In our podcast this week with Paddy O’Brien, author of “Lean for the Nonprofit: What You Don’t Know Can Cost You,” we are discussing how applying Lean concepts can greatly benefit your nonprofit organization by streamlining processes, maximizing use of funds, and even increasing income as was done with one zoo.
Paddy O’Brien has an MPA from Cornell University, a BA from Pitzer College, and is certified in Lean, project management, and communications. She was instrumental in pioneering Lean in many state government services, ranging from child adoptions to motor pools. O’Brien has presented at national conferences, been the recipient of multiple awards, and has developed and delivered several courses on Lean, performance measures, and quality tools. She recently published a Lean coaching manual titled Navigating a Rapid Process Improvement Workshop.
You can listen and enjoy the full discussion with Paddy O’Brien in our podcast, but here are some of the highlights.
Using Lean to Improve Customer Experience at a Zoo
While Lean has been widely used and talked about in the manufacturing world, it can also be very beneficial for nonprofits. An example that Paddy gives in this podcast involves the improvement of the customer’s experience and resulting profits at a zoo. The process was first used to improve their payroll system, which resulted in a great reduction in mistakes and much happier staff. Then they started surveying zoo visitors to find out what they weren’t happy about. They discovered that parents with kids had to stand in long lines to buy tickets and some would give up before they could buy a ticket. As a result, they improved the ticket buying process, increased their profits and were able to build a new exhibit that they couldn’t previously afford.
Adopting Lean Concepts to Fit the Nonprofit Sector
Paddy pointed out that Lean is great for nonprofits, but not every nonprofit is ready to utilize this process. A nonprofit needs to be mature enough that the workflows of the organization are stabilized. Plus there has to be support from leadership and the board of directors.
Sometimes nonprofits don’t feel that Lean applies to them as the terminology doesn’t seem to fit, such as having “customers.” But “If you have a client or someone who comes into your office and seeks your services, they’re your customer.” The community you serve and your donors can be considered “customers.” By replacing some of the words that are used in Lean manufacturing with more nonprofit-oriented words, the Lean concepts will make more sense.
Benefits of Analyzing Processes: Reducing Wait Times
One example Paddy gives of using Lean was with the reduction of wait time for an application for a health plan. By utilizing the Lean analysis of the workflows, the application process was reduced from 45 days to 12. This not only improved their services to their community, but also reduced the cost of the process by recouping money that was spent on waste. They accomplished this in part by evaluating all the steps the application went through and eliminating unnecessary and redundant steps. 91% of the time taken previously was in the application sitting idle somewhere. Cross training was also utilized to eliminate slow downs from staff being absent.
Thinking Through – and Mapping Out – Processes
An organization that operates mostly in crisis mode is not ready for Lean. An organization must be able to recognize processes or systems. They need to think of their organization in terms of interconnected workflows, not just as an organizational chart. It is helpful to start listing your process flows.
“If anybody has been exposed to what I call the SIPOC diagram, I would suggest they would start thinking about what’s the main thing that they do in their organization and to do a supply-input-process-output-customer diagram. That helps them organize and they’d be ready to do a Lean project.”
It can be a little tedious, Paddy explains, but it really helps to recognize and understand all the steps and how they are interconnected. Then “you can give it a name, you give it a shape, and you work from there.”
Believe in the Process
When asked what is the most important attribute for somebody who is looking at managing this kind of process, Paddy’s answer it to “believe in the process. Any time you introduce something new to an organization there’s resistance.” Paddy suggests starting with an easy problem that is shared by a lot of the staff. In the zoo example above, it was the payroll problems. The success with that created enthusiasm for tackling other issues. Lean is not just for manufacturing; it also contains a lot of innovative management ideas.