Continuous Improvement in Services Blog

Lean is a journey not a weekend getaway... 

6 October 2017 Lean in Services Blog
by Rebecca Kennedy, 6 October 2017

So we now know Lean is an Operational Strategy – not a principle, method, system or tool.

Although it is proven to deliver immediate business benefits, it is not a one off initiative that is implemented and a box that can be ticked to say “we’re done”.

Lean is a journey that never ends, building a culture of Continuous Improvement that will lead to Enterprise Excellence.

It is worth noting at this point that Lean has been proven to yield improvements not only in productivity but also in speed, quality, customer loyalty, employee engagement and, most importantly, growth.

Although a Lean Operations Strategy can be broken down into smaller projects with milestones and outcomes, it is critical to keep a dynamic view of the overall strategy. This means that the Lean Operational Strategy goals must not be static; they must evolve as the business continuously improves and advances on its Lean journey.

20171006 Figure 1 Static and Dynamic Goal
Figure 1:
 This is Lean – Resolving the Efficiency Paradox (Niklas Modig & Par Ahlstrom, Rheologica Publishing, 2015)

So what does the Lean journey path look like? Well firstly is does not just focus on “how the work gets done”. It centres on what customers value and requires evolving in line with that – a commitment that often means new processes, capabilities and culture.

To better understand this, we’ll now introduce you to 6 of the key concepts that the Lean journey path cycles around:

  1. Put the customer at the heart of the business - Define value from the customer’s perspective end to end. This needs to be understood for all products and services offered by the business and through every touch point with the customer. Everything the business does should be geared towards people working together to more effectively deliver exactly what the customer values.
  2. Observe Processes - Map all the steps that fulfil a customer need from initial request through to completion. Does each step of the process add value for the customer? Does the process maximise flow i.e. is there a continuous flow of products, services and information through the process? Does the process use pull i.e. does the customer initiate the process? Nothing should be done by the upstream process until the downstream parties signal the need. Therefore actual demand pulls the product / service through the process.
  3. Make processes more efficient - Review the processes and how the value flows to the customer. Identify the non value add steps and wastes including time, resources and energy. Improve the processes so that the non value add steps and wastes are removed, therefore improving the customer experience. Standardise processes where possible, Improve Flow and use Pull.   
  4. Strengthen Performance Systems - Make performance and targets at all levels of the business more transparent to ensure effective deployment of resources and to encourage root-cause problem solving.
  5. Empower the people - Lean empowers the front line by shifting responsibility and accountability towards them and better leveraging their skills and knowledge. However this shift will demand new styles of leadership. The new roles and responsibilities must be clear, and it requires the development of skills and capabilities at all levels of the business. 
  6. Pursue perfection - Keep improving until everything the business does adds value for the customer.

There are multiple systems and tools available to focus and drive improvements in these key concept areas. I’ll introduce them in the next blog.

To recap, a Lean Operational Strategy is a journey not a weekend getaway. 

A business on their Lean journey will constantly strive for new knowledge, new understandings, and learning new things about its customers’ needs and how to meet those needs as efficiently as possible, creating a culture of Continuous Improvement. Further driving this is the Operational Strategy goals that grow upwards and onwards to Enterprise Excellence.

If you would like to know more about Continuous Improvement in Services, contact myself, Rebecca Kennedy at CTPM Head Office on + 61 (0)2  4226  6184, via Mobile + 61 (0)407 511 188 or email rebecca.kennedy@ctpm.org.au.

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A tool by any other name... 

12 July 2017 Lean in Services Blog
by Rebecca Kennedy, 12 July 2017

What’s in a name? or in this case a definition?

Following on from my first Blog (published 21 April 2017) where I discussed the different reactions to Lean I’ve been experiencing, I wanted to start diving into what Lean is and is not.  

My current go to reference book ‘This is Lean – Resolving the Efficiency Paradox’ by Niklas Modig & Par Ahlstrom raises a very important point:  How can we openly discuss our experiences with Lean when we are all approaching the topic from different definitions / understandings?

You may be surprised by this comment and think “surely Lean only has one definition”. Well you’re partially right, the issue actually stems from the different levels of definition.

In chapter 7 Modig and Ahlstrom endeavour to answer – What Lean is Not by looking at the different levels of abstraction / hierarchy of the Lean definitions.

