Bottleneckin it Down

by JoeWhite 4. June 2010 08:47

A relay race is won and lost by the slowest runner! Bottlenecks are like the slowest runner.

Why would I want to do a Value Stream Map, Capacity Analysis or Spaghetti diagram and what should I do with the information once my team has worked hard and developed it? Well, the answer to the question is certainly not display all the information to everyone around so that you can have a good dog and pony show about process improvement the next time a VP comes through (although if you follow through, it is the beginning of a great story). The real reason we go through all of that work is to identify key areas of improvement opportunity and start to implement changes that will allow better performance of the value stream.

One of the key areas of improvement that these tools drive us to is bottleneck elimination. A bottleneck is the process within the value stream that limits the output. For instance, if there are 6 steps in the process of creating a customer order (taking the call may be step 1, Engineering review of the quote request may be step 2 and so on), whichever step requires the longest amount of time to complete is the bottleneck. The output of the value stream can never be greater than output of the bottleneck process. As bottlenecks are identified and eliminated, products or information will flow through them more rapidly and new bottleneck processes will be identified and will need to be addressed.

In order to eliminate bottlenecks, you may consider the approaches below. Of course, the right one will depend on the specific set of circumstances in your value stream.

  1. Balance the workload: Other processes may have excess capacity that can be utilized to offload some work from the bottleneck process. This is typically a very good method to alleviate bottlenecks.
  2. Hold a kaizen event to reduce the non-value-add portion of the work.
  3. Hold a kaizen event to reduce non-value-added work from another process so that work can be offloaded from the bottleneck. This has the added benefit of not disrupting the bottlenecked operation until some work can offloaded. Another kaizen event should follow to reduce non-value-added work in the bottleneck process once some of the pressure has been relieved.
  4. Follow the high level value stream mapping with a detailed process map of the bottleneck and look for improvement opportunities.
  5. Add resources to the bottleneck. Notice that this is the last suggested approach and I hesitate to put it on the list because it is very overused as a means to reduce bottlenecks. We typically jump to this one first, when it should really be pursued last. It made the list because there are times when adding resources is the only way to reduce the bottleneck, but this should be used primarily when customer demand has increased to a point that the bottleneck cannot keep up, rather than as a solution for poor process efficiency. Bottom line: Make sure you have the data to support the solution of adding more resources before you consider it as a solution.


Good luck and keep looking for the bottlenecks!

Select a Great Team or Suffer the Consequences

by JoeWhite 28. May 2010 08:45

Series: Executing a Kaizen Event

If you read this title and were immediately reminded of that ONE miserable project with a bad team (or team member), then you will probably be responding to this post. But, this post isn’t about bad team members or how to avoid them. Instead, it is about how to select a group of people that can fill the roles required by a project’s scope (be sure you read the post: Kaizen is not Japanese for Free Lunch) effectively and increase the probability of success.

For the sake of discussion, the selection of a Kaizen team will form the foundation for my thoughts. After the project scope has been defined and the project charter has been developed, the next step to leading a successful Kaizen Event is team selection. Thinking through all of the tasks that may be required to achieve the goals of the project and making a list of the skills that will be needed to accomplish those goals is a great way to start. Listing the skills first will allow you to keep your mind open and may lead to selecting a team member that you never would have considered otherwise.

Once the necessary skills have been identified, it’s time to start thinking of individuals that may have a desire to be involved with the team. Remember, you can’t force someone to participate passionately and you can’t fake desire, so it is rarely beneficial to force someone to be involved. Match the individuals that have the needed skills with those that have the desire, and the selection of the team will usually be easy.

An often overlooked team member is the “ringer”. I use this term to refer to the individual that comes from a completely unrelated part of the organization and knows very little of the processes that the team will be working to improve. It might seem strange that I recommend including one or two of these individuals, but these folks often turn into the real gems of the group. They ask the most important question of all… WHY? They are not encumbered by knowledge so they ask questions that no one else on the team would even think to ask. They see those forms of waste that others have grown to accept as part of the process and they challenge the rest of the team. Be sure to encourage them. The idea they bring to the table may seem crazy, but the idea that surfaces because of their off the wall suggestion may be the next “BIG ONE”.

