Judy Lysne with Lifeworks

Act Like a Business featuring Judy Lysne with Lifeworks

Written by John P. Palen, CEO and Founder of Allied Executives Published February 2012 in the Minnesota Business Magazine

Waste is a big focus in business. Every leader I talk to is finding ways to cut the fat from internal processes, from production to billing. Many have successfully achieved higher margins, productivity and profits simply by eliminating wasteful activities.

At Lifeworks Services, based in Eagan, this journey started with clothes hangers. After helping a hanger recycler achieve leaner production processes, going from a 25 percent hanger toss rate down to less than 5 percent, the leaders at Lifeworks realized that their own organization could use some waste reduction.

Since the 1960s, Lifeworks has focused on serving people with developmental disabilities. This people and mission focus, as in most not-for-profit organizations, tends to override thoughts of internal efficiency. But as government funding decreases and donors demand that more money goes directly toward the mission, not-for-profits have looked at best practices in the private sector to improve their organizations.

"We have always been a learning organization," said Judy Lysne, CEO and president of Lifeworks. "But in the past few years, we've really embraced lean process innovation and began to apply it to every aspect of our organization."

Taking what they've learned from analyzing businesses like the hanger recycler - which hires Lifeworks to design improved production processes, place and train people with disabilities to perform repetitive or routine tasks - Lifeworks looked at everything from facility layouts to employee tasks and client activities. They counted and measured how long tasks took. They noted where activities slowed down. They determined who or what was responsible for delays.

When it was time to build out a space for a new program center in Brooklyn Park, Lifeworks used this research. They designed the facility so that transportation is streamlined, allowing multiple buses to stop, drop off or pick up clients at the same time. When clients arrive or leave, there is a consistent process for handling coats and personal items with new mobile locker units.

In the food service area, the layout of the kitchen and serving area is designed for efficiency. Changes there reduced prep time and serving by up to two hours.

A more open layout in the facility - with more internal windows between rooms - allows staff to monitor activities throughout the space, respond faster and be more productive.

For the daily distribution of client medication, an automated and mobile cart system has maintained accuracy while reducing distribution time by one hour - and with fewer staff.

Lifeworks also addressed lean process improvements in the headquarters' administration area, which includes customer fiscal/intermediary services for their clients. They identified 21 separate processes in the department. After taking four of them through process improvement, the employees experienced more efficient workflow, which has led to greater job satisfaction as well as improved margins.

"We are still working on process improvements for payroll and billing," Lysne says. "But it's exciting because we can now measure and see actual improvements."

Lifeworks serves Minnesota employers as big as Wells Fargo, REI and Cargill. They continue to share their knowledge of lean process improvements with private employers, as they analyze processes and identify places where a Lifeworks client or crew can increase workflow efficiency.

"Because we want to place our clients in jobs in corporations, we needed to show that we run ourselves like a business too," Lysne says.

Lifeworks' workflow solutions for the hanger recycler alone resulted in savings of approximately $40,000. I'm sure that many companies and organizations would appreciate that kind of savings.

Whether you are for-profit or not-for-profit, the bottom line counts. Are you on the waste reduction train?

Tips for Leaner Workflow
1) Observe daily processes to measure the number of steps and amount of time they take.
2) Determine whether inefficiency is due to tasks performed, equipment design, lack of training or unclear expectations.
3) Identify key people involved in each change. Once you see progress and results, make the change public and applicable to everyone.
4) Stay focused on sustaining change until it becomes part of the culture.
5) Share and celebrate results.