Guest Blog – What is the Big Deal about Identifying Waste?

Steph Van Vreede, Operations Manager at the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value, shares Lean lessons from her garden.


“What is the big deal about looking for waste? I am getting my job done, hitting deadlines, things are going smoothly.”  Ever hear this line of reasoning from staff?  As long as customers are not  complaining, some don’t see a need to take a second look at their processes with an eye to improvement, identifying gaps, and looking for waste.  I used to have that “don’t rock the boat” attitude, too, until I saw the benefits—not only for myself, but for the customer.  Let’s take a walk around my garden, and I’ll explain.

After a few minutes in my company you’ll discover my passion—gardening.  As with any job—gardening included—there are processes that must be followed to ensure a great outcome.  From starting seedlings in late winter, to working up the earth, planting, weeding, harvesting, and closing the garden to rest until the following spring, there are specific steps that must be taken along the way.  The garden is my value stream.

How does this apply to identifying waste?  Every gardener wants a good crop yield, and to do this the gardener must constantly be experimenting and looking for opportunities to maximize space and grow healthy plants.  One of the first steps is to look for weeds.  But, we have to be able to identify those weeds, distinguishing them from the vegetable plants.  In a well-organized garden, rows of plants are marked, often with a picture of what the plant looks like.  Anything that doesn’t match gets plucked out, creating an environment where the veggies can thrive on the soil’s nutrients, not being drained by weeds—waste.  The more weeds you pull, the less often you will have to do it, providing more time to prune (or add another garden).  (There’s actually quite a P-D-S-A cycle gardeners go through, which might make for another blog post in the future.)

Have you ever seen a gardener’s shed?  Everything is in its place—shovels, hoes, rakes, snippers, tillers, and gloves.  If everything was just tossed in willy nilly, time that could be spent tending the garden is now wasted on hunting up lost tools.  Most everyone knows the old farming adage to “make hay while the sun shines.”  Efficiency is the key to farming and gardening success, as well as success in business.  Eliminating waste in everything—from pulling weeds to organizing sheds—allows more time for experimentation in the garden.  Those experiments, in return, can lead to more yield, less watering, and perhaps more time in the hammock.

Even if a gardener is getting an average yield, much more can be achieved by looking for waste.  And, it’s a rarity to find a gardener that is satisfied with average—we’re always looking for more, and better.  So, no matter what job we have—whether we’re in operations or serving a patient directly—look for the waste in those processes.  The yield is in making our work more efficient, less stressful, and infinitely more satisfying, while creating very satisfied customers.

Steph Van Vreede

Operations Manager (and Master Gardener)

ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value



About Stephanie Van Vreede

Stephanie’s focus is on website administration and customer-focused projects. Before joining the Catalysis in 2010, Stephanie worked in both the paper industry and high tech, in roles that included executive support for CEOs and directors, and shareholder relations. Within these organizations, she also held positions that included public relations, marketing, software training and travel management. View all posts by Stephanie Van Vreede →

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