Rethinking Lean Service

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Over the last four decades it has been common for services to be treated like production lines in both the academic literature and more widely in management practice. The belief that achieving economies of scale will reduce unit costs is a core feature of management decision-making. As technological advance has produced ever more sophisticated IT and telephony, it has become increasingly easier for firms to standardize and off-shore services. The development of the ‘lean’ literature has only helped to emphasize the same underlying management assumptions: by managing cost and workers’ activity, organizational performance is expected to improve. This paper argues that ‘lean’ has become subsumed into the ‘business as usual’ of conventional service management. As a result, ‘lean’ has become synonymous with ‘process efficiency’ and the opportunity for significant performance improvement—as exemplified by Toyota—has been missed.

Submitted by:
John Seddon & Brendan O’Donovan, Vanguard Consulting Ltd.

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