Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Lean Simulations for Service-based Processes

In the west, service businesses dominate the corporate landscape. In the UK alone the service sector is almost 80% of GDP compared to 45% in 1948. For such a large sector, from an operational perspective the factors that affect customer choice are Customer Experience, Quality of Service and Speed.

Operational excellence concepts were born in the Manufacturing industries. Lean is a well-known methodology for Operational Excellence, and it increasingly plays a large part in the service sector. For example, almost 65% of Finance sector organisations in the US1 are involved in Operational Excellence while in Europe 50% have or intend to have an initiative in Operational Excellence2.

Lean also has a rich pedigree of simulations to enhance learning. These are played by groups or teams and the experience is an excellent way to learn about the 5 Lean principles, the definition of customer value and the 7 wastes. In my 19 years as a consultant, and having been involved in many lean simulations, it is very clear that people gain deep experiential knowledge, as well as better transfer retention of Lean principles, when they play such simulations. As Lean thinking has matured there has been a host of simulations in the market place, some which are basic (e.g. The 5S numbers game) to some which are a bit more complicated (e.g. The Plug Game).

However Lean simulations for the service sector need to be fit for purpose. Many of the current simulations are manufacturing based and still used in service industries. Even the ones that claim to be “service” are based on more administrative/support activities rather than a full end-to-end customer process.

In my view Lean Service Simulations should have the following features:

  1. Based on Real Service Processes:
    These are processes such as opening a new bank account, insurance claims, buying an online product, health intervention etc.
  2. Reflect Customer Experience:
    Customer experience is a core part of service delivery. Customer value exists in several dimensions (e.g. efficiency, quality and overall experience) and this is how customers judge the service process. In recent research the experience has often been the overriding feature even over functionality.
  3. No ‘one-size fits all’:
    A set Standard processes do not work in the service sector. Lean games must recognise that a standard process cannot serve each customer individually, as there will be variations within the standard work such as sub process variations.
  4. The Right Set of Measures:
    There has to be a built-in measurement process that connects process measurements (i.e. cycle times, lead times, resources, quality outcomes, experience) to the bottom line (e.g. costs, revenue, reputation, asset utilisation).
  5. Improvisation:
    The game must allow the facilitator to improvise. More flexibility for the facilitator allows them to run the simulation so that the simulation will meet the learning needs of the organisation around Lean.
  6. Fun:
    Games must incorporate a strong element of fun while learning to keep people engaged. Laughter and humour combined with experience bring about eureka moments.

"70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated." - McKinsey

This has led me to design a new Lean game around a fictitious Insurance company, InsureFlow that specialises in asset insurance and trades internationally. One of InsureFlow’s divisions provides tractor insurance. The goal is to deal quicker with claims, ensure a good service experience while improving productivity, reducing stress in the workforce, and achieving sustainable benefits to the bottom line.

The simulation will let you understand the five principles of Lean, recognise the 7 wastes in the company, and grasp the relationship amongst customer value, demand, variation and their relationship to capacity and resources.

The game comes in a well-presented box with clear instructions and a facilitator guide. Alternatively we can run the simulation for you at your premises. You can find more about the game at http://kinetik.uk.com/leansimulation/.

Ketan Varia, with editorial support from Burcu Atay



  1. Marc Beaujean, Jonathan Davidson, and Stacey Madge; “The ‘moment of truth’ in customer service”, Mckinsey Quarterly. 2006
  2. “A new perspective on operational excellence”, Eurogroup Consulting. 2013.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Whole Library of Free Lean Simulations

Jerry Levasseur at The Big Lean Simulation Library, LLC e-mailed me to let me know that they have released a free version of their Lean simulation library.

It is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, so you may use it for commercial use.

See Jerry's website for more details.

The downloadable simulation library can be found on the free download tab on the site.

Here's a video sample from the site to whet your appetite:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kaizen Only Goes So Far

It goes by many names: 2 Second Lean, 5S in 5 Minutes, Quick and Easy Kaizen and other non-branded techniques. Kaizen is often sold as the elixer to cure your organization.

And it's true! Kaizen works.

But don't take it from me. Lean professionals like Paul Atkers and Norman Bodek have years of experience under their belts, so this simple kaizen stuff must have something going for it.

kaizen ain't rocket science

Adjectives like quick and easy make it seem like lean is a no-brainer. So why isn't everyone doing it? And if it's so easy, why are there hundreds of books on the subject?

I like to think of lean implementation as a two sided coin. Two methods, working together for lean success. You can use them in isolation, but you'll have limited results.

