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Small Steps Lead to Success for Lean in Service Operations

April 13th, 2012

Lean - Small Steps for Service OperationsImprovement is about change, and change is tough.  It doesn’t matter if you are trying to change personal health habits or a critical business process, it’s just tough.  But change in Service Operations is particularly difficult because so much is not visible to easy inspection, embedded in individuals, lacking data, in constant flux, and dependent on many variables.  These same challenges apply to deploying Lean in Service and Back Office operations.

A natural path many disciplined thinkers follow for any improvement of any type is to thoroughly understand the total system before embarking on improvement.  But within Service Operations the complexities are so great that to thoroughly understand the system requires so much time and investment that the business gives up on the effort before ever getting improvement activities that yield results off the ground.  This is made even more challenging because of the tight resource constraints we face in this economic environment and the demands of ever more discriminating customers.  As in all businesses these days, Service Operations must do more with less.

Our proposed philosophies at a deployment level, about which we have written often, are things like pulling capability development at the rate the business needs it, building foundational capabilities broadly before developing advanced capability, paying for new capability development by providing hard returns on investments as they are made, and aligning resources and efforts to business and customer metrics (i.e. things that really matter).

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 a short Powerpoint discussing Lean in Service Operations …

We take these philosophies down to a project execution level by building an understanding of the project problem solving roadmap and moving back and forth between tools to validate project assumptions while using a lot of tollgates so as to invest time wisely.  Use a problem statement and simple SIPOC to define goals, owners, team members and the process. Take that to tollgate to ensure alignment before moving to deep process characterization.  Use the SIPOC’s process column to do a preliminary value stream with some simple time and quality assumptions and conduct a tollgate review before moving to functional flow charts or collecting data.  Do a simple fishbone diagram to validate the demographics of the data before moving to a more detailed FMEA or creating a data measurement system.   And constantly validate the business case and alignment.

The point is that the need to use resources wisely and drive change counter intuitively means we should take many smaller steps rather than looking for the big steps.  The complexity and immaturity of the system makes the understanding of the overall system too expensive and the success of a big, top down project too low a probability.   Keep this in mind when trying to deploy Lean in a services operation, and your chances of success improve greatly.

If you would like to discuss any of these points, feel free to contact me .

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