Service Industry and Business Process Improvement
When it comes to the Service Industry and Business Process Improvement the KISS Principle is Still King
By Craig A. Stevens, PMP, LSS-MBB
When I read about applying Lean Six Sigma to service environments it always brings back childhood memories of how I got to where I am today.
I grew up in the hospitality industry with my parents running both Restaurants and Hotels. Our family always lived on-site and I could never leave my room without the possibility of bumping into a customer. I actually have memories of sitting in a highchair in the corner of a professional kitchen, while my mother and father served the customers of their restaurant. Later, they sold the restaurant and became Holiday Inn general managers. We moved all around the south, while my dad worked as a trouble shooter for the parent owned side of the company (the corporate side not a franchise). My parents’ roles set the theme of our every mealtime conversation – Business Process Improvement. We talked about how we could make the restaurants and hotels more profitable, have higher quality of food and services, better leadership, be safer, improve customer service, motivate employees, help people enjoy themselves, etc. As I grew up, I earned my allowance by working at the hotels. I learned a lot about improving customer experience and at one time or another I performed every job available in hotels or restaurants.
This lead to my interest in Industrial and Systems Engineering. However, I discovered while in the engineering department, I was an anomaly. The focus of most engineering and business classes at the time was on manufacturing. Within the manufacturing framework, I learned many of the tools and methodologies that I used throughout my consulting career. Meanwhile, I also envisioned the same types of principles in support of finding solutions for service organizations.
My burning desire was to redesign and refocus the traditional Industrial/Systems Engineering and Lean Six Sigma type tools to apply to service organizations. At the time, service organizations (i.e., Office Environments, Government Organizations, Restaurants, Hospitals, Doctor Practices, Retail, Hospitals, Hotels, Insurance Companies, etc.) did not usually employ engineers and may not have had the high volume processes that align well with the traditional manufacturing models. Therefore, during my time of research and translation, I discovered many similarities and some vast differences between the traditional applications and the service organizations’ environment.
I discovered, for a service environment one may have to redesign how one applies the traditional tools and methods of Continuous Quality Control, Lean, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, Statistical Quality Control, and Continuous Process Improvement. Think of it as applying the concepts of Lean to the tools of Lean. Which means you redesign tools to fit the environment. What worked best was to simplify all the concepts by removing all the confusing steps and acronyms, traditional Japanese names, etc. One must target the tools to the environment, providing specific applications and stories that fit the business model. As an example, all improvement can be done in three easy phases: 1.) The Assessment; 2.) The Problem Solving; and 3.) The Implementation. All the traditional tools and templates can then be applied during the appropriate phase in a way that the least technically savvy staff can easily understand, appreciate, and feel empowered to use.
The Bottom line: What seems to work best is to re-engineer your improvement approach to fit the environment, practice what you preach even in your own sand box, and speak the language of your audience when supporting their world.