If you’re a student of management trends like I am, you may have noticed a new philosophy in the business world that favors experimentation over planning. The concept was eloquently presented as a “lean” practice in the book The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, as a means for new ventures to quickly adapt to their unfamiliar surroundings. It has also gained traction among established businesses that want to continue to improve sales and customer experience.
The basic idea certainly has its origins in lean manufacturing and the Japanese principle of kaizen. The PDCA (plan, do, check, act) cycle (aka the Deming wheel) is the engine on which lean and kaizen run. It’s been called the scientific method for business. Managers identify a problem, test a solution, check the results, and then standardize the solution if it actually solves the problem. Nothing earthshattering here on an intellectual level, but implementation of this practice is where the challenge lies.
The marketing and software development industries implement a modern version of the PDCA cycle with A/B testing (a user experience research methodology), a simple experiment that presents two variations of something to a randomized group of people. People don’t make decisions on hunches in boardrooms. We’re not gathering a focus group and asking for people’s opinions. What we are doing is putting two slightly different products into the market and getting real information about how the target audiences and users react. It leads to more data and less guessing.
You can begin to imagine the applications for multilocation dental operations. With enterprise-level practice management software, we have the means to conduct simple experiments on any number of systems, from accounts receivable to marketing to human resources. Again, I think the real challenge is creating an environment where management is comfortable and encouraged to run A/B tests. In the recent Harvard Business Review article, “Building a Culture of Experimentation,” author Stefan Thomke says this is a change that must come from the top down. Leadership in group practices and DSOs should set the example for being data-driven, removing any red tape that would hinder experimentation, and focusing experiments toward strategic goals.
Just like a scientific community that uncovers best practices in dentistry, the leadership at large-scale dental enterprises can uncover best practices in the business of dentistry. Embrace experimentation and the data it yields and you will be able to evolve your dental empire into unchartered territory.
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