opportunity share the inspiring story of Autoliv’s continuous improvement journey.

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