Lean Non Profit? Absolutely!

I had the opportunity last month to introduce Lean Thinking to some of our local non-profit organizations. I honestly wasn’t sure how well Lean fit the not-for-profit sector, since this is traditionally a for-profit tool to – you know – increase profits. 

A little research reveals that many non-profit organizations have embraced Lean Thinking and have made it part of their DNA. Goodwill, The United Way, Tamarak, Canadian Blood Services. All actively running Lean.

Does it help them? I’ll let our local hospital speak for itself:

In 2010 St. Mary’s General Hospital endorsed a vision: to be the safest and most effective hospital in Canada, characterized by innovation, compassion and respect.

The hospital’s Senior Leadership Team set out to embed Lean thinking across the organization in order to improve quality and safety for patients and staff. Effective use of Lean requires staff to develop a mindset that incremental improvements across the organization result in significant positive experiences and outcomes for our patients and families. Staff are encouraged to identify problems, propose and try new solutions, and measure whether the new way is better and sustainable.

In 2012 and 2016 St. Mary’s had had the lowest HSMR scores in Canada, affirming its safest hospital status.


Theory of Change = Value Stream Map

In building our presentation, my colleague – who has more experience in the non-profit sector – explained how the “Theory of Change” tool is commonly used to develop the mission approach for non-profit organizations. I immediately saw the parallel to a Lean “Value Stream Map.” Both tools connect the resources/current conditions through to the vision/value.

Lean Value Stream
Lean Value Stream = NP Theory of Change

Start with Why!

Upon further reflection, I realized the Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle nicely illustrates where the P and NP comfort zones overlap with Lean. Simon says “start with your Why.” All right – who does this? Who is more mission-based: Profit or Non-Profit organizations? Almost a rhetorical question, isn’t it. So, NP’s have a crystal-clear “why.” The Theory of Change tool helps NP’s build their “What” – what initiatives or strategies do they need to carry out their mission. It’s the remaining “How” that becomes the challenge. How to deliver the programming, how to build schools where there are few supplies, how to mobilize an army of volunteers.

Lean is a perfect fit! Lean is all about the How. It helps teams build better processes. If you need to accomplish big things with limited resources – volunteers or donations; Lean is ideal. 

A Personal Case

My in-laws used to deliver for the local St. Vincent De Paul – taking food hampers to the community in need. It was a lovely thing for them to do. But there were problems. Waste. Crushed boxes of cereal, cans missing labels, last minute trips to the grocery store, wrong addresses. Lean Thinking takes each of these, not as failures, but as opportunities for improvement. All of these problems are solvable. And finding systematic solutions would have helped my in-laws as volunteers, prevented wasted donations, and improved the service to those in need. That’s what we do with Lean. What I want to do for organizations within my reach. It helps. It works. Regardless of your charitable status.

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