Purpose – With this paper we aim to explore the opportunities and limitations of implementing Lean production in the social service context.
Methodology/approach – This paper is based on an ongoing longitudinal case study performed in the municipal social services. Several data collection methods have been used. First, we performed interviews with employees and managers in January-June 2012. Second, a questionnaire was sent out to all employees (n=303, response rate = 56%) in June - August 2013. Third, we have participated in numerous education events, improvement meetings, feedback seminars and strategic meetings. Fourth, we have studied protocols from project group meetings and other meetings that were relevant for the Lean work, as well as internal and external information about the Lean work.
Findings – This paper shows that there are big differences on how Lean can be applied in front-office and back-offices processes. The application of Lean production have a limited value for the improvement of front-office processes that imply a high degree of service characteristics. The limitation of Lean is the absence of principles that can be used to enhance the value creation in the meeting and interaction with users. In back-office processes where service characteristics are less evident, the Lean principles are more suitable and easy to apply. By engaging employees in improvement work Lean helped the social service organization to achieve more coordinated and consistent workflows and thereby shorten handling times and reduce costs.
Practical implications – Since Lean production was not intended to assure the functional quality of services it needs to be complemented by other improvement activities to enhance the value co-creation with the user. In respect to the current trend of greater involvement of users, citizens and the wider community in public services an important question for the social service providers is not just how to improve the organization, but how to better work with users and other involved persons.
Originality/value – The current research on Lean in public services is limited to a number of case studies describing success stories from implementing some Lean methods and tools. In our study we take different approach and analyze Lean production from the distinctive context and purpose of the social service. We discuss how the service characteristics and the technical and functional dimensions of service quality influenced the choice of Lean principles, methods and tools, and what implications it has for improving municipal social services.
2014. Vol. 28
Lean production, service characteristics, public sector, social service, improvements