Who ya' gonna call? LSS for Services Tip #2 – Lean Busts Halloween Ghosts
As we all know, the birth of Lean (usually with the word “Manufacturing”) is often considered to be the Toyota Production System. Lean for Service Operations is so new it is defined on Wikipedia as the application of lean manufacturing principles to service operations. Yet when you search using Google the term Lean Manufacturing yields just over 1.5 million results while Lean Services yields a surprising 16.3 million results! The derivative outpaces the original because of its natural application. Its as if it were always meant to be.
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This natural fit lies in the very nature of manufacturing, service operations and the strengths of lean. Lean was first easily discovered in manufacturing because waste and WIP are easily found. Like in the California gold rush, you could bend down and pick up the nuggets. Manufacturings physical nature provides an easy route by which to follow the flow of work. As you move along, you can see raw materials, intermediate stages of inventory and final finished goods. And also along the way, you can see bins of rework and scrap as well as WIP between stations. You physically see the work, the WIP and the waste. Certainly it took brilliance to design what to do with it but the problem was evident.
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Service operations, however, by their very nature arent so easily observed. Work flows are unseen. Information representing WIP are sent over networks. Customers waiting on phones cant be seen. Time lost is erased with the stroke of a delete key. Service operations, like spirits on a Halloween night, can pass before our eyes without a trace. Enter Lean. Lean with its highly visual tools like value stream maps performs the supernatural. It gives earthly form to the phantom.
As the invisible becomes visible, we make a great discovery so many service operations occur between functional areas such that they arent owned by anyone. We learn that not only is there waste, but there isnt anyone even worried about it. Thus Lean, with its visual tools, not only provides visibility to work flow, waste and WIP but raises the question of process ownership.
With processes made visible and ownership addressed, the race for improvement forces the question of where to attack first. Very simply put, once non-value added activities are made obvious by the accumulation of waste & WIP, you look for the actions and processes that drive up said waste & WIP. Therefore, when looking for projects, look within or between the processes to which waste and WIP demonstrate the greatest sensitivity. Then heavily rank that projects that improve those processes. They will have the greatest impact on eliminating non-value added activities.
People talk about the amount of low hanging fruit in service operations. Its important to understand why it is there. People in service operations arent fools willing to let waste and WIP drag them down. But they havent been able to see the problem and where it resides. With the visibility lean brings, that has changed. And consider us your Ghostbusters! If you would like to discuss the visual tools embodied in lean and how they can help your service operations, please feel free to contact me.