The Quick and Dirty Kaizen

Quick kaizen is the first side of the coin. The word kaizen is often translated as "small change". Many kaizens means many small changes. These kaizen methodologies teach us to use lots of small kaizens to achieve big change.

A small kaizen is a great way to get immediate results. A pile of small improvements are visible, easy to understand and measurable. Creating a pilot cell is one way to showcase a list improvements and to spread the lean juice to the organization. And that's what kaizen is really about, engagement and culture change!

The true meaning of kaizen is "good change," or "change for the better." So kaizens can be small, but they can also be big. As long as they're good!

Small, quick kaizen activities are the best way to get employees on board and develop a lean culture. A kaizen event should be treated as a training tool and an investment in people. Once team members start coming up with their own kaizens, then you know things are moving in the right direction.

Check out this video example of an employee with a simple "2-Second Lean" kaizen.

That video is a great example of a simple kaizen implemented by a shop floor employee. Will it save a lot of money? No, but a combination of hundreds of these kaizens might!

Quick kaizens are all about employee engagement. With an engaged work force, you will be flooded with ideas. And if you empower your employees to follow through and do it themselves, then you've achieved a cultural shift.

However, in order to create a motivated band of kaizeners, you need to allocate some resources. Managers and supervisors need to be trained and coached. Plans need to be made.

And that's where the other side of the coin comes in.

The Lean Long View

If your business is failing, simple kaizen might not be enough to save it. Quick and easy kaizen is exactly what it claims. Easy and quick, but not necessarily game changing!

You may need to make some serious changes, and team members aren't always empowered to make them. Even simply sustaining an employee suggestion program is a large project that requires planning and thought.

Don't forget the big picture!

It's the same reason nobody wants to think about the fifth S in 5S (Sustain). It's too hard! It's easy to focus on the little improvements and forget the big picture.

Lean needs to be part of system design and strategic planning in order to make large leaps in productivity and profitability. Big, strategic decisions are where money is made and lost. You might be able to fix some problems with kaizen events, but often the group wonders why the money was spent on such an inefficient process to begin with.

Use A3's to plan your processes. Use value stream maps and standardized work before buying machinery. Use Hoshin Kanri to create shared strategic goals and focus on how to drive them into every level of every process. Hold daily stand-up meetings to communicate actions on how to achieve these goals.

Without a smart strategic approach, all the investment you put into kaizen will be wasted. Big money will be spent on the wrong things and lean efforts will regress, as the focus shifts.

Lean is a two-pronged fork. Use kaizen to get immediate results and engage your employees. Use Hoshin Kanri and lean management to get even closer to True North !

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lean Material Handling - Ditch the Forklift?

This is a guest post by Julien D├ępelteau from Flexpipe, a modular system to build material handling solutions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there are 34,900 serious injuries, including 85 fatal accidents per year in the Unites States involving forklifts. 11% of all forklifts will be involved in some type of accident each year and the manufacturing industry is the most affected with 42.5% of fatal accidents.

Many work-related factors can cause accidents with forklift trucks, such as lack of training, poor maintenance, blocked vision, improper backing, speed, poorly stacked loads, improper communication or workplace design.

In assembly factories, poor workplace design is one of the main factors for forklift accidents. Creating designated walkways to separate pedestrians and forklifts is a must in the industry, but poor workplace design also includes narrow, crowded and cluttered aisles, working in the general area of forklift operations and mainly forklift traffic in work areas.

Traffic in work areas occurs when forklifts are used to handle and transport input, work in progress or output to work cells. Most companies have limited work space increasing the risk of accidents. To reduce the risk of accidents, process engineers need to consider handling the material differently.

Light materials (less than 2000lbs) can be handled by using jiggers, conveyors, push carts, tugger carts or by redesigning the floor layout and redefining processes. The spaghetti diagram is a good tool to review forklift congestion.

Safety is not the only concern for reducing forklift use; maintenance, congestion, flexibility and productivity also benefit from this change.

For example, instead of carrying 1 load of finished products at a time from a work area to storage area with a fork lift, tugger carts can be used to carry multiple loads of finished products including empty carts that can be left in work areas afterwards. Furthermore, tugger operators always have a clear view because the loading is done in the back.

Forklifts should be restricted to their designated work areas, where vertical storage is needed or for shipping purposes. This should contribute in the reduction of accidents involving forklifts.

Flexpipe can build shadow boards and other 5S tools such as custom workstations, roller racks or carts. A modular material handling system made of pipes and joints; Flexpipe helps companies move forward in a lean journey.