The Wall Street Journal reported recently on a new trend in retailing: pruning down the huge number of product variations, or stock-keeping units (SKUs), on the nation’s shelves. Driven by their desire to control more and more of retailers’ shelf space, consumer product companies introduced more than 47,000 new products, package sizes or variations in 2008 alone. Retail chain operators, not to mention customers, have finally cried “Enough!” And market researchers are hearing that shoppers feel overwhelmed and confused by too much to choose from – almost 50,000 items in a typical large supermarket.
Of all the Lean tools in use throughout industry and health care, procedural checklists have received perhaps the least media attention prior to Atul Gawande’s feature article in The New Yorker on December 10, 2007. Gawande, a respected physician and author, spotlights the remarkable power of checklists to improve the reliability and consistency of medical procedures, and to deliver much improved patient outcomes at lower cost.