Lean for Services? . . . Not!

I read the lean stuff with amazement.  A recent article on sixsigmaIQ is titled, How to lose friends and alienate staff – a lean sponsor’s guide.  This “lean engagement” highlights many of the problems with lean in services.

As most lean efforts go, the focus is on getting “top-down” management support.  I have long noted that to improve the system that management has to change too.  There is nothing in the lean management engagement that addresses the hierarchy problem that must be tended to improve services.  The top-down, command and control, functional separated hierarchy is a huge barrier to improvement.

The lean folks have no human change methodologies in their tool boxes.

The next problem is where they start . . . with the work, inside-out as a process to improve – “The team began work as per the pre-defined schedule, going through the typical due-diligence of comprising value stream walk, detailed process dissection, takt time calculation,  etc.”  In services, this is wholly the wrong place to begin as systems thinking advocates understanding your organization as a system from the outside-in.  In fact, until we understand the system purpose and demands by studying the system, we risk a flawed design of services that creates more waste and sub-optimization.

Further, the use of takt time in service is not applicable.  The concept originated in manufacturing where services have a different problem.  The tools approach is a form of copying from manufacturing, but service has different problems.

Tools like the seven wastes that came from manufacturing are applied to service settings.  If we are looking for the seven wastes and not looking for waste in general we stand to miss a lot in service.  I compare it to taking inventory sheet-to-shelf rather than shelf-to-sheet . . . if you are only looking for on what is on the sheet you may miss what is on the shelf.

Services have different problems than manufacturing:

  • Greater variety in demands from customers
  • Nothing is stored like products and raw materials
  • Service happens between the front-line and the customer
  • The front-line and the customer are involved in service delivery

With more manufacturing people moving into service we have a forced fit of manufacturing thinking and tools represented by Lean and Six Sigma in to service.  The problems are different and so should your approach be different.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Make the new decade a profitable and rewarding one, start a new path here.  Download free from www.newsystemsthinking.com “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about how to get started at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

Tripp Babbitt is a columnist (Quality Digest, PSNews and IQPC), speaker, and consultant to private and public service industry.

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