So I went out of the country and avoided the news media and the New York Times sports a piece on quality improvement in the social services, about how the Toyota corporation ran improvement events (Kaizen events) for the New York City Food Bank. Sorry I missed it. I have so many things to say related to this post that I will have to limit myself to three.
1. Improvement events. Kaizen events. These are words I rarely hear in the social services, even from quality improvement people. When the corporate world recognizes it has a quality problem it strives to bring together the right data and the right people to solve the quality problems. These problem solving sessions can be called Kaizen events. The point here is that they are events, chartered events, with direct marching orders on what is supposed to get fixed, with a charter sponsor, an executive who has owned the problem and is calling for a solution. (You can find an excel template for a charter here). People are expected to drop other duties, come together and spend a 3-4 days understanding the problem and working out and testing out solutions that are implemented soon (as in the next Tuesday). These meetings are often (or at least at first) facilitated by quality experts, using some set protocols and sets of potential domains of solutions.
Social service agencies (at best) appoint committees who meet sporadically to address vaguely defined problems with little guidance on how to fix them. The social services need kaizen. It needs chartered improvement events.
2. The Times piece was great, but it really played into the strengths of the Toyota engineers in that the problems presented to them were ones of efficiency. It was taking too long to get served at a meals site. It was taking too long for people to shop at the food bank "store." These are problems made for lean technologies. Presented with other social service quality problems --let's say, case managers who are not performing the job as prescribed -- and the Toyota technologies may not be so persuasively successful.
3. An expeditor. A lean solution often involves making things flow better and something like an expeditor often helps the flow. In the Food Bank solution to long wait times at a meals site, one solution was to use a person whose job was to point out empty seats to consumers who looking for a seat to eat a meal. This is an expeditor. This is the person who points to the shortest security line at the airport. This is the floater person in restaurant kitchen who prepares plates and helps organize flow of orders out of the kitchen. On the assembly line floor, the expeditor realizes line A is overwhelmed and temporarily diverts the line to line C, where people are waiting for work. It raises the question: where are the expeditors in the social services? What problem could an expeditor help fix?