Let’s use an example. There is a local business networking event, three participants start a discussion, each person has a different experience level of Lean:

  1. Joe works for a Website Design Company, when he talks about Lean his experience and understanding is that Lean is a Philosophy / Culture / Way of Thinking – High Level Definition;
  2. Sarah works for a Law Firm, when she discusses Lean she’s referring to it as a Quality / Improvement System – Medium Level Definition; and
  3. Tina works for a Bank, she believes Lean is a method / tool specifically 5s (a visual management system) – Low Level Definition.

Joe mentions that his company is running an Intro to Lean Workshop next week; he’s heard about Toyota having a Lean culture but not much else and was wondering if Sarah and Tina had any experience as he’s not sure how a Toyota Car Company culture would work in an office environment.

Sarah says “my company did a large exercise to look at where we were losing time then kicked off a number of improvement projects to address them, things seem to be happening”.

Tina jumps in and says they’ve used Lean in her office, “We’ve done that, they put shadow templates in our stationary cupboard so we knew where to get things from and put them back, like the staplers that always went walk about. It worked for a while but everyone stopped using it and the cupboards a mess again.”

Although each of them is technically correct in their experience of what Lean is, swapping between the levels of definition without context can cause great confusion. This goes on to impact people’s experience and therefore their thoughts on Lean. Ultimately not doing justice to Lean and the potential it has.

The diagram below is a new one we (CTPM) introduced this year based on the model developed by Modig and Ahlstrom in their book ‘This is Lean – Resolving the Efficiency Paradox’, to help people better understand all the levels of TPM & Lean / Continuous Improvement and how they fit together.

20170712 Figure 1 Key Components of a CI journey

VALUES are the core of an organisations culture. They define how employees should behave in all situations.

PRINCIPLES define how an organisation should think i.e. how to make decisions and what to prioritise. To realise values an organisation must be guided by their set of principles.

METHODS define how an organisation should do different tasks to actualise the principles in different situations but in the best way possible.

TOOLS are what an organisation must have to execute the methods.

ACTIVITIES & FOCUS are what needs to be done to execute & complete the methods.

As you can see above Lean is not just methods, tools and activities i.e. the low level, nor is it just principles i.e. the high level. It is all of the above areas interconnected. Therefore when we refer to Lean we are referring to it as all of the above which we call an Operations Strategy used to achieve specific goals.

To recap, if Lean is only defined at a low level i.e. tools and activities, then it can be misunderstood and people cannot see how the methods and tools can be used in their environment. Whereas the higher level of definition as an Operations Strategy means it has wider potential and ability to be tailored to suit any environment.

Next week we start exploring Lean – an Operations Strategy

If you would like to know more about Continuous Improvement in Services, contact myself, Rebecca Kennedy at CTPM Head Office on + 61 (0)2  4226  6184, via Mobile + 61 (0)407 511 188 or email rebecca.kennedy@ctpm.org.au.

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Defining Lean for Services...

21 April 2017 Lean in Services Blog
by Rebecca Kennedy, 21 April 2017

Since launching the new Continuous Improvement in Services arm of CTPM, I’m often asked what is Lean? Particularly as it’s a relatively new term in the Services Industry.

When I was first introduced to the formalised concept of Continuous Improvement many moons ago, I would often phrase the same question to those I came across, as a way to learn more. Regardless of industry or how far along the Continuous Improvement journey they were I would receive a wide range of responses from, ‘it’s a way of working’, ‘an approach’, ‘a system’, or ‘a toolbox’, too ‘it’s a method’, ‘a strategy’, or ‘a set of values’.

In addition to their definition I would also receive a very clear Love or Hate vote followed by a story of their experience.

It amazed me that the single word “Lean” could result in such varied responses and opinions. How could this one term have so much buzz in the Continuous Improvement space yet not have a clearly defined definition. That being the case, how can anyone discuss or learn from each other’s Lean experiences if they are coming from different definitions and understandings. Taking that one step further how can anyone know if they are doing Lean correctly or are successful at it?

At the time, I knew I needed to learn more about this term and find out what it really means and my research led me to the book: “This is Lean – Resolving the Efficiency Paradox” by Niklas Modig & Par Ahlstrom, which does a great job at looking into this conundrum.

Over the next few weeks I will share my key learning’s from this book via this blog to build a comprehensive introduction to Lean. Together we will demystify the term Lean and find out exactly how my new Continuous Improvement in Services area can help you. 

If you would like to know more about Continuous Improvement in Services, contact myself, Rebecca Kennedy at CTPM Head Office on + 61 (0)2  4226  6184, via Mobile + 61 (0)407 511 188 or email rebecca.kennedy@ctpm.org.au.

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