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Lean for Service Operations – It Really is Different …

March 30th, 2012 2 comments

Lean Services vs. Lean ManufacturingWe have many conversations with companies that want to talk about applying lean in areas other than manufacturing.  Some of these companies are manufacturers that have been doing Lean for years, and doing it well in their productions operations, but not at all in non-manufacturing parts of the business.  Others are pure services companies like telcos, banks, and insurance companies that are just now starting to explore Lean.  In many cases, they’re looking at Lean because they’re being asked to do more with the static or declining headcounts.

One of the challenges that I keep seeing is that companies try to do Lean Manufacturing in a services environment.   Let me be blunt … if you think you can blindly copy the tools of Lean manufacturing in a services environment, you’re setting yourself up for failure.  We see this happen when manufacturing companies that have had great success with Lean in the production operation try to take their Lean manufacturing experts and approaches and leverage them to roll out Lean in services operations.  These people may indeed be Lean manufacturing specialists with great knowledge, but this doesn’t mean they can effectively roll out Lean in non-manufacturing aspects of the business.  In most cases, it doesn’t work.  The same thing happens when services companies hire a Lean manufacturing expert to help them.  It just doesn’t work.  Why?   Because Lean in a services operation is just different, that’s why.

Download Lean Services

this powerpoint overview of Lean in a Services environment …

Now, we could dive right in and start looking at a lot of individual tools and see which ones fit well in a services environment and which ones don’t.  But, I think the better approach is to take a step back and look at the differences from a business perspective first, then come back and start talking about tools and approaches.  So, here are some of my thoughts on how a services environment is different, and these difference most certainly impact the way Lean should be rolled out.  I encourage our readers to chime in with their own ideas.

  • There is typically greater involvement of customers in the production process. In many cases, the customer is a supplier to the process.  Sometimes the involvement is so ingrained in the process that you really end up with co-production with the customer.
  • Since services processes are often very people-centric (vs. machine-centric), it is very difficult to get to real standardization.
  • Quality is an experience, not just a measurement against specifications.  The inability to standardize the process makes it very difficult to standardize quality.  The customer’s definition of quality is a perception, subjective vs. objective
  • There is much less visibility to what is happening.  Information is flowing, not product, and that information can be digital, paper, or even verbal.  And, HOW it flows often has little or no standardization
  • IT systems play a much bigger role.  They enable the process, but can also be a rigid constraint on the process.   There may be multiple and often un-integrated systems.  Workarounds persist in the form of excel spreadsheets, word docs, etc
  • WIP and inventory are often hidden and ignored, but they are there and can have the same negative impacts as in a manufacturing environment (e.g. wasted resources, longer lead times, more variation

These are just a few of the key distinctions, and there are many more.  But they do point out some fundamental differences in manufacturing and non-manufacturing operations.  The differences are so stark that common sense should tell you that you cannot roll out Lean in a services operation the same way you do it in a manufacturing operation, not if you want to see results, and our experience here at Qualtec backs that up.

This is but the first in a series of articles we’ll publish on this.  I invite your thoughts, comments and feedback.  Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss.

When Leaders Overlook Process in Service Organizations …

March 16th, 2012 Comments off

Leadership…we want to be leaders and want leadership.  When you have a leadership role you personally grow and you can help the organizations in which you work and the individuals with whom you work.  When we are group members, leadership sets a vision and inspires us.  Leadership, like great architecture that conceives of a soaring skyline, can be magical.

Process…a series of operations which bring about a result.  It is a logical, nearly mechanical algorithm devoid of emotion.  You unemotionally define the inputs, suppliers, required actions and desired outcome in terms so you can measure.  You strive for stability so you can then improve capability as measured by customers.  Defining each brick and how they are assembled might not sound so inspirational, but you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s any less important.

Leaderships’ vision of that skyline and processes’ preoccupation with laying bricks can seem far apart and disconnected.   Yet when leadership looks past process, the results are eviscerating to any vision and corrosive to the leaders themselves.

