Making “what good looks like” for Services

When an organization is considering Lean, one of the questions that often comes up is:

How can we start improving the work and get results broadly and quickly?

That’s a tall order. I’ve seen may approaches, some successes and unfortunately many failures.

Let’s look at a few of these approaches with their pros and cons:

Start multiple Kaizen efforts.

  • Pro: Results may be achieved quickly and with tangible results.

  • Con: These changes often represent “point solutions” with unstainable results in the long term. Things tend to regress to the norm.

Train everyone in the organization in Lean basics.

  • Pro: You can create a common language across the enterprise and perhaps momentum for a time.

  • Con: Without guided skills and a process to utilize them, people get disenfranchised over time. Improvement principles, tools and methods become devalued.

Do a Lean cost / benefit analysis and propose as a project.

  • Pro: Disciplined analysis is always a sound principle. Results should be expected, measured and proven with any effort.

  • Con: If your culture has a history of lengthy analyses, you will waste considerable time feeling good about having the illusion of outcome accuracy on a process with plans to change anyway.

Provide the staff with some minimal training on the 8 Wastes, then ask them to start removing it.

  • Pro: They begin to recognize waste and take action.

  • Con: Everyone goes their own direction without systemic integration and waste moves from one place to the next. Pits functions against one another.

Is there an alternative? Fall back to program management?

Big project lifecycles may not be working for you so why not apply the scientific approach and run a “short” experiment? Let us say 90 days. The key is to…

Make what good looks like in one functional area with enterprise visibility throughout the experiment.

This works. It is a proven change process and that sustains the results. Improving work with short experiments is not a new concept. However, the old ways can be improved and modified for today’s service world. Improvement work is best done in a learning environment, with a disciplined approach by the people that do the work.

A simplified view of the 90 day actions:

  1. Take one specific process that includes between 10 & 30 work steps.

  2. Set transformational goals to reduce processing time by 50%, double staff productivity and raise quality incrementally by 50% in 90 days.

  3. Form a cross-functional team of 12-18 participants including operations staff (primary participants), IT, PMs, Management (limited in number and role), and perhaps other support functions.

  4. Have a Lean facilitator fully dedicated for the 90 days.

  5. Set participant dedication of 25% for the entire 90 days.

  6. Conduct a short Kaizen session and form sub teams to solve problems.

  7. Teach the team root cause problem solving.

  8. Create and formally test standard work (not a procedure manual).

  9. Test (pilot), measure, test, measure, test, etc., updating and stabilizing standard work along the way.

  10. Track and communicate improvement work utilizing the A3 problem solving format.

  11. Build a performance board to monitor and improve the process beyond the 90 days utilizing leading indicators.

  12. Teach and practice team huddles at the performance board on a cadence appropriately aligned to the unit of work flow cycle.

  13. Integrate the role of the manager and management system routines.

  14. At the end of the 90 days, celebrate the team’s success and new process performance in front of the entire enterprise.

These steps are not optional and skip one at your own peril. But if you can commit the time and effort you see results that are substantial and sustainable!

You will also see team members that are engaged and excited in their work with other people in the enterprise stepping forward to be included.

Making what good looks like in one area, proving the results and creating the inclusive environment allows you to expand the tools, methods and change-thinking incrementally across the enterprise at a realistic pace.

I have personally conducted the 90-day process in legal departments, accounting, regulatory work, marketing, IT development and ops, financial services processing, insurance services processing, telecom service work, call centers, and many others. It may not work in some situations but I still can’t find that place.

Good luck on your Lean / Continuous Improvement journey!

Chris Vogel


Learn more about a 90-day approach here.


Sharing Our Lean and continuous improvement insights through our experience and learning.