Manufacturing, the birthplace of Lean, has contributed a great deal to the ideas of flow, just-in-time processes, respect for people and shaping a management system that now dominates much of the manufacturing world.
I was recently asked to highlight the main differences between Lean in manufacturing and Lean in services. There are too many significant and subtle differences to mention during an interview so I settled on the following.
The customer and employee relationship need to be different by design
In manufacturing, customer engagement happens primarily at the start of the process and again later in the delivery, often with no customer input in between. Product designs are also made early in the process before a final specification is decided upon. Usually the design would meet the needs of the average consumer in order to keep the variety of available options low to assist the manufacturing process. Once decided, the customer is no longer part of the co-creation process, you would not find customers talking to people on the production line asking to change various specifications or asking production staff to create new options. In services, however, that is exactly what the customer does.
Complex customer needs
In the service sector, customer demands can be very complex especially if the service being provided requires specialist knowledge such as insurance, financial, medical or IT. Many of those requests are ill-defined as customers often express their needs in terminologies of their choice. Trying to understand their points can take a lot of time and careful listening. There is usually not one solution that would satisfy the customer purpose. Staff need the ability and flexibility to blend a range of solutions and co-ordinate their transfer until the customer is satisfied. During that process the customers often change their requirements and the process may need to start over again. Service delivery in these circumstances would fail if a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach was taken.
Standardise on methods and processes and less so on the service product
Standardisation in these circumstances must focus on standardising the methods and processes of service delivery more so than the product to offer greater variety and choice to the customer,. Helping them to make that choice will differentiate your business from competitors.
Let’s learn from the customer, take that information in, and if it’s not delivering what the customer wants, change it quickly.
Faster controlled experimentation
It’s interesting to note that the rate of staff learning in services is about 20 to 50 times faster than in manufacturing. Some of that is practical: moving machinery around, waiting for factory shutdown periods and modifying various engineering processes are difficult tasks. By contrast, in services, you can have various teams trying new experimental ways at the same time, even changing things in real time and getting your results the same day, collaborating and deciding on the best way for all.
I think that’s the beauty of Lean in services. It makes the job much more dynamic and responsive and staff love that. They end up finding solutions to problems you didn’t even know you had. It’s a much more exciting field for Lean simply because of the amount of learning and controlled experimentation you can do.
Freedom to run fail safe experiments
In the services sector what makes a Lean process sustain is changing the work climate. If it feels very restrictive, then your Lean program won’t survive.
Lean is much more liberating for management and staff in a Lean controlled framework. What makes it successful is when management let some of the work they used to control drift down to the frontline staff. And by pulling them in to be involved in the planning, it motivates them to become engaged in developing solutions.
As well, a major factor is learning to trust.
Trust works both ways. Certainly management needs to trust the staff but the staff also need to know that you’re serious. If a legacy of distrust from company history still lingers, it can destroy any program, not just Lean.
In the end, trust is the important element from top to bottom and more importantly bottom to top in achieving Lean success.