5 Ways Service Departments Can Practice Lean


Lean strategies have broadened greatly over the years to include tools like 5S, Six Sigma, Kanban, Kaizen, and beyond. The general idea is to improve efficiency and reduce waste by removing bottlenecks. This nets an increase in performance and output and significantly lowers operating costs.

Even though it was originally created for software development and manufacturing, the paradigm has been used in many industries and fields, and it’s adapted slightly each time to meet new and various challenges. That means it is certainly possible to practice lean in service departments.

However, what does that look like? How can service departments truly practice lean strategies and deploy them effectively?

1. Define Value

Every lean implementation starts with understanding what value is for your business, operations, and customers. What are the customers looking for – and more importantly, what are they willing to pay for?

What can make this phase difficult in a service department is when the work isn’t necessarily benefiting customers. For example, imagine you’re looking to create a more agile maintenance department. A maintenance team provides value internally, rather than externally. It becomes more about providing value to the system and your workers. Your goal is to identify, eliminate, or reduce processes that are taking value away from the operation.

Problems can be identified with thorough analysis through polls, questionnaires, interviews, web analytics tools, quantitative statistics, and more. It’s also worth noting that this is an excellent time to identify waste, too. Some lean strategies and guides recommend identifying waste upfront. You become more familiar with what’s excess in your business and operations and better at identifying and getting rid of it.

2. Plot the Three Values

Map out what a more lean operation would look like, and what kind of changes are required to achieve such a thing. Existing materials, processes, and activities should fit into one of three categories, all denoting their level of value: enhancing, creating, and non-value-adding.

Doing this provides a high-level view of the entire system and allows you to vet non-value practices, while also highlighting adaptable practices. In other words, you can see exactly what can and must be improved, so you’re not wasting time on the wrong tasks.

Reducing processing periods and complications for the streams tagged as “enhanced” will also vastly improve efficiency and output.

As Joel Levitt, a renowned maintenance consultant, says, “Reducing waste leads to cutting costs, but cutting costs does not always lead to reducing waste.”

You need just the right solutions in place, including “critical spares,” so you can deal with events that come down the pipeline. Not having those measures in place can be considered “fat,” or not lean, and that’s why you need to separate and distinguish between the three value types. If you cut too much, you risk impacting performance later. If you don’t cut enough, you’re not going to see the true benefits even if you practice lean operations.

3. Optimize the Flow

Once you understand the value of an operation and how to identify activities based on their inherent value, you can begin measuring recurring activities. More specifically, project managers can collect and report details on what’s called the value source. This is what will be used to further understand waste created before, during, or after normal operations.

Anything that’s done too early, too late, or that’s repeated frequently results in a higher level of waste – be it materials or time. Lean project managers can use gathered information to pick out these complications and either reduce or mitigate them entirely.

For example, if managers know a task is not adding value to the operation, yet it’s still making tasks easier for the team, eliminating that process is probably not the ideal choice. Understanding these different values and who benefits is a huge part of optimization. Alternatively, if that process creates a lot of waste, it should get the ax.

Each task or activity should flow seamlessly together, from origin to delivery. But no operation is going to work that way from scratch, and it takes a lot of fine-tuning to reach that stage. In lean manufacturing, most organizations achieve this by implementing smart technologies, such as the Internet of Things. The influx of real-time data helps the reporting process and enables faster action, creating a persistent system of growth and development.

When bottlenecks or challenges are discovered, they’re fixed quickly. Machine learning and AI can even help discern more effective solutions as more and more data is collected and processed.

4. Organize the Pull

After optimizing a workflow to provide high value and minimal waste, it’s time to focus on the pull framework. The design is simple. When your team has time and resources to spare, they pull new tasks to generate value. The idea here is to avoid too much stagnation while at the same time preventing overproduction and extreme excess.

All tasks or activities remain in a queue-based system, which will need to be developed and established. Typically, this is done through a Kanban board. It can be utilized physically – through something like a whiteboard – or digitally via project management tools such as Asana.

Incoming tasks can be scheduled as well in fields where maintenance and repair are linked to a particular timeframe. For instance, band saw service and tool repairs require specific technicians, parts, and responsibilities, so they need to be scheduled out, as opposed to added freely to a board. This is true of many maintenance and repair tasks ranging from automotive and heavy machinery to smaller tools or parts.

Ultimately, having the board and pull system in place enables workers to go in and take or complete tasks as they have the time available. It also ensures the people doing the work are pulling out the right assignments and that the work is started right away.

5. Honor the Culture

After putting the entire system in place, it’s important to establish and maintain a lean culture within your service departments. Lean maturity is achieved through constant change and a need to continually grow and be better, not just on a management level, but throughout the organization.

To practice lean the right way, everyone has to be in on it, and everyone is responsible for their piece of the pie. The entire company must be working to reduce waste and excess, provide value, and deliver quality services and goods.

Follow Lean’s Five Principles

The industry doesn’t matter – practicing lean methodology always boils down to five principles. Here they are again, simplified:

  1. Distinguish and define value.
  2. Create the value stream.
  3. Optimize the workflow(s).
  4. Organize the pull system to take work only when needed.
  5. Adopt the appropriate culture.

Applying this within a service department can create significant quality and performance improvements, especially thanks to the pull-based work system. It may take some effort to establish and get your teams used to lean ops, but it’s possible – and it will save time and money while providing a huge boost in value.

Comments are closed.

Muskegon Lean Consulting Web Design by New School