Qualityworld, the magazine of the Chartered Quality Institute (CQI), asked me as a Lean Service expert, to contribute a reply to the Help Desk section of their March 2010 edition. The Help Desk question was:
I’ve heard about lean in manufacturing, but how can I use this tool in a service environment?
My answer was:
Taiichi Ohno said that you should not codify method and W. Edwards Deming said that you should not copy others. The answers to your question are in your own system, not in other organisations and certainly not in applying Lean tools.
To really get the results that Toyota get, don’t do what they actually do, but rather you need to think like they think.
Management want packaged solutions, unfortunately it is not as simple as Lean makes it look. Taiichi Ohno did not have any books to read or tools to implement. Instead he had a simple principle of getting value to a customer as quickly as possible. As Toyota worked to apply that principle they encountered problems. Lean is the codification of the solutions to the problems that Toyota encountered. However, in service we have different problems and hence need different solutions.
So don’t apply Lean. Apply the principle of getting value to flow to customers. Start by first understanding your demand. What do customers want? When do they want it? What is important to them? Study your demand until you can answer these questions. This will illuminate the next step of seeing how your system actually delivers that value. Only then can you redesign the work to provide the value while avoiding the waste, delay and rework in your old system. To do this you will need to change or remove instances of incentives, measurement, management and inspection.
The most important things to remember in this process are to, 1) Always have the customer in mind, and 2) Go to where the work is done. You won’t discover anything in a meeting room. Oh, and get good at solving your own problems, just like Toyota did.