The idea may have originated in the manufacturing industry, but every organization can benefit from thinking lean.

When I met with a hospital exec we’ll call Patty, she explained how her hospital was looking to install an expensive new phone system to help eliminate the long wait times patients, family members and customers were complaining about. At the time, many callers were waiting on hold for over 10 to 15 minutes. Hospital execs believed that the new phone system would improve the backlog of calls, but like so many business owners and team leaders, they were missing the point: What was the root cause of the long hold times? What type of phone call was tying up the phone lines?

The problem wasn’t the phone system—it was that people were willing to wait on hold a long time to make sure their bill was correct or that they understood it. It was really billing questions and issues tying up the phone lines.

Lean focuses on the cause, not the symptom

By correcting the billing system, the hospital saw such a large decrease in billing-related calls that the new phone system was no longer necessary. And that’s exactly what lean thinking is about. Instead of fixing the symptom (e.g., too many calls), lean focuses on fixing the cause (e.g., an incomplete billing system that didn’t educate customers or provide accurate invoices.). Lean eliminates wasteful actions and behavior in every process for more powerful results and higher levels of performance. Yet many businesses miss out the performance improvements lean thinking offers because they mistakenly believe lean is only meant for the manufacturing industry.

Lean can be implemented in any industry

I can’t express it enough—this isn’t just manufacturing we’re talking about. Lean can be implemented in customer service, healthcare, education, finance, pharmaceuticals, phone centers, retail, engineering, marketing, etc. Organizations of every size and stripe can implement lean by:

  • Continually evaluating processes to see where they are weak
  • Communicating with employees to understand where the process is failing and how it can be fixed at the organizational level (instead of the individual)
  • Streamlining the process and ensuring that everyone follows it

Instead of putting things through a lengthy review process, the lean business questions why there needs to be a review process in the first place. Instead of accepting the review as necessary, the lean business ensures that employees upstream understand and follow the requirements.

Instead of adding more customer service reps or phone lines, the lean business figures out why they are getting so many calls and fixes whatever is causing them. Instead of sending incomplete or inaccurate information through a process and assuming that employees downstream know what to do with it, the lean business ensures that all paperwork is complete and accurate before it gets sent to them.

Once processes have been streamlined, they can be used to train other teams and departments throughout the organization. Businesses that consistently review and simplify their processes, that don’t see lean as a one-time action, achieve significant, sustainable performance gains and exceed their highest goals.

Banking as a use case example

Do you remember when banks had a separate line for each teller? You’d walk in and make your way to the queue that seemed the shortest only to find that other lines were moving much quicker. This could be for a number of reasons: perhaps the person at the front of your line had a difficult transaction or the teller needed someone else’s assistance. Either way, you were stuck there wondering if it would be faster to switch lines altogether.

Now banks have a single queue. When you approach the front, you simply wait for the next available teller. This is a lean process known as a “pull system,” which helps eliminate bottlenecks and keeps the process flowing so every customer gets served.

Lean can work for everyone

So while the process itself may be different for every company, the fact remains that any organization that offers a product or service has a process, or set of processes, to deliver it. By constantly reviewing and refining the process, organizations of all shapes, sizes and types can experience significant, continuous performance improvements.

The Dorsey Group offers a comprehensive two-day, hands-on workshop called “Optimizing Performance, Empowering People” that equips participants with the tools, processes and know-how to create a powerful methodology for lean thinking and continuous performance improvement that can be put into action immediately. Contact us today for details.