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Small Steps Lead to Success for Lean in Service Operations

April 13th, 2012 Comments off

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 .

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.

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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.