How to Uncover Waste and Variation

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One of the most important resources a company has is its employees. Their job is to do what the company requires of them and they do it on a daily basis. They aren’t charged with the responsibility of improving or changing processes already in place. However, they are usually in the best position to help identify potential beneficial operational changes. Moreover, if changes are to be made, it is very important to have buy-in from the employees who will be making changes from the comfort zone of familiarity.

Identifying and making changes to get rid of waste

Waste is essentially any step, task or activity that does not directly add value to your product in the eyes of your customers. Think about it as a three-point test:

  1. Does the step physically change something?
  2. Does the step produce something your customers actually care about, meaning they are willing to pay for it?
  3. Is the step self-correcting, meaning eliminating the need for rework, self-inspection or double checking?

Procedures for brain storming waste

Gather up a group of employees who work in targeted job areas. A facilitator who will guide the brain storming will use a white board and have users and others directly involved with the process or problem to review the “real world” step-by-step processes and procedures they use on a daily basis. As they go through the process, they identify areas of waste and potential solutions.

Then the facilitator should ask the group“If we were to count all the time we waste due to the things that make us crazy and other sources of waste and variation, what percentage of our day is wasted?” Estimates can vary but this can give us an approximation of the cost of the inefficiencies and waste. However, it is important to obtain a consensus on the problems, problem costs and potential solutions.

Once a consensus is reached about waste, cost and solutions, the discussion shifts to how might changes affect the process upstream, downstream and tangentially. If the process change touches other parts of the general process, users and stakeholders from those areas should also review how any changes would affect them. The question is then explored as to how the employees would respond to actually making those changes. If there is resistance to the changes, the root causes need to be discussed and a way found to gain consensus as a team on how the changes can be made.

Procedures for improving variation

Wherever there are established measured performance benchmarks, variations around the benchmarks need to be established as to what is acceptable and what is not. For example, if a fast food restaurant has a speed of service benchmark of 5 minutes from order placement to delivery, what happens if that benchmark is being exceeded on a regular basis? Most likely it can result in higher labor costs and lower customer satisfaction. So, what needs to be done?

First question is: is the benchmark reasonable? If not, what should it be? If the benchmark is reasonable, then it’s time to use the same procedures we used to identify and reduce waste to identify bottlenecks. We gather the employees, put up a white board and go over the process from production to delivery and identify where any improvements can be made.  Solutions are solicited from the employees. Once the best solutions have been reached by consensus, brain storming on potential problems with new procedures takes place by examining issues such as how will they affect employee stress levels, quality issues and how improved efficiencies impact cost. Once again, it is very important to achieve buy-in of the employees who will need to make the changes.

To summarize, using target area employees to help resolve issues of waste and efficiency achieves several important objectives:

1. Describe the actual, real world processes and procedures and identify areas for improvement in waste and efficiencies.

2. Create a team effort and consensus buy-in from stakeholders for the need and benefits of the changes.

Often, management believes they fully understand how their business is getting done. However, what is perceived may be different from the reality. That is why wise managers often call upon an outside business consultant or analyst to make sure employees and management are all on the same page and cut through any “political constraints.” Indeed, if changes are crammed down blindly from the top down, resistance is the usual first reaction. This can lead to failure of making needed changes as well as negatively affecting company morale and management credibility…

 

Additional Reading

Brainstorming and Brainwriting Best Practices

Team Empowerment – The Honor Code

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