Use business improvement techniques to transform services

Using Business Process Improvement (BPI) techniques, LEAN or Systems Thinking has helped a number of local authorities in the West Midlands to transform their services. The programme is anticipated to save the region of £30 million over five years, while delivering improved customer services

Efficiency and income generation

Impact overview

Ease of implementation
[1=hard 5=easy]
Risk level
[1=high 5=low]
Policy impact
[1=negative 5=positive]
Rate of return
[1=slow (>6 months) 5=fast (<6 months)]
2 3 5 2

The table uses a five-point scale. Each category defines the scale separately.

What is it?

Using techniques like LEAN, Six Sigma, Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) and value management, the aim is to simplify and standardise processes, using best practice models as internal benchmarks. These techniques interrogate the design and management of systems to identify and subsequently remove waste, thus making them more efficient. Good practice sees the involvement of staff at all levels and customers involved in the review. The customer is put at the heart of the service and processes that aren't serving either the customer or another essential function are removed. Due to the inclusive nature of LEAN and systems thinking reviews staff satisfaction tends to rise. Training staff in these areas also ensures that transformational skills are brought into the sector.

Potential savings, income generation and benefits

There are many illustrations in the public sector of the application of process improvement techniques. Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands (IEWM) has supported a range of authorities to use BPI, LEAN or Systems Thinking to transform services. The programme is expected to save the region of £30 million over five years, while delivering higher quality customer-focused services.

BPI projects – on the West Midlands IEP website

For example, a review of the transport system in Telford & Wrekin council has identified savings of £1.2 million over the next three years and £0.9 million a year thereafter. Highway repairs in Stoke City Council have also been transformed with average repair times reduced to 1.1 days from 33 and saving £140,000 a year. The IEP is also supporting the use of LEAN systems in multi-agency environments such as supporting the Dudley Partnership on the Misuse of Alcohol project. Another key benefit is that the projects try to embed transformational skills within the local authority.

Using a systems thinking approach, Nottingham City Council (CC) has saved more than £700,000 since February 2009 on its benefits service and is now implementing additional projects. Savings can be hard to nail down specifically if they are part of a wide-ranging programme that involves automation and consolidation.
Positive change: a systems thinking approach to customer-focused improvements – on the East Midlands IEP website

Vale of Glamorgan Council has radically transformed the way it provides services so that they have become more consistent, faster and more accessible. Increased automation and management of buying goods and services has saved more than £5 million to date. A similar programme in Enfield aims to save £30 million in five years.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), in partnership with Unipart, estimated a potential 30-50 per cent increase in productivity and £440 million savings through using LEAN processes.

Lewisham Housing Options service is working with the Design Council to reshape its homelessness service and place preventative services at the forefront of service delivery. They have identified £386,000 a year efficiency gains so far, as well as improving their service for customers from an initial outlay of just £7,000 plus staff time. The Design Council has undertaken a similar project with HRMC that has identified savings of over £1 million a year. 

How you can do it

  • Identify areas where LEAN and or systems thinking can be applied – these will typically be customer service areas, particularly those in which the organisation is performing less well.
  • Contact your IEP to find out what support or advice they can give.
  • Consider procuring consultancy support, some improvement and efficiency partnerships (IEPs) have consultancy frameworks, though internal consultancy can also be successful.
  • Consider training staff with the necessary skills – ensure methods are embedded in the organisation.

What are the risks and problems to avoid?

It is important to attend to the culture of the organisation to ensure staff are engaged and not threatened by the process. Transformational activity requires firm commitment from senior managers and officers. Significant savings and improved processes are generated when processes are redesigned across organisational silos and therefore focused on the customer. When processes are redesigned around existing silos the likelihood of success is significantly reduced. 

Where has this been already applied?

All IEPs have supported business transformation activities. Wiltshire CC has undertaken a series of LEAN initiatives in areas such as the ‘blue badge' service, reducing one aspect of the process from 50 days to two. Pothole filling and adult social care processes are also being examined. Stratford-on-Avon District Council has used systems thinking.

On the LG Improvement and Development website:

HMRC and Unipart – PDF file on the Public Service website

Lewisham housing options centre – on the Design Council website

What support is available to help implement this opportunity?

All IEPs have supported work in business transformation and are a good point of reference for advice and support.

LEAN Thinking Community of Practice

Efficiency Exchange

ESD toolkit

Related links

North East Improvement and Efficiency Partnership has produced a series of reports on improving the customer experience and using customer insight:

Resources from the 21st Century Services Programme – on the North East IEP website

Productivity: getting the best out of your people – on the LG Improvement and Development website

Approaches to partnership delivery – on the LG Improvement and Development website

LEAN thinking – on the NHS Evidence website