Applying Lean Six Sigma to Service, Peter PETERKA

Applying Lean Six Sigma to Service

Although both Six Sigma and Lean Flow have their roots in manufacturing, it works just as effectively in service industries. Much of the U.S. economy is now based on services rather than manufacturing and many service organization managers are wondering how they can achieve the tremendous process improvement benefits of Lean Six Sigma to their service organization. Many service organizations have already begun to blend the higher quality of Six Sigma with the efficiency of Lean into Lean Six Sigma. The effects have been significant and long-lasting.

Service organizations have different root causes of problems and a unique set of processes and metrics. As a result, the tools and methodology required to achieve the improvements of Lean Six Sigma are significantly different. While problems in the manufacturing setting may lie within a process, the issue in a service environment is often the process itself. Services are full of waste--and ripe for the benefits of Lean Six Sigma. It is easy to apply relatively simple statistical and lean tools that will reduce costs and achieve greater speed with less waste in service processes. There are numerous real world examples that demonstrate how Lean Six Sigma can be used in service organizations just as effectively as in manufacturing with even faster results.

In a service organization, the critical factors in quality and efficiency are flow of information and interaction between people, especially interactions with customers. Transforming the process of these flows and making them lean will yield quality results. Analyzing and modifying human performance in service environments is complex, but Lean Six Sigma provides the tools and methodology required to achieve significant long-term improvements. At the heart of every service business are the opinions, behaviors and decisions made by people. Analyzing and modifying human performance in service environments is as complex as any manufacturing situation.

Lean Six Sigma achieves documented bottom-line strategic business results by initiating an organization-wide culture shift. Until a process focus–rather than a task focus–is developed, the scope and endurance of any service improvements will be limited. Success is achieved by training members of your organization to understand the basics of becoming a customer-centered organization that delivers the right service at the right time. Proper training in Lean Six Sigma for service industries gives your people the knowledge of tools and methodology required to achieve significant long-term service improvements.

Service managers trained in Lean Six Sigma become skilled at advanced process analysis and problem solving techniques relevant to the “real world” of service environments. They learn basic techniques to apply Lean to transactional and administrative processes. They lean to identify and eliminate poor decision-making processes, standardize practices, reduce cycle times and manage the risk of the extensive changes required for breakthrough process improvement in people-oriented transactional processes. Successful Six Sigma services projects will lead to the reduction of lead times, the streamlining of processes, and the holding down of costs.

The general goals of any Lean Six Sigma project will be reducing process cycle times, improving on-time delivery, and reducing costs. By focusing on eliminating non-value added waste in a process, Lean Six Sigma will help a service environment become a customer-centered organization, gain control over process complexity, and improve performance and response time on signature services. This is accomplished by the use of Six Sigma statistical techniques to understand, measure, and reduce process variation with the primary goal of achieving improvements in service/product quality, performance and cost. Lean improving the speed of customer fulfillment and reducing process wastes along the supply chain while Six Sigma improving the consistency of service performance and service quality.

You can overcome resistance to change and lead an effective implementation when managers in your organization have learned techniques to maximize productivity after a new process is in place. By developing a solid implementation plan you establish control measures and processes to ensure that Lean Six Sigma improvements endure and that efforts remain closely aligned with business strategies. Documenting the project is very important so that the new procedures and lessons learned are maintained and provide concrete examples for the organization.

Service organizations of all types can cost-effectively translate manufacturing-oriented Lean Six Sigma tools into the service delivery process. Lean Six Sigma projects will reduce your company's service costs, improve service delivery time, and expand capacity without adding staff.