Written by on Thursday September 17th 2015 in Simulation in Healthcare

Understanding and Managing Variability via the use of Computer Simulation

Recently I joined Mike Stoecklein of the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value to discuss the importance of managing variability and how computer simulation can contribute to the ongoing efforts of many healthcare systems to embrace Lean.


According to Lean thought leaders, including the ThedaCare Center for Healthcare Value, one of the biggest challenges that healthcare organizations (many of whom are on the Lean Management journey) face is understanding and managing variability.  Variability is pervasive in healthcare processes – and we know from the Lean principles that variability drives poorer outcomes in terms of financial, clinical, and operational performance. 

However, most managers are not aware of how much variability exists in their processes, nor do they know how to adequately respond to it or manage for it.  As a result, we end up with an environment where there is a lot of “firefighting” on a daily basis, as well as well-intentioned meddling that results in even worse outcomes.

This basically comes down to four experience gaps:

  • Management don’t know what variability is (were never taught).
  • They don’t know how to identify variability (don’t “see” it).
  • They don’t understand how it impacts their outcomes (no context for importance).
  • They don’t know what to do about it once it has been identified (don’t have the “tools”).

Webinar slides


Mike Stoecklein of the Healthcare Value Network has been doing extensive interviews and research over the past year to understand why these gaps exist and what can be done about them.  One of the tools that has come up as a partial solution is simulation, which enables Lean organizations to learn about variability and its implications, identify possible solutions, and to pre-test process changes before launching a real-life pilot.  This is one tool in the Lean tool belt.