When asked how she became the first lean leader in Saskatoon Health Region, as well as the province of Saskatchewan, Cheryl MacMillan humbly chalks it up to timing.

Cheryl MacMillan is the Region’s first certified lean leader.

“I just got lucky,” she laughs. “For me, the timing worked out really well. There’s going to be lots of people who are going to get their certification very soon.”

On October 19, MacMillan received her lean leader certification, an accomplishment she has worked on since January 2012. As manager of Operating Room Quality and Efficiency, continuous improvement is part of MacMillan’s work. “My job is to look at quality and efficiency in Surgery between the three urban acute care hospitals,” she says. “So I’ve already been working on improving quality, efficiency and safety but lean leader training has just given me structure and the tools to do it in a better way.”

Having a patient representative involved in a kaizen event, like a rapid process improvement workshop (RPIW) also brings a unique perspective to the process. “We think we know what patients want because we’ve either been a patient ourselves or we’ve had family members in hospital,” MacMillan explains. “But we also know and understand the system. When you have someone in the room who only knows the system from the patient perspective and they are sharing what they see and what they want, it’s very important and very grounding.”

Having worked with the Region for more than 25 years, MacMillan says that the most fascinating thing about lean is how it brings people from all different disciplines and departments together. “Every event that I’ve been involved in, I’ve heard someone say ‘I didn’t know that you did that’ or ‘I didn’t know this was the reason you wanted us to do it this way’. So when you are working on improving a process, lean really gets those multi-disciplinary groups together and allows them to see how things work in different departments on the other side of the process.”

The pace of the Region’s improvement work has been hectic and it can create some challenges. “Everything in a RPIW can happen so fast and managing that change can be tricky,” says MacMillan. “Change can be difficult for anyone and because not everyone is familiar with this process, or with lean concepts, this adds another dimension to that change management.”

However, watching the change that happens within the teams makes the difficulties worthwhile. “Bonds form across departments and team members become friends,” explains Macmillan. “It’s very rewarding to see groups come together for the joint cause of making things better.”

Overall, the lean leadership training has taught MacMillan a lot about lean tools and concepts. But one lesson rises above the rest. “We can improve the system. We can make it better for our patients. There needs to be a shift from thinking that we can’t make it better to asking how we can,” she says. “It can be done.”