In service organizations, processes are always driven by people, and managing the people for each process is the work of a process owner.   The process is the service and the people are the process.  So the people are the service, trying to be productive each and every day within their process.  Getting processes to work as a system is about getting people to work together toward a final objective.

When leaders ignore process they ignore the people that are the service.  And that never turns out well with your customer.  A current TV show has CEO’s come down from their lofty perches to work ordinary jobs to get a feel for the people and what they do day in and day out.   In a recent episode, the CEO was stunned at the impossibility of work processes.  Workers were stressed out, fought with each other and delivered poor service to customers.  As you can well imagine, no one believed in the CEO much less the CEO’s vision, as he soon found out!

Download Service Design - Service Blueprinting

this short .ppt overview of customer-focused process design and Service Blueprinting …

A smart CEO might hand the problem over for process redesign.  He might also say with empathy that this is just the wrong way to treat these people and the customer, and do what is necessary to make it right for both.  Theoretically, the two statements lead to the same place.  But the former continues with the same disconnected state between leadership and people while the latter begins a transformation.

The point of all this is to remind ourselves that working with processes in a services organization is about working with people.  That when we see leadership disconnected from the concerns of process we probably see leadership disconnected from people.  And when we find that situation we’ll probably find dysfunctional teams and dissatisfied customers.  BUT,  when we see leadership concerned with making processes work we will see people who find their jobs fair and who are dedicated to their mission, which should lead to more satisfied and loyal customers.

So all of us as leaders and members of a team need to think about the processes upon which our vision is built because, in so doing, we think about the people in the organization and the customer of our service.  And everyone in that chain will notice the attention, how their work is made easier and thus buys into the larger vision.  If you’d like to discuss the points in this article, contact me.

Reshoring – An Opportunity to Redesign Processes to Lower Total Cost of Ownership

March 7th, 2012 1 comment

Reshoring - Process Redesign to Lower TCOThe drive to reshore goods, and services, for the US market builds every day.  Growth in emerging markets is driving up local wages.  The decline in the value of the dollar has increased the cost to produce abroad for import back to the US.  The need to provide faster AND better delivery makes for a increasingly powerful competitive advantage.  The ability to manage shorter supply chains increases quality.  These and other factors are driving more ompanies to look at reshoring opportunities.

A critical element in a reshoring decision is a Total Cost of Ownership analysis.  Made popular by the Gartner Group when attempting to capture all the costs of software and IT systems over the product’s life, it is an excellent concept to apply to reshoring as it goes beyond a simple vendor price or internal transfer price by looking at overall system costs.  At a personal level, think how we apply it when comparing cars for purchase. We incorporate costs to maintain, operate, insure, finance and, eventually, what we get back when we dispose of the car.  Total cost of ownership …. not just purchase price.

Reshoring to Lower TCOReshoring provides a unique opportunity to lower the Total Cost of Ownership as the existing supply chain and internal production processes can be designed with a blank slate.  The iterative redesign that first occurred when it was offshored and then occurs again when reshoring can leverage past experience, and work with a blank slate.

For example, we have a client which offshored a production line to capitalize on lower direct labor costs.  After a severe fire in the offshore facility, they decided to bring the line home.  They performed a Design for Lean analysis on the entire process and lowered the cost to a level significantly less than the pre-fire offshore line.

Download Lean Overview  this executive brief for a short, practical overview of Lean

Another client brought back its customer service operations.  Again, through a redesign process and armed with clear Voice-of-the-Customer (VOC) about their offshore facility, they were also able to lower its costs and increase customer satisfaction, thus significantly lowering their Total Cost to Service.

Redesigning a production line or a service delivery process are great opportunities to really pour through VOC and design the value streams and supporting processes with a clean slate.  Clear VOC, strong design capability and application of lean skills can collectively be used to take advantage of declining costs in the U.S. and better meet customers’ needs thus lowering the Total Cost of Ownership.

If you would like to discuss these topics, feel free to contact me.