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September 2, 2009

Review of “The Lean Toolbox for Service Systems” by John Bicheno

The Lean Toolbox for Service Systems is the best book on lean service I have seen – because John Bicheno recognises the true nature of service. Many lean service books insist that lean manufacturing tools can be applied equally in service processes. This may be true in a minority of service situations (fast food service being the classic example. Paying money into the bank may be another example).

As Mr Bicheno shows, process stability is achieved in manufacturing by reducing variation (for example by standardisation). This is not the case in service situations where responding to the varied needs of the customer is a real way to add value. In service a skilled and flexible workforce is the way to deal with variety, not standardisation of the customer experience !.

Many lean service tools and techniques are presented in the book. It is a toolbox of different approaches for different circumstances, rather than a narrative of a single “best” method.

The book does have some weaknesses – for me these are in its discussion of customer value, and performance measures for service. Nevertheless, this is required reading if you are involved in service processes. It contains so much I immediately had to go back and read it again !.