Lean’s Come to Town

Lean’s Come to Town

There’s a new methodology in Vet Town called Lean and I’m on a mission to introduce it. I’ve been practicing Lean for the last 8 years within the not-for-profit sector and it’s time that us vets got to know it better within our own industry.

Of course, it’s actually not a new methodology at all, just unfamiliar to the profession on any great scale. There are sporadic reports of aspects of Lean being used in veterinary medicine across The Pond but little documented cases over here.

So, what is Lean? Lean is:

  1. A tool kit
  2. A management system
  3. A philosophy

Developed by Toyota back in the 1940s, it has since then been adopted by nearly every industry and sector as a way of creating and delivering the most value from the customers’ (or clients’) perspective while consuming the fewest resources and fully utilising the knowledge and skills of the people performing the work.

This translates to better quality of care, client service and employee wellbeing, whilst simultaneously reducing costs and boosting growth (yes, excellent quality can cost less!).

When practiced together, the 3 Lean elements result in an organisation that strives toward continuous improvement and provides a platform for long-term success.

Establishing a culture of continuous improvement within the organisation is one of the key pillars of Lean; the other is showing respect for people.


This means we don’t go around blaming people for problems or pointing the finger at individuals. Instead we look to find what part of a system or process is not working well causing such errors to occur, which then allows us to make them error-proof.

People might naturally be apprehensive when they hear the term “Lean” for the first time; perhaps it conjures up images of laying staff off and paring things down to a bare minimum. This is absolutely not the case; Lean refers to working continuously to reduce or eliminate waste in order to create value. In fact, the frontline staff and the knowledge they possess of the systems and processes is the Lean organisation’s greatest asset.

There are many concepts within Lean that combine to result in a successful Lean organisation. Although some aspects can be taken and used in isolation, the greatest effect comes when they are used together.


Successful practices also understand that long-term success ultimately comes from happy clients; this doesn’t mean we must necessarily be the least expensive vet practice around but rather that we are delivering the greatest value as perceived by our clients.

As our appetite for evidence-based veterinary medicine grows, so should our appetite for evidence-based management and business practices, and there is a plethora of documented evidence over many decades of Lean implementation so we really shouldn’t be ignoring best practice.

To find out more about Lean, take a look at The Lean Enterprise Institute and stay tuned to theleanvetpractice.com to see more articles about how we can implement Lean within the veterinary profession.