The two sites visited were an aircraft engine overhaul facility, and the other a manufacturing centre for cell technologies used in drug discovery
Attendees heard how GE manages operational performance day to day, saw the scorecards and dashboards used to keep metrics ‘in the green’ in safety and quality critical areas, and heard how GE has instilled a culture of continuous improvement
A group of UK healthcare representatives attended two GE sites in Cardiff, Wales, to highlight continuous improvement techniques and a culture that could help improve efficiency and performance of hospitals in the UK
How is an aircraft engine like a hospital patient? Seemingly not at all, but a group of UK healthcare representatives, many holding senior positions in the National Health Service (NHS), learned otherwise on a visit to two GE sites in Cardiff, Wales, to highlight continuous improvement techniques and a culture that could help improve efficiency and performance of hospitals in the UK.
“Clearly an aircraft engine is very different from a patient” explained Mark Ebbens, UK Principal of GE Healthcare’s Performance Solutions, who advises on operational excellence and capacity management. “But when you learn how meticulously an engine is looked after when it comes into GE Aviation’s overhaul facility, you start to see the similarities between its experience and that of a hospital patient. The engine comes in needing maintenance, a service, or in some cases complete overhaul. The engineers need to have a bay ready for it, check its fluid levels, examine its internals, diagnose its ailments, map its progress through the facility, keep tabs on it throughout, ensure it’s totally healthy, and then get it out the door – freeing up capacity for the next engine. All the way through, quality of care is paramount“.
The visit was billed as a chance for participants to learn how GE has established a culture of high performance and continuous improvement, and to see the practical steps taken to embed it throughout the organization. At every stage, attendees were encouraged to consider how what they were seeing could apply to the systems used in their hospitals.
The two sites visited, GE Aviation and GE Healthcare Life Sciences, were very different in terms of their activities – one an aircraft engine overhaul facility, the other a manufacturing centre for cell technologies used in drug discovery – but there are many similarities in the way they manage their operations and drive quality, improvement and change.
Attendees heard how GE manages operational performance day to day, saw the scorecards and dashboards used to keep metrics ‘in the green’ in safety and quality critical areas, heard how GE has instilled a culture of continuous improvement – through skills, training and leadership measured on improvement criteria, and saw how the company encourages innovation, improvement and positive change in the workforce through reward and recognition.
The day began with a presentation and tour of GE Aviation, which repairs, maintains and overhauls engines from some of the world’s leading airlines. There are 90 to 100 engines on the floor at any one time.
“An engine will last up to 40 years in service, so maintenance, overhaul and repair is absolutely critical. The most important thing is the quality of the product we return to the customer” said Jeff Kennelly, Operations Leader at GE Aviation, Cardiff, who outlined how Lean Six Sigma, a managerial concept resulting in the elimination of waste and the optimization of quality, helps them run their operation as efficiently as possible. Such techniques are invaluable but our people have the most crucial role in ensuring that quality remains the priority.
“We reward our employees for flagging any quality issues, even if they have been at fault themselves. If there’s a quality issue, whatever the reason, we want to know about it, and we’ll applaud that. A blame culture is the last thing we want when we’re dealing with something as critical as aircraft engines.”
Patients aren’t all the same
“Patients are less predictable than engines!” challenged one attendee from the NHS.
“That’s true to a point” Jeff replied. “But in fact each engine has its own personality depending on where it has been flying, and in what conditions. They’re not all in the best of health and we need to be prepared for the unexpected. Our customers need their engines back on time – not early and certainly not late. That means we have to be absolutely rigorous in our time planning and have a plan in place in case something doesn’t run according to plan. So scenario planning is absolutely essential. Lean Six Sigma comes into play here because it limits variation and helps reduce bottlenecks. If some of the kit breaks down – and that happens of course – what’s the plan? How quickly can we get it serviced, or replaced? What’s the plan B to make sure the quality and delivery times are unaffected?”
Mark Ebbens from the Performance Solutions team explains “Of course Healthcare has its own unique challenges. Emotions, for example, can play a part; if a patient dies, it’s going to have an emotional impact on the nurse or doctor and it might understandably prevent them operating as efficiently as they could. So contingency planning is also important – in that instance, who can take up the reins, or perhaps that nurse or doctor could work on something less imperative at those times. These are human factors which we cannot control, but we can plan for.”
Putting people at the centre
Part two of the visit focused on GE Healthcare’s Life Sciences facility which has seen huge investment in the last decade as it shifted its business focus from the manufacture of isotopes to cell technologies, DNA capture, and the development of devices for pharmaceutical drug manufacture and discovery. The Life Sciences team emphasized the role of people in delivering quality and efficiency, and explained how they look to instill a culture where all employees are individually empowered to understand their role and to play their part in fulfilling the operation’s single strategic vision and purpose. Attendees were shown practical examples of where and how ideas generated by employees designed to improve efficiency have been developed and implemented.
Metrics form the basis of Life Science’s ‘Continuous Improvement Rooms’ where gaps are left for employees to fill in their data – consistently emphasizing their place in the broader operation, maximizing quality control and eliminating variance. Elsewhere ‘natural fit’ programs identify skills and qualities under-utilized by employees and look for areas to apply them.
Kevin Gauci, Production Manager at the Life Sciences facility said “With this sort of size and scale, the right sort of leadership is imperative. A collaborative leader operating with humility and respect is key. I like to think of it as a reverse pyramid – the guys on the shop floor are the priority – they’re the heartbeat. Everyone else needs to help those operators who are touching the products to do their jobs and get these products through the system. I guess there are parallels there with the nurses, doctors and surgeons on the front line with the patients every day.
Deborah Burrows, Head of Transformation at Portsmouth Hospital explained “We have tried to implement Lean at Portsmouth, so this visit gave us the opportunity to see Lean operating in a different environment and to look at the processes, without getting sidetracked by all the Healthcare going on around us! I’ve been very impressed by the standard metrics GE uses, so everyone reports in the same way and it’s all understandable and transferrable between departments.“
“This was a very rich learning experience” said Liz Tiebe, Director of NHS Leadership Academy. “The visit focused on how to embed quality into the DNA of an organization, as well as the critical role of great leadership and communication at each level of the organization. We also learnt how to make a three year strategy real for the people on the ground”
“All of the management team at GE Life Sciences impressed me with the attention to organizational culture” said Margaret Roberts, Consultant and PhD undergraduate at Harvard Vanguard. “It was refreshing and heartening to see that.”