Lean Response to COVID-19
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Lean Response to COVID-19

We know that Lean can collapse cycle time by 75% or more. Here’s what that means for COVID-19:

“Hi, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma for Hospitals” and QI Macros [software].

“If you’ve ever done any Lean projects, you know pretty much if the process is this long {gestures}, with Value Stream Mapping and Spaghetti Diagramming, you can collapse that by maybe 75%, 80%, 90%. You can actually reduce the cycle time for almost anything and do it easily.

“One of the things that is creating optimism for me is that a few years ago I worked with an aerospace manufacturing company, and typically to get a Request For Proposal through, it was 1.9 years for any new part. That’s 21 months. Well, when we looked at it, it turned out that about 80% of the parts being requested were similar to things they’d already done. And so we were able to collapse the cycle time for that particular RFP/RFQ to 40 days.

“That’s a big reduction, right? From 21 months to just about a month and a half. Dramatic improvements are possible. That’s one of the nice things. For the 20% that were really unknown, it took longer; I think they got it down to 9 months because then you had to figure out what it really meant to produce that.

“I see the same thing right now with the COVID-19 issue. COVID-19 is actually a variant of the SARS virus that came out about 10 years ago. So, number 1, we know how to build vaccines for SARS-1. There are a number of drug treatments that came out for SARS-1 and those have already been approved, right? So COVID-19 is a variant of the original SARS so we know a lot about it, so it’s not like we have to relearn everything and invent new stuff all the time. There are probably things out there that will treat the disease (at least, in some way, shape or form) or give us insight into how we can treat this disease. So I think we’re going to see instead of it taking months and years to come up with a drug treatment program for COVID-19, I think we already have stuff and I think we’re going to see that come into being very quickly. I think we’re already seeing some of that, we just don’t know precisely which ones will roll out and which ones will not quite work, because it is a variant.

“Now the other thing that I know is that normally it takes 18 months to build a vaccine, but that’s because you don’t know anything about it, right? Even the flu vaccine, they guess what it’s going to be and then it’s not really very effective when it comes out. The year I got the flu it was about 14% effective, so it didn’t really protect a lot of people, right? We picked the wrong flu as being the one that was going to show up. But now with COVID-19, we know what that is, and we know how to build a vaccine for its earlier variant, SARS-1.

“So I’m betting that we can collapse the cycle time to create a vaccine dramatically. And for those of you who’ve been around Lean, you know that most of the time the thing that slows everything down is approvals. So our approval cycle time… we’re going to have to squish all the air out of that and get it down to get approvals going. So that’s why I think by the end of September or early October we could start to see a vaccine starting to roll out. Now, it’s going to take a while to ramp up production to get it out to everybody so that’ll take some time. Probably medical people will get it first, old people like me will get it second, and everybody else will get it third… but you get the idea.

“That’s why I’m wildly optimistic that the cycle time for this process can be dramatically reduced. The news media is quoting what it takes normally to do this. Well, guess what? These ain’t normal times and we already know what this thing acts like because we have SARS-1 as version 1.0 of all these drugs and vaccines. So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. If you’ve already got something and you know how to do it, then maybe you can collapse the cycle time for a Request For Proposal or Request For Quote / Vaccine / Medicine, whatever it is because you know what it is and how it works. So we can do that collapsing. That’s the great thing about Lean: any process can be collapsed.

“So that’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s go out and improve something. “

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