I claim companies can (and should) apply Lean thinking on three levels:

  1. An approach to identify, structure and solve problems
  2. Management system
  3. Specific tools and techniques for specific functions and issues

Lean was born in discrete manufacturing processes. The question I am often asked is “Can Lean be applied in services or demand creation processes such as marketing, sales or pricing?” It depends on the level. If you consider level 3, tools and techniques (as many lean practitioners easily do), the answer is the you need to make lots of modifications. Or just simply: no.

But that is not the whole truth because you are looking only at the details of the implementation, the tools and techniques.

Lean on level 1 and level 2 is more interesting and definitely more applicable to other processes and functions.

Lean is mindset and management philosophy. Lean is a structured approach that helps us improve our operations and processes. Lean thinking helps us to solve tomorrows problems based on the learnings we get from solving todays problems. The point is that we learn to solve problems. As we learn, we become better at problem solving. Faster. More accurate. More predictable. One pleasant side-product is that we also find solutions to current problems. Lean thinking enables organisations to become very good at problem solving, or to put differently, develop data driven problem solving capabilities.

Going back to the question “can Lean be adopted in service processes?”. Yes.

On level 1 Lean thinking is just as good in manufacturing as it is in service processes such as healthcare, sales or marketing.

On level 2 Lean can also be used as a management system. Which actions add value, which create waste. Very simple concept to be included in the management system.

Next time you encounter someone claiming Lean is not ripe for services, think again. And please challenge the other person to thinking three levels of Lean.

Take a look at my latest book on Amazon.com (titled Lean Sales) to learn how B2B companies can create breakthrough results in sales and marketing based on Lean principles and 20 case studies of implementation. Join the Lean Sales movement.
P.s. I am very interested to hear learnings and experiences from other companies applying Lean in sales.