How to Reduce Waste, Improve Performance, and Enhance Client Service

October 26th, 2010 | General »

Improving performance should be a given in any organization. After all, what organization would not want to say it provides quality services and products to its clients or customers? Unfortunately, determining how well an organization is performing, understanding the factors behind performance issues, and knowing how to improve performance is not that simple. Moreover, there can be many obstacles or challenges within an organization that inhibit the ability to change and make improvements that will impact performance levels.

As experts in process improvement, the principals of KeyStone Research Corporation, Joyce Miller and Tania Bogatova, along with a their colleague Bruce Carnohan, have published a book for service organizations that provides an innovative approach to process improvement and performance excellence. This book, Improving Performance in Service Organizations: How to Implement a Lean Transformation, Lyceum Books, Inc. 2011 (, guides professionals through the application of lean concepts and methods in the service sector. Agencies can use this innovative approach to analyze operations and determine ways to eliminate activities that are wasteful and add no value to the services delivered. Service organizations that undergo a lean transformation optimize the use of time and money associated with operations to ensure that scarce resources are allocated to the activities that produce the greatest value for clients served. Using a lean lens enables organizations to tap into the latent energy and innovative ideas of personnel and to release resources trapped in a vicious cycle of wasted work efforts. By applying the lean concepts, methods, and tools introduced in this book, service organizations can increase effectiveness and improve accountability for the funding they receive.

Part I of this book provides an overview of performance improvement concepts and methodologies and illustrates how lean transformations can be implemented in service organizations. Specifically, Chapter 1 sets the scene through its discussion of the increased focus on accountability and performance assessment that has been promulgated by the federal government over the past few decades. Further, this chapter offers a preview of lean philosophy and how it must be adapted to apply to service organizations. The chapter concludes by highlighting the fundamental principles underlying the conceptual framework and methodological tools that are presented in this book, which offer a means to improve performance though an analysis of processes and implementation of improvements that will produce exceptional results with respect to operational efficiency and effectiveness.

Chapter 2 establishes the context for improving organizational performance by taking a closer look at organizational systems, the drivers for performance-based accountability and program evaluation, and the quality movement that has permeated business and industry over the past several decades, including the service sector. Specifically, this chapter provides an overview of the open systems model for understanding organizational behavior, which is a good fit with the lean approach to process improvement articulated in this book. Further, this chapter examines the historical drivers for performance-based accountability then reviews a number of approaches to program evaluation, highlighting those that have significant relevance for process improvement efforts. Finally, a number of quality improvement models relevant to lean philosophy are presented. The work of W. Edwards Deming is discussed, given his significant impact on the development of lean philosophy both in Japan and the United States. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Program is reviewed, as it signaled the entry of the United States government into the quality movement. This chapter concludes with a discussion of two other approaches to process improvement, Six Sigma and the Theory of Constraints, since they are “cousins” of lean approaches to transforming businesses into more efficient and effective operations.

Understanding Basic Concepts of Lean Organizations

To their credit, the evaluation and process improvement models discussed in Chapter 2 emphasize the importance of continuously improving organizational systems and using systematic approaches to understanding what an organization is doing, how well it is doing it, and what changes need to be made to improve their systems. However, some of these models are long on abstract thinking and short on real world application. As such, it is important to delineate a conceptual framework and set of methodological tools that incorporate proven approaches to improving performance and offer a set of practical applications that can readily be used within service organizations.

It is with this in mind that the authors provided an adaptation of lean concepts that can be used in service organizations, taking into consideration the approaches to understanding organizational behavior and quality improvement processes as discussed in Part I of this book.

Chapter 3 introduces the concepts of value streams, wasteful activities, and unacceptable results. The concepts of value streams and wasteful activities lay the foundation for examining processes through a lean lens. These are concepts that are unique to lean thinking and provide a way of looking at both organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Chapter 3 provides definitions and detailed descriptions of these concepts that make them relevant to organizations providing services, rather than producing products in a manufacturing environment. In addition, this chapter presents a new concept, unacceptable results (URs), to articulate what are identified as problems or issues with the way in which organizations conduct their work. Once an organization identifies the unacceptable results that it is experiencing, then the next steps for creating a more efficient and effective system can take place.

Chapter 4 takes another look at performance measures, particularly as it relates to their use in lean transformations. Since there can be many levels of measuring performance and timeframes (e.g., short-term vs. long-term), this chapter provides guidance for designing performance measurement systems that will keep the cycle of continuous improvement on track, without long delays before knowing the results from changes made in operational processes.

Using Lean Tools and Methods

With a basic understanding of the key concepts relevant to organizations engaging in lean transformations, we turn to the lean tools and methods used to implement that transformation. In Chapters 5 through 7, Miller,, articulate how to use the conceptual framework and apply the methodological tools to begin a lean journey, which includes: (1) understanding the current state of an organization’s operational processes, (2) identifying the wasteful activities within the processes to be eliminated, (3) designing a future state where performance has been improved, and (4) implementing the planned improvements and tracking progress over time.

Chapter 5 returns to the value stream concept and provides an overview of the lean tools that can be used to understand and visually represent a complete value stream and its subset of associated processes. These tools include value stream and process flow mapping. In addition, this chapter shows how to prepare for the mapping process by gathering data via surveys, key informant interviews, observation, and document review to identify those processes within the value streams that are problematic (i.e., represent unacceptable results) to those that experience the processes. As well, this chapter discusses another preparatory step of establishing a core team of organizational staff and stakeholders to map the identified value stream and its processes.

Chapter 6 first discusses the tools used to analyze value stream and process flow maps to determine the root cause of the wasteful activities and their unacceptable results, which are seen as problematic with respect to the optimal functioning of the process. The 5 Whys and Fishbone Diagram techniques are shown as very simple approaches to determine and understand root causes. In addition, this chapter offers an approach to identify the opportunities for improving processes and the priorities attached to these opportunities, keeping in mind that improvements can range from the very quick and simple, to ones that are complex and require considerable time and resources.

The second part of Chapter 6 introduces a number of the potential solutions that can implemented in an organization as a means to ensure a successful lean transformation. The 5S improvement tool is a critical first step, as it ensures work areas are systematically kept clean and organized, which establishes a foundation for building a lean organization. This chapter also discusses other tools used in lean transformations to solve operational problems, including work load balancing and the use of visual controls.

Chapter 7 provides an overview of several means to plan, communicate, and track the results of a lean transformation. The tools introduced in this chapter include: the Action Planning Tool, a Success Stories table, Tracking Performance Measures graphs, and the A3 Report, which is an effective way to communicate the problem, analysis, corrective actions, and action plan on a single sheet.

Sustaining Improvements Over Time

The previous parts of this book laid the foundation for improving performance in a service organization based on the application of lean philosophy. The concepts and methodological tools introduced offer an approach to improving performance through the analysis of processes to identify areas of waste and the unacceptable results that are produced as a function of the way processes are designed and implemented. Hence, the design of processes and how they operate greatly impact an organization’s optimal efficiency and effectiveness.

Part IV of this book turns to a discussion of the factors that can either enhance or inhibit an organization’s ability to sustain process improvement efforts over time and offers an in-depth view of some lean transformations in service organizations. Chapter 8 begins this discussion by providing an overview of a number of challenges and pitfalls associated with continuous quality improvement efforts, particularly those associated with lean transformations. In keeping with the position that challenges represent opportunities for improvements, this chapter identifies the opportunities to re-design processes to produce significant improvements in an organization’s performance.

The second part of Chapter 8 goes a step further and describes a number of strategies that can be used to create a culture and climate within an organization where the notions of continuous quality improvement and organizational learning are embedded within the norms, values, and expected ways of behaving. After examining the culture, attitude, and behavior relationship, this chapter identifies the critical factors within an organization that can predict successful lean transformations. Further, it provides an overview of the type of lean management system that is instrumental in sustaining improvements and ensuring that workers are continuously looking for ways to eliminate waste, problem solve, and design processes that are more efficient and effective.

The final chapter in this book, Chapter 9, offers three different case studies of lean transformations in service organizations. The cases provide greater insight into how lean concepts and methods can be applied in organizations that provide services and other material deliverables to clients, rather than produce a product in a manufacturing work environment. Cases are presented for education, government, and social service work environments.

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