Now, more than ever, organizations from a range of industries want to innovate in order to grow and compete. Similar to the MedStar Institute for Innovation (MI2), they gather some of their greatest minds and forward thinkers to determine the next best way to solve a problem. Whether it is improving the flow of patients at a 20-year-old hospital, or implementing a brand new medical device, starting small and working toward expansion is important.
When we’re designing a new product or program we can plan for the ideal function, design, interaction, and lifecycle. However, unless we’re able to see a product or program in use, we’ll never know how other users will interact with it.
As a Health for America (HFA) at MedStar Health fellow with the Integrative Medicine (IM) team at MI2, I have been able to experience firsthand the development of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in service design. After only a few weeks as a fellow, I supported the team in implementing a new Culinary Medicine program with a small cohort of patients. Though we had some ‘glitches’ in our launch, we are consistently improving by working lean.
According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, working “lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.” With this in mind, I’ll share how a handful of lean principles are playing out in our work—principles I’m calling Just Start, Identify the Need, Find the Flow, and Plan for Risk.
We learned a lot from the first week of the culinary medicine program. If it wasn’t for "just starting," we would’ve never identified obstacles and improved the program from there. I learned that it’s important to have a flexible plan and to use limited resources for improvement. In this new program, we’ll evaluate each week, comparing, contrasting, and adjusting for the following week.
These strategies are connected to Eric Ries’ Lean Startup principles, which can be applied not only to start-ups but to any new product or program in organizations of all sizes. As Ries puts it, the goal is to “get a desired product to customers' hands faster.” Faster to the customer means faster learning for the team and faster adaptation without depleting resources.
Coming from a product design background, I’m seeing many similarities between product and service design. As I witnessed in the first week of the Culinary Medicine program, the first step to improving either is seeing someone use it. We want each human experience to be the best it can be. But before that can happen, you first want to determine: Will this really help?
Identify the Need
The product or program should address the problem you are trying to solve. This means that you need to experience the problem (or a close approximation) and empathize with user needs. If you don’t, it’s difficult to understand exactly how the product will fit into the user’s life. Will it be something that will create a lasting impact? You won’t know until you identify the need.
One aspect of my HFA fellowship experience has been simulating a range of Integrative Medicine patient experiences, including time in the MedStar Simulation Training & Education Lab (SiTEL) Washington Clinical Simulation Center. I was immobilized with braces in an effort to simulate life with chronic back pain, a common concern of IM patients. I learned how difficult it is to perform daily tasks. I had to be very careful and strategic about the way I moved.
I was also able to shadow at our MedStar Integrative Medicine Center at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center. I learned how patients make appointments, how paperwork gets handled, and how patients interact with different practitioners in order to help their health thrive.
Find the Flow
Once you get a product or a program in use, you can evaluate the flow. My simulation and shadowing experiences have helped me to empathize with how a potential IM patient might flow through the use of a product or service.
This has helped me and the team evaluate the flow of the Culinary Medicine program. We’ve had to plan the amount of time needed to set up, to get participants engaged, and to incorporate multiple lectures, learning assessments, and class participation. After getting started, though, real life happens: distractions, power outages, someone running over their allotted time. It’s all part of finding the flow.
Plan for Risk
An important part of creating something new is trying to plan for these kinds of unforeseen risks or problems that could occur. However, not everything can be anticipated. Therefore, getting users involved is important in planning for risks and working lean to create new plans and adjust.
In health care, we have a responsibility to keep patients safe and minimize risk. Therefore, thoroughly evaluating anticipated risks of a program or product is critical. Planning the anticipated flow, understanding problems that could arise, and strategizing about ways to combat those problems is important for initial implementation. Once you start, it’s then important to be flexible. If something comes up, solve it as you can with the resources you have then use what you learn to improve future iterations.
Starting and Growing with a Lean Strategy
Overall, whether it’s in a program like Culinary Medicine or for product or service design in any industry, starting small provides the opportunity to plan with a small number of users to improve a product or program. This is the MVP. From there, it’s possible to grow and learn how to scale a program.
As my co-fellow Sharon and I continue to learn about lean principles, we’ll have the opportunity to attend two days of Lean Startup Week in San Francisco, CA next month. We’re excited to be able to bring our new knowledge back to MI2 and to our teams, and to implement these strategies as we work on our intrapreneurial projects at MedStar Health.