Purging waste and redeeming time
How Lean makes a difference in service-based business
Time is money in any industry. The credit union system is no exception.
Some time ago at First West, we became acutely aware of the value of our time and how it’s best spent serving and creating value for our members. In an industry where member experience and satisfaction are often differentiators, organizations are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to gain a competitive edge and maximize their business opportunities and growth. One way that First West is accomplishing this is through embedding Lean into our culture and encouraging our employees to apply Lean practices into their day-to-day work.
While it may be a newer concept in the service industry, Lean principles have been used in the manufacturing sector for decades. Simply put, Lean is an efficiency-finding approach that organizations worldwide have adopted to empower their employees to streamline their own work and to reduce waste. The core idea behind Lean is to create more value for customers with less waste. It is not a tactic or cost reduction program, but a way of thinking and acting for an entire organization. As such, to be successful, Lean must be embedded into the culture of an organization and embraced by all employees.
Transforming an organization through Lean requires much effort, investment and planning, but the end results are invaluable. Great service is not easy and fantastic experiences don’t just happen. It takes the concerted effort, united vision and commitment of all parts of an organization to make them happen consistently. To say that Lean isn’t an easy job is an understatement, but when you see your improved, trimmer organization and the tangible benefits for your members and customers, you’ll know it was worth the effort.
A big part of the Lean process is called the kaizen. Best translated as “good change”, kaizen gives team members a chance to come together to improve their own workplace. In a corporate kaizen, participants map out current, problematic processes, identify pain points and generate ideas to eliminate wasted time, money and effort. A kaizen concludes with action plans, task owners and commitment from all stakeholders. For us, the goals are simple: to identify ways we can help our members wait less, pay less and get better service from us.
Notably, since First West went Lean in 2010, we eliminated 562,000 minutes of waste in our first year. These time savings were largely made up in an overhaul of the account opening process for new members, which was reduced from a 60-minute process to a 10-minute one and saving 900 hours per year in processing time for commercial mortgages.
As a result of the time savings and their increased capacity, our employees were able to tackle higher-value tasks that they were not able to do before, which gave way to the potential to increase employee engagement and improve financial performance.
Equally important is that through Lean, every employee is engaged to be a problem-solver and solution-creator at First West—not just a select few or a specialized department. Across the organization, approximately 70 per cent of our team members have taken some form of Lean training, including one-day, one-week, three-week and even more intensive training. Lean experts qualify at various stages and are identified by a Lean Whitebelt, Greenbelt or Blackbelt depending on the level of training and on-the-job Lean implementations.
For First West, Lean is a natural extension of our business. It’s all about finding ways to better deliver a remarkable member experience every time and focusing on adding value for our members by eliminating waste in our processes and how we operate. It’s really a perfect fit with our organizational vision and commitment to continuous improvement.