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11 February 2008

lean thinking and lean doing

Lean thinking is a way of looking at how your work is done and striving to be constantly more efficient.

A part of the framework is decentralising control of the work; the people who are doing the work activities are the best informed about how they can be improved.

Of course Lean comes from a manufacturing environment, but service organisations are also looking to implement lean thinking into their business practices.

It raises some interesting challenges. For example, often service industries operate in highly regulated environments. How do you decentralise decision making and at the same time manage to ensure regulations and legal requirements are all maintained?

One reasonably effective method I am familiar with is allowing frontline troops to manage how their work is done, but control it via a central “business Process” repository, kind of like a configuration management database (CMDB for the acronym heads.)

To do this you have to invest in a few things; an up front documentation of existing processes, hiring people to manage the processes change control, a tool to store your newfound ‘controlled knowledge’, and last but not least a change management programme that helps your frontline people work with the process controllers.

I have also seen processes management effectively using a TQM approach where the process improvers are removed from frontline teams and put to work improving efficiency.

It can work, but there needs to be an excellent interface between the frontline business units and the process analysis team.

Without a highly client centric approach from your process improvement team, this mode becomes a bureaucracy that is likely to slow down your organisations ability to change, and increase the cost of doing business. All the while increasing the frustration levels of your customers.

Any other stories out there about how to manage frontline process improvements?
Photo from the Library of Congress
and sourced from here