A troubling myth of Lean is that it only applies to the manufacturing sector of a given company or business. The problem with this line of thinking is that it creates a singular relationship between Lean strategies and one aspect of the workforce. The truth is that Lean is a set of ideals that helps to standardize and eliminate waste from any work process. Through this lens, Lean concepts apply to almost any industry.

Consider a service industry, such as a nonprofit organization, for example. At this particular nonprofit organization, let’s say there are two groups of people who submit grants. One group submits grants for programming purposes, while the other submits grants for operating costs. If you collect all of these folks in one room and ask them to explain the process for submitting grants, what are the odds that each person would respond the same way? The chances are that even the people on the same team will have slight variations in their grant submission process. Lean strategies focus on inconsistencies in any activity, not just manufacturing activities. This particular nonprofit might consider implementing a Lean process to address the variability in their grant submission process.

Lean strategies also focus heavily on customer value. Consider a designer for a major clothing brand or the sales division of an online retailer. In both of these roles, there are many issues that could arise to interrupt the customer experience. The items’ designs may be off-brand, the buying process may be confusing, or the delivery process may be inconsistent. All of these things can have a direct negative impact on the customer experience, forcing customers to take their business elsewhere. Employing Lean strategies to standardize how items are designed, sold, and delivered can positively impact business development.

Another critical aspect of Lean is its focus on continuous learning. In manufacturing, this includes assessing processes regularly to determine what improvements could be implemented to make the process stronger. It’s not waiting for a problem to occur and then addressing it; it’s being proactive about improvement upfront. The same process can be applied in other industries, such as scheduling appointments in an academic advising office. By assessing the process for scheduling continuously, you might receive feedback that enables you to create a more streamlined process or increase the volume of students seen in a day. The idea here is to leverage your people’s critical thinking skills so that they can continue to address increasingly complex situations and systems. This ensures consistently improving levels of high-quality service. Whether you work on the front lines of a manufacturing plant or in a college academic advising office, the goal of continuous improvement can only serve to bolster your productivity, eliminate waste from your processes, and keep and attract new customers.

The goal of Lean isn’t to focus exclusively on improving the manufacturing industry or even to focus on specific processes and procedures. The goal is to develop Lean thinkers – people who look for ways to improve every process and procedure in front of them. It’s Lean thinking that makes companies more streamlined, client-focused, and profitable.