Applying Lean in a Soup Kitchen? Of Course You Can!

Author: Russ Aikman

Posted: December 2015

A common argument from individuals who are new to Lean principles is ‘We’re different. This Lean stuff doesn’t apply to us. It only works in manufacturing.’ Experienced Lean Six Sigma (LSS) practitioners know Lean practices have been successfully implemented in a wide variety of non-manufacturing industries including health care, finance and banking, retail, insurance, supply chain, government, and the armed forces. At TMAC, we’ve even had individuals attend our Lean Six Sigma training from a casino and a pawn shop. But what about using LSS at a charitable organization? In a New York Times article from 2013 writer Mona Al-Naggar describes how The Food Bank for New York City applied Lean principles to improve different processes. One of those processes was at a soup kitchen in Harlem, where the wait time for dinner was reduced from up to 90 minutes to 18 minutes – an 80% improvement. They received help in this endeavor from the company credited with the development of Lean – Toyota.

Here is a link to that article: New York City Food Bank Article

In reading this article I counted a dozen different Lean tools or methods which were implemented across the three processes discussed. Which Lean methods do you see? What challenges did the Lean practitioners overcome? Finally: Does this story give you ideas about implementing Lean at your company? Or perhaps at a nonprofit in your hometown?

More about Russ Aikman:

Russ is the LSS Program Manager at TMAC, and started the program in 2003. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 30 years of experience working in a wide variety of industries, and with small firms up to Fortune 500 companies. He has taught dozens of LSS classes from Yellow Belt up to Master Black Belt. He has also coached hundreds of LSS practitioners on their projects and advised managers on their LSS program. Before joining TMAC he worked at George Group, the first firm to integrate Lean and Six Sigma.


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