A quick note on team size: my magic number is 6-8 team members and 1 team leader for Kaizen Events. If you have a co leader, be sure to count them as a team member. Any more and the team becomes less nimble; any less and you lose the critical mass needed to generate creativity. I realize that project scope and organizational culture is going to impact this significantly, but in a perfect world, 6-8 is an ideal team size.

Kaizen is not Japanese for Free Lunch

by JoeWhite 24. May 2010 07:57

Series: Executing a Kaizen Event

After I had led several Kaizen events, it hit me that I probably had eaten more Pizza served in the name of team lunches than I had outside of work. To be fair, I’m not a big Pizza eater anyway, but it seems that when a team is working together 10-12 hours a day during a Kaizen event, lunch is a great time to relax a little and process any thoughts the team has on the even we are currently performing. Pizza seems to help with this task.

One of the most common thoughts that most people new to properly executed Kaizen Events have is around the structure and the discipline of the event. They believed that executing a Kaizen Event just means locking yourselves in a room for a day, debating ad nauseam and coming out with some corrective action. Unfortunately, they also believe that the best thing you get out of these events is the free lunch. This is usually due to Kaizen events executed improperly, sometimes being led by people who think they are fighting fires, not carrying out a long-term improvement and corrective actions that may or may not work because the cause of the problem is usually conjecture with no evidence to back it up.

To overcome this issue, it is important for me to explain to the team what Kaizen is and what the structure of a Kaizen Event looks like as the first part of the event. And that is what I’d like to do for you in this series of posts.

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means unceasing change for the better. It is an iterative philosophy of continuous improvements (often very small in nature), rather than an attempt to make a process perfect based on tools like long term research, modeling and capital investment. The learning that takes place through these small, incremental changes may be more important than the improvement, because it is the foundation that leads to the next Kaizen and the next and so on. Kaizen doesn’t let the hope of becoming perfect get in the way of getting better.

Although it is based on the same philosophy, a Kaizen event is a bit more formal and of a larger magnitude. A Kaizen Event is typically a 1 week event that includes:

  • Training: A brief training session to cover topics specific to the event
  • Planning: A short planning session to determine specific activities that will take place and what the timeline will be (the timeline is typically done in hours since the events are usually 1 week or less)
  • Doing: A period of implementing improvements
  • Checking: Implementation of standard work and other methods to ensure improvements are sustained

Although it is based on the same philosophy, a Kaizen event is a bit more formal and of a larger magnitude. A Kaizen Event is typically a 1 week event that includes:

  • Proper up-front planning
  • Completing a project charter
  • Selecting a great team
  • Discovering causes (if it isn’t obvious)
  • Creating solutions
  • Managing the follow-up action item list
  • Keeping the team on schedule
  • Giving a good management presentation to celebrate the team’s success

Properly executed, a Kaizen Event is not a one-day meeting, were we get in a room, have some discussions on what’s wrong without any data or visibility into the problem and some corrective action that may as well be guess-work. It is about the discipline to plan, gather data, dig deeper into true causes, try a fix and measure how well (or even just if) the problem was fixed.

Finally, a quick note about nomenclature. Although he term Kaizen Event has been widely adopted, other, similar terms are also used: Blitz, Kaizen Blitz, Breakout, Spike, CIE (short for Continuous Improvement Event) and many other terms all represent essentially the same activities. The name really doesn’t matter. It is the goal of continual improvement and the discipline to carry it out in a well-organized manner with a good amount of preparation is what is important.

I will be posting each topic in ‘keys to a good kaizen event’ list above future posts. You can follow them by clicking on the items or just Executing a Kaizen Event series. Until then, feel free to comment on your experiences during improvement events (even if they weren’t officially Kaizen events)? What were some keys to success or factors for failure that you experienced?

Lean Office Waste #3: Handoffs (Part 2)

by Darian 19. May 2010 07:21

Type: Workflow Waste

In the last episode, our heroes were struggling with the office waste of handoffs – the relinquishment of responsibility over tasks, information, data, documents, forms, material goods, etc.  from one party and the delegation of that responsibility to another party.

Once we recognize that handoffs are ultimately waste, it’s time to start doing something about it.  The first thing to do is to find where it is occurring.  Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do using a swimlane diagram.  Even a rough flow of your process organized by departments (swimlanes) would highlight this waste wherever the process flow crosses the swimlanes.

Simply look for any place where the responsibility of the process and documents, data and other information within it change hands between individuals, teams, departments and even companies 

Once you have this, some simple metrics will show you which handoffs are the most important targets.  These could include:

  • How long each item takes to be handed off
  • The queue size when handed off
  • How much rework takes place and
  • How much time it takes between completion of work on the document from Alice’s side and resumption of work on Bob’s side.

Once identified, use the following tactics to combat this waste:

  • Get rid of the handoff: Get Rid of the handoff: It sounds so oversimplified but more often than not, we find that the handoff may be a result of “the way we’ve always done it” and not a necessity. Other times we can look at a group of back-and-fort handoffs and rearrange the process to optimize these. Whatever the reason, make sure the handoff is even necessary in the first place at that time in that process
  • Optimize your batch size: This doesn’t necessarily mean handing off each item as it comes along but perhaps handing off once a week or waiting until there are a certain count is too little.  Find the best fit, which usually means some discussion and experimentation.
  • Build integrity in: Find a way to “trust” what comes without auditing the contents for quality.  This may mean continuing the audit for a short while and keeping track of how many are defective and which pieces cause the most angst. The majority of defects will usually be due to a handful of causes.  Fix each one in-turn and fade out the audits after a while
  • Push authority down to the lowest RESPONSIBLE level:  Instead of 5 levels of approvals, trusting the line manager to do his/her job and execute the approval would lead to immense efficiencies
  • Form cellular groups: Ok, this is a bit advanced and I don’t expect you all to jump on this, but it is one of the most powerful things you can ever do within the office.  Cellular groups are comprised of all the individuals who are needed to send an item through a process sitting together as a team in the same room.  Handoffs and discussions occur between people sitting next to each-other instead of in the next building. The best part is that you don’t need to reorganize or change your reporting structure to execute this tactic.

Out of the 30+ different kinds of wastes we have identified, this one is one of the worst offenders. It is a breeding ground for other wastes, causing inefficiencies, loss of productivity and worst of all, wasted time for your customers – internal and external.  Find it and snuff it out. 


Tags: , , ,
Categories: Continuous Improvement | Lean Office | Office Waste | Workflow Waste

Lean Office Waste #3: Handoffs (Part 1)

by Darian 18. May 2010 08:26

Type: Workflow Waste

Birds do it. Bees do it. You do it almost everyday, especially in the office! I’m referring, of course, to handoffs – the act of turning over tasks, information, data, documents, forms, material goods, etc. to a colleague, group, department, etc. Unfortunately, for something that is such an embedded part of our process, the simple fact is that handoffs are a source of immense waste.

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” you say, “We need to hand our work-product off to the next downstream consumer!” True, but consider the definition of a handoff to see how they are a source of waste. Handoffs are the relinquishment of responsibility over an item or task from one party and the delegation of that responsibility to another party. Handoffs occur on different levels, including handing off within your own team, to another team, another department or another company (i.e., supplier, vendor, partner, customer, etc.). Unfortunately, with each handoff, we get other forms of waste creeping in, including, audits, batching & queuing, and worst of all, waiting. The more removed the party being handed off to is (both organizationally and physically), the worse the associated wastes become.

