Lean Office

Lean Office (28)

Taiichi Ohno, often referred to as the father of theToyota Production System seemed to think so. 

An exercise known as "Stand in a Circle" which  is said to have originated with Ohno was purposed to help managers understand and "see" waste.  History reports thatTaiichi Ohno would stand a manager in a chalk circle drawn on the shop floor with a one word instruction to  “watch.”  Undoubtedly,  Ohno had spotted something that he wanted the manager to see .  Several hours later, Ohno would return and ask “What do you see?” If the reply was  something other than what Ohno had noticed, he would simply ask the manager to “watch some more.”

In business processing terms, a bottleneck is a point of congestion in a system that occurs when workloads arrive at a given point more quickly than that point can handle them. The inefficiencies brought about by the bottleneck often create a queue (holding pattern) and what is known as a longer cycle time.  The term bottleneck refers to the shape of a bottle and the fact that the bottle's neck is the narrowest point, and thus the most likely place for congestion to occur, slowing down the flow of liquid from the bottle.

It’s likely that each one of us has experienced bottlenecks in the form of traffic congestion, long lines at the grocery store, extended telephone hold times or waiting for a  product to arrive from an online shipping service.  In the business world, the term is used to describe points of congestion in everything from poorly executed meetings, chaotic calendars, poor communication delivery, digital clutter and jammed email inbox's.

The 5 Whys is a simple problem-solving technique that helps you uncover the root of a problem quickly. Made popular in the 1970s by the Toyota Production System, the 5 Whys strategy involves looking at any problem and asking: "Why?" and "What caused this problem?"

Very often, the answer to the first "why" will prompt another "why" and the answer to the second "why" will prompt another and so on; hence the name the 5 Whys strategy.

The beauty of this approach is that it can assist you to quickly determine the root cause of a problem and it's simple to learn as well as apply. Take note that the more complex things become you may need to use a more sophisticated problem solving approach

Begin with the end result (i.e., the "problem") and work backward (toward the root cause), continually asking: "Why?"

For example, suppose you have a less than satisfied client who expressed frustration with the timely delivery of your services. Using the 5 Why's to target the cause of the problem might look like this:

During a  process improvement initiative; after you have targeted a process you would like to improve and have created a current map for that process, it will be time to examine the map for challenges, problems and opportunities for improvement! 

Below are 5 Questions that will guide you as you examine
each individual component of the current state  map; ask yourself (or your team):

  1.  Does something at this point in the process breakdown or result in a delay?
  2.  Do I (or others) experience frustration at this point in the process?
  3. Are there any low quality outcomes that result from this stage of the process?
  4. Does this part of the process result in unacceptable waste such as wasted time, space, money, energy?
  5. Does this part of the process consume a lot of my (or others)  time?

Each time you answer "yes" to any of  the questions for any step in your process, take a post it note or a highlighter and "flag" that area. Why?  Because you have just identified an area a perfect opportunity for improvement!

If you have not yet targeted a potential area for improvement, take 20 minutes and target a process you find yourself involved in on a daily basis; email, (as usual) keeps coming to mind. Create a  current map.  Then use the 5 questions above to examine the process a bit more closely and begin to look at how you can improve that particular part of the process.

As a business process enthusiast and advocate for Lean Office Improvement which by the way, I believe is an opportunity available to any and all business professional's, here is a quick look at how to "map" a process you recognize has room for, well improvement!

First identify a process you want to improve; for example the process you take for processing incoming email messages.

1. Start by documenting each of the activities that occur when the process is underway.
2. Use this information to create a macro map*
3. Gather data about the process such as how many steps or how much or time do you invest in the process, how often does the process take place?
4. Create an "as is flowchart" of the process*.

*Macro maps depict the major steps in a process; limit them to between 5 and 7 whereas when you create the "as is" flowchart, you will dive a bit deeper and depict activity in more detail. From there, dive deeper still, adding details about each step in the process and each of the activities performed.

Congratulations, you've just created what is known as a current state map. Tune in for the next post and learn how to examine the map and begin to identify improvement opportunities.

In most organizations (or in your own personal workflow) you may have noticed more than several problematic areas; processes or systems which are ripe for lean process improvement. The challenge is how do you decide which process to target first?

One approach is by creating a selection matrix in which you rate each process according to criteria which you pre-establish. The criteria might include how much time it would take to change a process, how much money may be involved, how many people are affected, o,r how problematic the problem is for you, your team or customers.

An easy way to do this is create a 6 column table in Word or Pages , or scratch one out on a piece of old fashioned scrap paper. List your criteria in column 1 ( on the far left side of the table) with a scale of 1 to 5 across the top of the 5 additional columns. Determine the scale value, i.e., will the number 5  represent the highest score and the number 1 represent the lowest?

Next; rate each respective criteria (using the 1-5 scale)  and see where the scoring "leads" you. Hopefully in a direction that narrows which process you want to tackle for improvement first.

Other tips for prioritizing might include:

o Selecting processes that will generate the most benefit for the least amount of monetary investment

o Identifying which process are most critical to you or your team's ability to contribute to the organization

o Asking team members, customers or external stakeholders for their point of view

o Concentrating on processes that have the greatest impact on the customer

o Targeting processes that result in costly problems such as failure to meet the customers need, high-cost or long cycle times

o Identifying process based on internal challenges such as a problematic process which is causing unnecessary conflict among team members

o Choosing a small but scalable process with high "visible" impact for the team or organization.

Bottom line, "everything is a process and every process can be improved".

Let us know where this exercise takes you; post what process you plan to tackle at  https://www.facebook.com/Simplicatelife

It's common for folks to voice frustration over challenges with managing time, tasks, goals and productivity Its also becoming more common for folks to invest time and effort towards overcoming these challenges. Often the biggest challenge is finding a starting point in the myriad of opportunities that may exist. One approach is to look for "signs of trouble".

