The Japanese word kaizen simply means "change for better", with inherent meaning of either "continuous" or "philosophy" in Japanese dictionaries and in everyday use. The word refers to any improvement, one-time or continuous, large or small, in the same sense as the English word "improvement". (Wikipedia, 2018)


“Lean” Into the New Year

Sorry. I know that we’re already a few weeks into 2018 already, but what I propose as a New Year’s resolution can be implemented anytime by anyone who is interested.

Philosophically, all of us should be engaged in “continuous improvement”. If the best years of my life were my college years, then that makes the last 40-odd years pretty meaningless. I hope that there is nobody reading this that is the same person that they were in the past; that we’ve all learned from our life experiences.

Many are proactive in improving their lives. They take, not just the required continuing education hours, but many more, as they try to increase their knowledge base, improve their practice, and offer greater value-added service to their patients.

Earl Nightingale tells the story of an African farmer who hears of the success others are having mining diamonds. So, he sells his farm and goes off to seek his fortune. Meanwhile, the man who purchased the farm, while crossing a stream on the land, saw a bright flash of color in the stream. It was a large, beautiful stone that he then brought home and placed by his fireplace.

Several weeks later, a visitor picked up the stone to admire it and asked the farmer if he knew what he had there. The farmer said it was just a pretty stone. The visitor told him that it was a diamond. This discovery led to his farm becoming one of the largest diamond mines in the African continent.

“The thing about this story that has so profoundly affected millions of people is the idea that each of us is, at this very moment, standing in the middle of our own acres of diamonds. If we had only had the wisdom and patience to intelligently and effectively explore the work in which we’re now engaged, to explore ourselves, we would most likely find the riches we seek, whether they be financial or intangible or both.” (Nightingale, 2018)

As the New Year begins, as well as each and every day, we ought to be looking for the diamonds in our lives. But, in practical application, as Mr. Nightingale says, “(We should have) the wisdom and patience to intelligently and effectively explore the work in which we’re now engaged.”

This brings me to continuous improvement in the dental practice (or in any other part of our lives). A practice should develop the habit of continuously looking for ways to improve and become more productive. Certainly, these can be things like taking courses to improve management and patient treatment and retention techniques, but, the small things, improved regularly, can have a significant, cumulative effect on the practice.

Here’s an example. When I was working for a major dental manufacturer, there was a contest for the employees to come up with ideas on making the company more profitable. The winning idea? The winner noticed that, while there were off-hours that the manufacturing floors were working 24/7, there were other areas in manufacturing that, because they were “open”, were burning the lights when nobody was there. For example, in the warehouse and shipping/receiving. Turning off those lights saved the company hundreds of dollars/year.

Now, things don’t need to be dramatic. Make a contest for your staff to find one thing each week or month that can be done better, with less motion, wasted time, waste, money spent, or whatever. Reward the winner each time with a Starbuck’s certificate or whatever. Over time, things will become more efficient. The “Hidden Costs” of waste, time spent on less productive activities, and down-time will make a big difference over time. You’ll be more profitable and will give better value-added service to your patients.

My specialty is inventory control. I frequently ask the questions:

  • Do you have too much inventory on the shelf? (Anything more than 1 month’s worth is money unnecessarily tied-up in inventory that could be used elsewhere).
  • Do you have duplicate inventory? For example, does each hygienist have to have their own favorite prophy paste? Do you need three different brands of medium tutti-frutti when one brand will do?
  • How often do you have to waste time and money having product express-shipped because you ran out?
  • How much time is taken walking around the office with a pad and paper looking in drawers and cabinets to see what you need to order this week?
  • How much time is spent studying catalogues to find the best price?
  • How much expired product is there on your shelf?

These are just some examples. Here’s another one: if you could reduce the amount of space required by inventory enough that you could add another charting station would that be of value to the practice? Make things more efficient?

Small, consistent changes in processes, procedures, and habits can make a huge difference over time in the productivity and profitability of your practice, as well as making working less stressful and providing more value-added service to your practice.

By the way, for ideas on how control your inventory, rather than letting it control you, visit

Works Cited

Nightingale, E. (2018, January 25). Acres of Diamonds Article. Retrieved from NightingaleConant:

Wikipedia. (2018, January 25). Kaizen. Retrieved from Wikipedia: