quality management systems

Guide to lean process management

Gluu’s Guides

Lean process management can be a way to combine the best of lean and process management thinking. Here you will find an overview of some lean tools, lean software and lean service tools to make this work in practice.

Lean is about eliminating non value added activities by involving front-line staff and solving lots of small problems continuously (so they don’t become big problems). Process management is about showing the architecture of the enterprise. It’s a map of how activities are interlinked in processes and in process hierarchies. No wonder that “lean process management” sometimes can seem to be a contradiction in terms.

A real case on how lean and process can collide

Two years ago a very large Danish government organisation had a both Lean Service department and a Business Process Management (BPM) department. One was entrenched in lean thinking and focused on lean tools. The other used complex BPM tools to map and maintain process diagrams that shows process flows across the organisation. The people from the two departments fought each other like cats and dogs.

“The conflict was between the bottom-up thinking of lean process management and the top-down thinking of BPM. The lean service people resisted the documentation of processes since they thought this made them inflexible. The process management team, on the other hand, resisted the loss of control that they thought employee involvement and lean tools would lead to. Neither department was succeeding.”

So how do you bridge a gap such as this? One answer is to use lean management tools and process management tools that are flexible and complementary.

To make this mix we need to look at the needs of each “camp”. The process camp requires clear governance, revision history and a good process hierarchy while the lean camp wants something that is visual and easy to change so everyone can be involved. Most current lean tools and process management software either aren’t good enough at process mapping, or they aren’t simple enough for frontline staff to use. Let’s have a look.

Lean tools

These are some of the most critical lean tools – also used for lean services:

  • 5 Whys
    A questioning technique that is good for dialog among people.
  • 5S (Standard work), or Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain.
    This is relatively easy to do in a factory setting but hard when working with complex workflows that span many old and complex systems.
  • Value stream mapping.
    Great for a wyteboard workshop but hard to bring into the everyday life of people with lean services.

Lean service wastes and how lean process management can help

If we look at the eight wastes that are typical within services and how lean tools and process management software can support these to be uncovered, analysed and reduced:

Type of waste How lean tools help How lean process management help
1. Delay on the part of customers waiting for service, for delivery, in queues, for response, not arriving as promised. The customer’s time may seem free to the provider, but when she takes custom elsewhere the pain begins. 5 Why questioning can help you get to the root cause of why customers are waiting. This can help you uncover which processes to map. Process mapping can help you understand what is happening and what happens behind the customer’s touch point.
2. Duplication. Having to re-enter data, repeat details on forms, copy information across, answer queries from several sources within the same organisation. Six Sigma defects analysis can help to understand the defect rates from long paper trails for customers and internal staff. Understanding this rate can help put monetary value to it. A detailed process map with associated work instructions will help you understand exactly what is needed in terms of input from the customer. The less you need the fewer opportunities for waste and errors.
3. Unnecessary Movement. Queuing several times, lack of one-stop, poor ergonomics in the service encounter. “Set in order” from 5S can help reduce complexity. Effective online process tools can help you avoid meetings and consulting with colleagues.
4. Unclear communication, and the wastes of seeking clarification, confusion over product or service use, wasting time finding a location that may result in misuse or duplication. Lean tools typically require co-location and fall short here. By mapping activities and roles you can minimize the handoffs between people. This will reduce waste from unclear communications.
5. Incorrect inventory. Being out-of-stock, unable to get exactly what was required, substitute products or services. Again, understanding how processes relate is important for effective customer dialog.
6. An opportunity lost to retain or win customers, a failure to establish rapport, ignoring customers, unfriendliness, and rudeness. A lean service culture of involvement can lead to higher employee engagement. “Treat your employees well and they will treat your customers well” as Richard Branson once said. Connecting processes, work instructions and roles can help you get the proper training materials to the proper people.
7. Errors in the service transaction, product defects in the product-service bundle, lost or damaged goods. 5 Whys will help analyze root causes of errors. Checklists associated with activities in processes can help understand and analyze where process errors occur.
8. Service quality errors, lack of quality in service processes. This clearly says that processes are needed to practice effective lean. Hines and Rich (1997) defined Process Activity Mapping as a useful value stream mapping tools.

Source: Bicheno and Holweg (2009) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_services

So as you can see both lean tools and process management tools have roles to play when you want to reduce waste and increase customer satisfaction in a service business. At Gluu we believe it’s about taking the best from both worlds. For instance, you can draw simple process maps that can easily be turned into value stream maps as the video below illustrates:

Drawing lean processes

An integrated platform to help you closer to lean process management

How about one, single place where everyone can meet and work together around common business processes? With…

  • Process maps that are easy to create and change.
  • A process hierarchy that can evolve as you learn.
  • Everything for creating Standard Work instructions for each role.
  • Real time communications.
Create a process and make it lean
Signup for Free 14 Day Trial