Below are 10 questions that can help you hone in on what is known as a target area and help you or your team identify a process that is ripe for improvement and will ultimately result in improved productivity and efficiency.

1. Where do you hear complaints or frustration over a particular work task such as time invested in email or time managing the calendar, attending meetings or tracking appointments?

2. What process intuitively seems overly complex?

3. Where do you notice a variation in the amount of time different people take to perform the same task?

4. Have you or employees expressed frustration over a confusing process?

5. When you look at workflow; where do you notice bottlenecks that prevent one individual from completing their job responsibilities quickly and efficiently? Why?

6. When, where and why do you notice that something is not executed correctly or done right the first time?

7. Have you noticed negative customer feedback, or, lack of positive feedback around a certain issue, product or service?

8. What process is being done the same way it was being done 5 years ago? (There is likely room for improvement if no changes have taken place in 5 years)

9. What is being done in a paper form that could be managed digitally?

10. Where have you noticed that you or your team has failed to reach agreed-upon goals?

Ponder the above questions and I will bet an area that could benefit from process improvement, a Lean Office 5S initiative, productivity training or productivity coaching will come to light. What action will you take based on that awareness?

Business Process Improvement or BPI (also known as Business Process Re- engineering (BPR) and Business Process Management (BPM) is a productivity improvement approach and set of "tools" that knowledge workers, business owners, teams and managers can use to enhance their company's performance.

The focus of BPI is to evaluate and potentially change, adapt or even create business processes which improve the effectiveness or "outcome" of a given process.

A BPI initiative enables you to measure how effectively you or your team is meeting the needs of customers and can save both time and money by simplifying overly complex or expensive processes. At the same time you may discover entirely new processes as well as improve skill levels and areas of expertise.

A simple example: The parking department at a community college updates the permit process and enables students to apply for, purchase and download parking permits rather than visit the office in person, complete an application process, make payment and physically pick up the permit.

There are many things that may trigger a BPI effort such as the inability to accomplish a desired outcome, a shift in your customer preferences, inefficiencies or problematic performance that result in customer complaints or product defects, changes in technology, or, a significant change in the business landscape; even the emergence of competition.

Although an extremely simple process improvement initiative may not require the execution of each of the following 8 steps; these steps provide an understanding of the approach. The details of each step are beyond the 400 words allocated to this post; but feel free to connect withThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for information on BPI training

BPI in 8 Steps:

1. Identify or "target" an existing business process for improvement.

2. Define the scope of the initiative, i.e., where the process begins and ends.

3. Assemble a team to examine and evaluate the identified process.

4. Determine what changes could be made to re-design the targeted process; brainstorm ideas toward that end.

5. Obtain resources necessary to test or implement process change. This may include personnel, equipment, consulting, training and/or technology.

6. Identify metrics to benchmark the current state of the process as well as the optimal or future state of the process, i.e., approaches that measure the success of the improvement ideas.

7. Depending on the scope of the change; implement the process change as a pilot or in a beta format or introduce as the new standard.

8. Create ways to consistently evaluate effectiveness and continually improve the targeted process, composing further changes as necessary.

Those with a “process mindset” are those who consider how to improve an “output” whether that output is in the form of a product, service or value.  Process improvement in the simplest sense starts with an input followed by actions and decisions that culminate in a (hopefully) desired output.

To improve the quality or value of an output, the evaluation of business processes, using measurements and process mapping are powerful ways to discover and correct potential weak points that may be affecting a desired outcome.

You can cultivate a process mindset in your team or in yourself by constantly looking for ways to improve processes that will create greater efficiency, higher customer satisfaction, reduce errors, lower costs and ultimately enhance company profitability.

Fundamental to the process improvement methodology known as Lean Office, is the business process which can be defined as a set of steps performed to create a product, value or service for an “end user”, i.e., a “customer” and in the simplest sense, is comprised of  three key parts;  inputs, activities and outputs.

  1. An input is what starts a process for example when a customer orders a latte at the local coffee roaster, that request will require multiple inputs such as coffee, milk, the infusion of steam and so forth.
  2. Activities such as reaching for the cup, adding a pre-determined measurement of coffee, compressing the coffee, etc., will transform the inputs to result in an output.
  3. Outputs (outcomes) are the result of the activities in this example a latte.

Processes exist in every company and are not limited to the creation of a physical product.  An advertising company for example, provides services which include inputs that include, expertise, creativity and product knowledge, activities such as research, benchmarking, demographic studies and outputs; a marketing campaign that could include print media, television, radio or social media.

When a physical, tangible product in not outputted by a business, it may be easier to view business processes as activities a company executes toward fulfillment of their mission or purpose which will always involve information, people and technology.

Most every organization executes innumerable business processes, some simple and limited to a single department, others are more in-depth, complex and flow throughout an enterprise.

Because many business processes are invisible the impact they have on an organization's performance can be elusive.  When problems arise leaders often look for someone to blame and invest time and expense replacing the person supposedly at fault, or, they may opt to invest in new technology, again in an attempt to overcome the challenge.  In the far majority of circumstances lasting change and solutions will not result and overtime, the same problems will manifest again.

Dr. Edwards Deming estimated that 94% of organizational difficulties stemmed from flawed processes rather than incompetent individuals or in adequate technology. In lean management, understanding process glitches that lead to a problem allow you, your team and your organization to evaluate and correct processes which is what Lean Office and BPI, Business Process Improvement is all about.  Watch for our upcoming posts on developing and implementing Business Process Improvement for your organization.


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