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Does Lean work outside of manufacturing?

Cars or Charities: Same Horse, Different Jockey

I had to strain to hear this great question, and only grasped it at the third attempt. At this point, the student sunk back into her chair expectantly as my lean heart leapt.

'The student' being one of 120 Masters students who'd turned up to hear me speak for 45 minutes about consulting before taking a 15 minute opportunity to ask questions and root around in my brain. My usual preference is to minimise the lecture and open the whole thing up to questions to get a dialogue going. One hour and 6 questions later, I exited stage left.

Their attention was likely heightened by the knowledge that they were about to embark on a short real-life consultancy exercise, rather than by my silver-tongued puppet show. The great question I had been asked at the top of this blog was something like

"This SQDCP business only really works with manufacturing businesses doesn't it?"

Lean Outside of Manufacturing - Pain v Gain

We'd been discussing where to start when your client knows they're hurting but can't see clearly enough to self-diagnose. We'd been through Gain (e.g. growing market share) v Pain (e.g. losing business because of Quality or Delivery issues) and the importance of understanding where you're hurting Customers. Naturally we ended up on the topic of diagnosing internal pain.

Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost & People (SQDCP)

I'd taken them through the trickiness of balancing SQDCP (Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost and People) in a manufacturing business...

In a Manufacturing business


Everyone goes home with same eyesight, fingers and toes they turned up with


We ship good Quality product, to customer specification,right first time


We ship this good stuff on time, in full, in correct packaging & paperwork (every time)


We do all of the above at a reducing cost that lets us turn enough profit to survive, reward shareholders and reinvest


We nurture current and future talent to do all of the above AND to want to keep doing it which point my student questioner thrust her hand into the air and floated the query. Luckily I was prepared by a conversation I'd had a number of times, most usefully with a friend of mine who runs a charity. I do a little volunteering for this befriending charity and we'd been chatting about what to focus on to improve the charity in the next year.

In a Charity

So, I told the assembled students how I'd applied lean outside of manufacturing with this charity supplying volunteers to befriend and help elderly people.


My friend has to ensure that each elderly person is safe with the selected volunteer, that the support task is risk assessed for both volunteer and elderly person


Ensuring that the task, for example shopping or a small DIY project,  is carried out so that the shopping returns home in good condition and the shelf stays up


The volunteer turns up when they say they will and their valuable spare time is not wasted or extended unnecessarily


This kind of charity needs every penny of funding possible to flow to the front line (minimising management/admin costs while maintaining SQD)



Generating a pipeline of capable, committed volunteers and developing staff to run the charity well over time.

To use a horse racing analogy, it's the same horse with a different jockey. Whatever product or service your business provides, It's likely that SQDCP thinking will broaden your view of what needs to be improved Operationally. The approach for something like Practical Problem Solving is the same as we've proven a number of times with non-manufacturing clients.

I'm proud to say that my daughter has also applied lean thinking in an International Development setting

By the way, should our paths ever cross I'll tell you a darkly amusing story involving a pressure washer, an extension cord and an elderly client. Don't worry, nobody was harmed in the making of this anecdote.


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