Two people will give two different answers if asked about the definition of Lean. In fact, the definition is not that important. What is important instead are the principles and objectives of Lean thinking.
Generally speaking, Lean is all about respecting people, delivering value to customers, and pursuing perfection through continuous improvement. To do that, Lean managers are constantly looking for improvement opportunities where they can help employees succeed in their work and satisfy customers by flowing value and eliminating non-value-adding waste.
Respect for people is the foundation of every Lean transformation in order to be sustained. What it’s meant by this principle is that employees making part of the value creation process must have a working environment where they can succeed and feel comfortable pointing out problems and proposing solutions. A culture of change where fear and resistance are not encouraged. As W. Edwards Deming said, every leader must “drive out fear”. An organization where this way of thinking is not respected can’t take advantage of the full Lean potential.
Lean Management for service processes
Lean Management can literally be applied to almost every process, and not only in manufacturing as some people suppose. For sure, an adaption of Lean deployment strategy has to be made for service processes, but the idea is the same.
As said before, lean thinking includes identifying waste and delivering value to customers, and every process, whether it’s manufacturing or not (service, transactional, analytical, or creative), has its own waste and non-detected value. In fact, experience shows that non-manufacturing companies gain much more from lean management than manufacturing companies do. The potential improvements and waste elimination in non-manufacturing environments are much bigger since there is little or no actual physical flow and the nature of work is dynamic and can vary a lot.
The history of Lean being applied to services started in early 2000 in the military and soon after, in the healthcare and the financial services industries. Lean is now everywhere, from governmental institutions to education. The question is, are these organizations, or service functions in manufacturing companies, taking advantage of the full potential of Lean?
Step-by-step Guide on How to Implement Lean Projects in a service environment
Lean can be considered as a management strategy, a philosophy, or even a culture. Therefore, to get the most out of its benefits, Lean should not be a series of projects in silos. Instead, it should be seen from an organizational and system perspective where cross-functional teams collaborate on those aligned projects and share the same organizational goals and objectives.
Also, employee training in Lean thinking and tools is fundamental for success simply because no process improvement project will be sustained without the people involved in the process knowing the “WHY” of the Lean initiatives.
Technically speaking, non-manufacturing processes differ largely from manufacturing processes when it comes to flow and work tasks. A complex combination of manual and computerized transactions occurs, and that makes the data collection process a little more complex.
The culture in a service environment is also different from manufacturing. Usually, the way performances are tracked doesn’t encourage employees to think about “Leaning out” their process since they can “get things done”. What they don’t know is that, by being Lean, they can do a better job with better quality, in less time, and most importantly, with less effort.
Here is a “brief” and general step-by-step guide on how to implement Lean projects in an office or any service environment. One thing to keep in mind is that creativity is essential in applying lean concepts in these kinds of environments.
- Step 1. Go to “Gemba”:
Going to Gemba means going to the actual place where value is created or the work being done. The purpose of this first “Gemba Walk” is to see the process and look for issues or opportunities for improvement. It can also be a chance to ask people involved with the process about their workflow, learn about their attitude, perhaps uncover some hidden issues, and collect their thoughts on improvement ideas.
Remember, while the majority of problem-solving approaches are methods with a technical aspect, the human aspect, as well as the social elements of change, are the most dominant in administrative and service activities.
- Step 2. Select and prioritize properly improvement projects:
Lean Management projects have proven to be an effective way to improve efficiency and reduce waste, either in manufacturing or non-manufacturing functions within the organization.
One way to select improvement projects is by thinking about the three greatest problems facing both your business and your customers. Once you define areas of improvement after Gemba walks, you can look for which project could have the best operational and financial benefits.
Of course, the project scope should be manageable, and management support and engagement must be there. Other criteria also exist like risks and costs, but at the end of the day, they depend to a great extent on your business priorities and current operating plan. You can use financial analysis, multicriteria analysis (MCA), or multi-objective decision-making to help you select the right project to work on first.
Remember, without senior management commitments to the improvement initiative, project completion can be challenging. Even if solutions are implemented, there is a big chance they will not be sustained. Therefore, making sure you will get engagement from management is fundamental here.
Click here for part 2 of this article which develops the next eight steps for implementing successful Lean management projects in non-manufacturing environments.