“Lean isn’t about manufacturing. It is about standardising work processes to make problems visible and developing your team members’ critical thinking ability so that they can solve those problems and improve work processes.” – Finbarr Sheehy
If you are part of a service organisation, how often have you heard someone say, “We can’t do lean here. Lean is just for manufacturing, isn’t it? We’re not some kind of widget-making assembly line, putting one piece onto another every 10 seconds!
Our processes are long and complex; every transaction is unique and requires special consideration. And besides, most of the work we do takes place in our peoples’ minds and behind their computer screens. There’s no possible way we could use lean here.”
Having spent many years helping different types of service organisations implement lean, you can imagine how many times I have heard a version of this statement. And over the years, what I have come to realise is that it is precisely because service processes do tend to have long cycle times, many complex variables, multiple decision points and interactions with a variety of computer systems and much of the value-added work does often take place out of sight, in peoples’ minds that makes lean philosophy and tools a great fit—and can be of huge benefit—for services industries.
Since service processes are not physically observable, especially useful are tools like visual management that make otherwise invisible work processes visible, and techniques that specifically develop a team member’s creative problem-solving and critical thinking abilities to the fullest.
Lean isn’t about manufacturing. It is about standardising work processes to make problems visible and developing your team members’ critical thinking ability so that they can solve those problems and improve work processes. So the next time someone in your service organisation tries to tell you that “lean is just for manufacturing,” you’ll know better.