Lean is context dependent – have no doubt! It was developed within manufacturing, private industry and although there has been a significant rise in its use in service, including public services, a number of challenges have emergered in the adoption or rather, should be, adaption of the philosophy. These challenges range from the drivers of improvement to mindset to understanding tools and techniques.

Let’s not forget that there is no fundamental reason or logic why lean could and should not apply to services – its participative nature and track record of providing efficiency, cost savings as well as effectiveness at the same time as embedding a culture of continuous improvement is imperative for services as well as manufacturing.

However, particularly within public services, there have been some common barriers to continuing engagement with lean. These may relate to cultural barriers but include poor understanding of the relationship between capacity and demand, command and control structure that obstructs responding to customer demand and a belief that lean is not applicable to services. Within services there is also a common misunderstanding of the notion of standardisation – seen as not being able to respond to the personal needs of the customer.

However, let us remember that there is a need to separate the standardisation of the process and standardisation of the outcome – we can standardise the process including ‘menu’ type options based around types and patterns of demands, for example runners, repeaters and strangers, thus allowing the outcome to be personalised or customised. We have seen organisations such as Dell and now Subway use such approaches: being able to customise from a standard offering (or process) gives the benefits of value, flow as well meeting customer demands and requirements.

Over the past few years I have being developing a framework for lean implementation and sustainability for services (House of Lean) consisting of: bedrock and foundations represented by the steering group and project team, as well as ongoing training and development. On top of these are essential organisational readiness elements which are critical in adapting lean in services: the ability to understand demand and capacity; an understanding of value; strong committed leadership; maintaining a process view; a communication strategy; engaging in coproduction; the ability to link activity to the lean strategy. Then there are the tools for lean planning and implementation: assessment, monitoring, and improvement. Assessment tools include: customer and stakeholder analysis, process mapping, and value definition. For monitoring there are tools such as: benchmarking, competency frameworks, performance boards and workplace audit. While, for improvement, tools include: control charts, cross functional teams, 5S and rapid improvement events. Drawing all these elements together will allow service organisations to develop stable, robust processes with a continuous improvement behaviours.

It is important to note that lean must not be viewed solely as a cost cutting exercise. Instead it must be considered as an approach which could turn a difficult situation into an organisational opportunity, improving the quality and delivery of services by re-examining the value provided by those public services, and restructuring the ways in which they are delivered.

For more information, check out the executive briefing available at this link: www.aimresearch. org/uploads/file/Publications/Executive%20Briefings%202/AIM_Lean_EB_FINAL.pdf