How is it possible to do any more with any less? That’s what nonprofit organization leaders have been asking themselves. During difficult economic times, donors and funders often reduce giving, making it more difficult for nonprofits to serve clients. For this reason, nonprofits are compelled to identify new or innovative ways to keep service levels up and costs down.
For nonprofit organizations, Lean manufacturing principles can serve to help staff and volunteers reduce needless effort, as well as assist in better support of their mission. Sheilah "Paddy" O'Brien recently published a book that captures many of the best practices of businesses and applies them to nonprofits. The book, titled "Lean for the Nonprofit, What You Don't Know Can Cost You," presents a streamlined management method.
At the heart of Lean manufacturing principles is the motivation to produce quality products as efficiently as possible. Doing so reduces the expenditure of time, energy and resources for both the producer and the consumer. Nonprofit organizations can apply Lean practices to increase service delivery by working smarter, not harder.
At 37 pages O’Brien gives a brief overview of Lean and how rapid improvement events can improve processes within nonprofits. There is a detailed case study of an eligibility process for a health plan at an insurance company to illustrate the process. She includes a number of color images to support her points. This whole primer is about focusing on reducing the waste with processes to free up more capacity and dollars. Many organizations do not know about waste and instead are focused on optimizing what is already working well.
While there is much literature on Lean manufacturing principles in traditional and service industries there is very little for nonprofits. This primer can be a good interlude for nonprofit leaders to consider another way however you’d need more training to execute successfully.