Written by Brion Hurley, Community Consulting Lead for Lean Portland

For decades, the methodologies of Lean and Six Sigma have spread successfully throughout many industries, from manufacturing, hospitality, banking, utilities, aerospace, automotive, entrepreneurship, and even entertainment.

In addition, sustainability and social responsibility are also becoming popular approaches within organizations. Volunteering and fundraising are common ways that companies populate their annual reports, to show all the good they are doing in the communities where they reside. Although these approaches are beneficial to these nonprofits, imagine if the organizations became more fully engaged in these major societal problems?

What if organizations could volunteer their process improvement skills, in addition to donating their money?

Unfortunately, not many organizations are doing this today. The volunteering might require their hands for a couple hours, but what would happen if they volunteered their business skills and experiences?

One organization in Portland, Oregon (USA) is working on ways to help engage these organizations in more hands-on support of larger problems within the Portland metro area.

Started in 2012, Lean Portland has been organizing Lean and Six Sigma practitioners (typically from local for-profit organizations) to volunteer teaching and coaching nonprofits, non government organizations (NGOs) and not-for-profit organizations how to operate more efficiently and effectively to achieve their mission. The practitioners are able to share their knowledge with an eager audience, and the nonprofits get the benefits of making their donations and workforce better achieve their mission.

Customer welcome stations added near entrances at The Rebuilding Center in Portland, Oregon

Initially started as a LinkedIn group, over the past 2 years Lean Portland has been organizing and expanding their work to support the following nonprofits: Friends of the Children, Social Venture Partners, The Rebuilding Center, Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, and Free Geek.

Here is a quick summary of the work that has been done with each nonprofit…

  • Friends of the Children – Provides long-term mentoring relationships with at-risk youth. Performed process mapping and used lean concepts to determine reasons why mentors were spending too much time performing administrative work (driving to fill out time sheets), instead of spending time with the youth.
  • Social Venture Partners – Help match experienced volunteers to nonprofits in need. Facilitated a process mapping exercise to capture current state, to help volunteers better understand the on-boarding process.
  • The Rebuilding Center – Receives and processes donated construction materials, to sell back to the public, or donate to construction projects assisting those in need. Developed a new cashier checkout area and welcome stations to improve the customer experience, and are developing a staging area and kanban system to streamline hardware and lighting donations.
  • Oregon Entrepreneurs Network – Help entrepreneurs and startup companies connect and network with experts to help them successfully launch their idea. They are using kaizen boards to manage events, electronic 5S to reduce IT storage costs, and developing standard work for new organization sponsors.
  • Free Geek – Receives and processes donated electronics, to sell back to the public, donate to those in need, or properly recycle the items. They are using Lean to decrease the backlog of donated laptops through value stream mapping, daily management, and kaizen events, and implementing 5S to improve the testing and reselling of mobile devices (smartphones and music players).

You can keep up with the latest work with these nonprofits on their Clients page >>>

Before and after results of early 5S activity at Free Geek in Portland, Oregon

In addition, Lean Portland has been taking on larger social problems across the entire metro area, such as the problem of wasted food. By teaching and mentoring organizations and government agencies how to conduct Six Sigma improvement projects and kaizen events to reduce wasted food, they hope to reduce the methane emissions of food in the landfill, increase the amount of food donations, and decrease costs to the organizations. You can watch videos of Workshop #1 (Lean Six Sigma Overview) and Workshop #2 (DMAIC and Project Charters).

But, isn’t it difficult to get volunteers to help out?

You might think that the volunteers are purely altruistic about helping nonprofits, but there are quite a few benefits for them. Not only do they meet, network and learn from other practitioners about the project they are supporting, but these discussions can be taken back to their jobs to address challenges they face. In addition, there have been numerous job opportunities for some of the volunteers, based on the success of their nonprofit work.

Another surprise benefit of the volunteer experience has been the number of individuals who do not have much Lean or Six Sigma knowledge, but are gaining these skills with the nonprofit work. They want to learn more about these techniques, but their company does not have an improvement program, or they cannot get approval to attend training, or are not given time to work on improvements. Volunteering with Lean Portland allows them to quickly develop their skill set, which can open up new opportunities for them.

To bring this full circle, Lean Portland also hopes the volunteers will bring back these experiences to their organization, to help address internal social responsibility issues, such as those described in ISO 26000: organizational governance, human rights, labor practices, environment, fair operating practices, consumer Issues, and community involvement and development.

If you’d like to see case studies, videos and interviews of how Lean and Six Sigma have been applied to mission driven organizations (such as food banks, healthcare, household goods donations, education, environmental issues, government, and natural disasters), visit LeanSixSigmaforGood.com