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  • Susan Snedaker

A Note From Your Customer

I'm in the midst of a remodeling project at my house right now. I've learned a lot about how this process works, but I've also learned a lot about how it's broken. The thing that stands out most in my mind is how absolutely simple it is to communicate effectively and how absolutely abysmal most companies are at doing so. Why is that?

As I looked at the situation, a few things came to mind. First, in the Lean world, there is going to gemba or gathering the voice of the customer. In my case, the project manager came on site (that is, to my house amid dust and debris) and oversaw progress. However, he always came when I wasn't around - it seemed he was actively avoiding me. He didn't return emails or phone calls or voice messages. I began to think it was personal, though I truly couldn't fathom why. What he (and the company) did not do was ever ask me how things were going from my perspective. They never stopped by when I was there, they never responded to my emails, though they acted upon them.

The second thing that came to mind was that this process was so second-nature to them that perhaps they've forgotten how awful it is to have your house torn up and your daily rhythms disrupted. Maybe they don't care.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to the work we do in healthcare IT. I wondered how well we communicate with our customers. For example,

- Do we announce changes and never forget to tell the end user ?

- Do we provide information or educational materials for process changes?

- Do we ask when is the best (or least worst) time to implement a change?

- Do we ask how things are going, in general, in the various areas of the hospital?

If I'm honest, the answer is No. We are not perfect, but it's also not infrequently that we forget these basic considerations. So, why is that?

Well, we're busy, we're dealing with ten things at once, we're short-staffed and overloaded. All fair statements, but still, that doesn't quite get at the root cause. So, what else?

There are two primary drivers of this problem, in my view. First, there often is no one out there that we specifically can address. Who exactly should we tell and when should we notify them? When it's not clear, we typically just blaze past this item and move on. Second, there is no process in place that a) requires communication occur and b) provides a standard mechanism for doing so.

And, as with so many issues in any business, the problem boils down to a broken process and a lack of standard work.

So, if you've ever gotten complaints about lack of transparency or lack of communication from IT, think about what's broken in your process. And, as I did here, start asking why until you get to an answer that sounds most basic and most true. Then get busy and fix it.

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