Most things of value, whether a service, a drawing, new knowledge, or a manufactured good, are produced as a result of a process. As a process improvement methodology, Lean applies to any process. Consider step-by-step processes i.e., handling a customer service request, establishing a new customer account, replying to a request for proposal, updating product data sheets, making changes to terms and conditions, scheduling patient appointments for blood draws, or closing the books at the end of the month. Many problems faced by lean practitioners crop up in these kinds of processes, and Lean principles apply in eliminating them.
Just as with manufacturing implementing lean tools in an organization’s business processes is the easy part; the tools only require about 20% of the effort, often less. The other 80% is sustaining the Lean implementation, and as in manufacturing this work remains incomplete.
Lean first spread to administrative functions from the experiences and lessons learned in their organizations’ factories. Now Lean initiatives can be found in various sectors of the economy beyond manufacturing, in organizations whose products are solely knowledge or services. There are many examples; finance, insurance, government, healthcare, software, pharmaceutical development, sales, order fulfillment and distribution, customer service and education. The question is no longer, “Will Lean work for me?” but “How do I apply Lean to improve my business processes?”
As a Lean practitioner, Lean and Lean Enterprise apply nearly transparently in processes like these, just as in manufacturing. But unlike in manufacturing, disciplined process analysis and intentional design are rarely applied to an organization’s business processes. Instead, many office processes have been left to evolve over time, usually with little or no scrutiny. I have never been in a factory that did not have process or production engineers concerned with process design, even if not a Lean design. I have seldom experienced an office situation in which engineers or anyone else was involved in designing or refining business processes.
It for these reasons, and from my experience with many Lean process improvement projects, I am convinced there is as much to be gained in improved throughput, quality, productivity, and engagement in offices as in factories. What impact on your business would achieving a 50% reduction in total cycle time, process time, and errors and rework, as well as revealing further major improvement opportunities?
Willie Carter has nearly four decades of continuous improvement experience, which have enabled him to be a good listener, teacher, coach and leader as he helps organizations do more with less and to transform creative thought into organizational agility and excellence. In addition to his consulting practice, he is on the adjunct faculty at Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL.