When people ask me about my job and I explain that my company offers Lean software, people who know anything about the Lean business management methodology usually assume that all of our customers are manufacturers. That’s not an unreasonable assumption given Lean’s origins in the Japanese automobile industry, but it’s also not true. We have customers in all sort of industries from banking to non-profit. We have clients in industries ranging from logistics and financial services companies to construction companies and hospitals.
With its focus on standardization, quality improvement, cost reduction, and efficiency, Lean's appeal is broad.
Not every tool used by Lean manufacturing companies has an exact correlation in all other contexts, but in many cases, a slight adjustment is all that’s needed to leverage useful techniques in a wide variety of industries. Here’s a closer look at how a few industries are taking advantage of Lean software to meet their most important objective.
Agreement is growing among healthcare leaders that Lean principles can reduce the waste that is a serious and widespread problem in the US healthcare system. Here are a few examples of the 8 wastes of Lean in healthcare:
- Defects: Incorrect diagnosis; ineffective treatment
- Waiting: You’ve been to a doctor, you understand this one
- Transportation: Unnecessary movement of patients or equipment from one area to another
- Motion: Inadequately stocked exam rooms
- Overproduction: Unnecessary diagnostic tests
- Inventory: Too much bedside equipment
- Over-processing: Using advanced imaging equipment when a regular X-ray would be sufficient
- Human potential: A skilled nurse wasting time looking for supplies
Healthcare organizations turn to Lean software to reduce some of this waste by capturing opportunities for improvement from the front-line staff. Everyone is encouraged to think about how to deliver value to the patient while reducing cost and inefficiencies within the organization. Many healthcare organizations now conduct daily “huddle” meetings using Lean software that helps visualize open improvement projects and speed the path to success.
One of the primary drivers for the use of Lean in construction is safety. The Lean Construction Institute describes Lean Construction this way,
“Lean/Integrated Project Delivery is a response to customer and supply chain dissatisfaction with the results in the building industry. Construction labor efficiency and productivity has decreased, while all other non-farming labor efficiency has doubled or more since the 1960s. Currently, 70% of projects are over budget and delivered late. The industry still sees about 800 deaths and thousands of injuries per year.”
In construction, the 8 wastes might include:
- Defects: Work that does not pass inspection
- Waiting: Workers at a job site without necessary materials
- Transportation: Unnecessary movement of equipment from one site to another
- Motion: Materials not at hand when needed by workers
- Overproduction: Completion of work that is outside the project scope
- Inventory: Ordering more raw materials than is necessary for the job
- Over-processing: Activities that don’t add value to the client
- Human potential: Workers who are not matched with a job commiserate with their skill and experience levels.
Lean software is vital in construction because employees are often spread across multiple locations with some people working primarily in the office and others spend most of their time on the job site. Cloud-based improvement technology makes it possible to collaborate from anywhere and puts the documents people need right at their fingertips.
William Blazer, Professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology in the Department of Psychology at Bowling Green State University and Dean at the BGSU Firelands College is the author of Lean Higher Education: Increasing the Value and Performance of University Processes. In it, he explains why Lean is becoming so popular in the higher education sector.
“For most American colleges and universities, the pendulum has swung from the heyday of growth, prosperity, and public favor to new times that call for institutions to adapt themselves to current harsher realities … The challenges of institutional change presented by the new environment are daunting. For institutions to be successful, change must be both intentional and continuous.”
Examples of the 8 wastes of Lean in higher education might include:
- Defects: Data entry errors
- Waiting: Waiting for administrative approvals
- Transportation: Handing off work from person to person to complete a task
- Motion: Inconveniently located office equipment
- Overproduction: Teaching topics already covered in other classes
- Inventory: Printing more brochures or forms than necessary
- Over-processing: Requiring unnecessary reports or documents
- Human potential: Failure to leverage staff skills to add value to students
Colleges and universities that practice continuous improvement rely on Lean software to connect what is otherwise a generally walled off organization. Cross-functional collaboration is easier when everyone has access to the same data and alerts and notifications keep work flowing smoothly no matter which department is involved.
These are just a few examples of how Lean software supports non-manufacturing organizations in their quest for process perfection. The principles of Lean are applicable no matter the context in which they are deployed and the technology designed to support the is valuable across the board.