A Case Study in Efficiency: Lean Six Sigma and the Comparative Medicine Unit

Every department has them – required inspections or reports that must be done but come to be dreaded because they take valuable time away from other important work. For NEOMED’s Comparative Medicine Unit (CMU), one major – and often draining – endeavor has been to complete the Institutional Animal Care of and Use Committee (IACUC) Semi-Annual Inspection (SAI) of its animal areas. These required inspections have been a major time investment for the animal users and for CMU staff, who have many other responsibilities to keep the CMU operational. 

Stan Dannemiller, D.V.M., director of the CMU, and Tricia Sloan, regulatory affairs coordinator III, thought there was a way to make this process more efficient. Through their participation in the Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification program offered to all NEOMED employees, they learned to use proven techniques to better streamline the process – with remarkable results.  

First, they took a step back to evaluate the inefficiencies in the old process.

Using LSS tools, the colleagues discovered that there were three main issues bogging down the SAI: 

  • Mission creep - the unnecessary expansion of the inspection and continued attention to historical concerns that had long since been corrected
  • Unnecessary wait times because of inefficient scheduling of lab visits
  • Use of a form that was too long and shuttled between parties much more than necessary 

Using the Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training they attended together in weekly sessions, Dannemiller and Sloan addressed the various inefficiencies they found. 

They supplied the primary investigators (PIs) with the latest inspection document as part of the sign-up procedure to avoid having to answer questions that already had documented answers. 

They scheduled visits to groups of labs located close together to avoid having the SAI team waste time trekking back and forth across campus. 

They redesigned the forms to avoid collecting unnecessary information. And they arranged for everyone involved to be trained to use OneDrive to share documents, instead of uploading documents to each individual’s computer.  

Small changes, big results

These seemingly minor changes added up to a remarkable result. Sloan reduced the time needed to inspect each lab from 30 minutes to 20 minutes – saving more than 20 hours for the inspection process overall. 

With that success in hand, Dannemiller and Sloan want to keep going. One major change they’re considering is to divide the report into three sections: regulatory requirement issues; current issues regarding laboratory animal science that the IACUC needs to know; and better understanding of the “voice of the customer,” a concept they learned about in LSS training – and the one that they believe will have the most significant impact on time and cost savings, as well as for improved laboratory evaluations.

Because of their participation in the Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt program, the duo is now empowered to continue improving a formerly cumbersome process – and to do the same with other processes in their jobs.  

All are invited to attend the Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Recognition Ceremony on Wednesday, June 16, at 1 p.m. to learn about the many projects that have already made an impact at NEOMED. 

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