To illustrate this point, consider Alice and Bob who sit in neighboring cubes (yes, I know you know I hate cubes but that’s a whole different discussion). If Alice needed to hand Bob a document, she would merely do just that: hand it to him. He, in-turn, may have a brief discussion about it with her. If something requires Alice’s attention when Bob is working on it, Bob would just pop his head over his cube and ask Alice to look at it.

Now consider the situation if Bob worked for another organization. Because of the separation, she will most likely email the document to him, where it will sit until he can get to it. (Don’t discount how much the cliché “out of sight, out of mind” is a real contributor to waste.) He will then have to go through the document to make sure everything is in order (a wasteful audit) before he will assume responsibility. This may involve one or several meetings (when schedules align) and back-and-forths until Bob is satisfied. If Bob has to hand off to Charlie, who is a customer, this process will repeat, and so will the waiting and reviews.

Lets compound this by saying that Alice deals with numerous documents every week that need to be processed and handed off to Bob. Is it more likely she will hand them off when each is completed or when several are gathered? The answer depends on how closely they work together and know each-other. The larger the organizational and/or physical gap, the more Alice tends to batch-process. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that batching leads to a lot of wasted time within a process for that document to just ‘sit’ waiting to be acted upon. Worse, Bob now inherits a stack of items to audit before he will accept them – more time to process before the real work can continue.

The person who really feels this is the end customer. While Alice and Bob are worried about their parts within the whole, the customer experiences the entire time, from start to end. This includes all the batching, waiting and reviews.

One more dimension to consider here are vertical handoffs. Consider Alice’s boss Donna. Many processes dictate that before Alice can hand off externally to Bob, she must get approval. This means she does the handoff song and dance with Donna, who may do it with Emily, her boss, and so on. I am sorry to say that I have worked with more than a few companies that had processes where one or more checkpoints required 4-5 levels of approvals. 80% of the waiting in these check points were due to the third level and above just getting to review it and sign off but the average time spent reviewing the materials to be approved was mere seconds. When asked why, the answer given was usually “We had multiple levels already review it. If they signed off, I have no reason to look at it.” If that’s the case, why have more than one or two levels of approval in the first place? (This is yet another blog)

Now imagine that parties within the process aren’t handing documents off but real people – you and me. We have all experienced this form of waste being the party acted upon. Consider the following processes:

  • Help desks (especially with credit cards): Giving information to the automated attendant and then being transferred multiple times, each time being asked the SAME information (audit)
  • Restaurants: different person taking order, delivering drinks, and delivering food (each time they are verifying they have the right customer while you wait and your food gets colder)
  • Airports: Dragging bags from check-in over to a different drop-off point at airports

I would wager that you have experienced this waste in many more forms as a customer. Tell us about them. We’d love to hear from you.

Stay tuned – same Bat-topic, same Bat-channel. In our next post, we’ll discuss how to find this waste and some ideas to overcome them.

Tags: , ,
Categories: Lean | Lean Office | Office Waste

Lean Office Waste #2: Manual Checking of Electronic Data

by Darian 11. May 2010 09:47

Type: Data and Information Waste

There is an old saying in the Lean Six Sigma community that audits and inspections are waste.  And again and again I see examples where this is reinforced.  Audits, while sometimes necessary, are usually wasteful because it requires someone to check the work product of another – the work product that should have been right in the first place.  To truly ensure quality, find ways to build integrity into the system that won’t let the mistake happen in the first place.

The one situation where I see the most extreme example of waste because of audits and inspections is where someone checks values or data outputted by an electronic system by recomputing them manually.  

Variations of this type of waste are:

  • Manual checking of data that has been entered electronically
  • Manual checking of results that have been computed electronically
  • Manually removing incomplete entries
  • Removing bogus entries e.g., bad phone numbers, etc.

Keep in mind here that the term ‘manual’ could be by hand or with another, independent electronic tool like Excel.  The point is work the system is doing is being redone, usually because it isn’t trusted.  Whether this is for accuracy, completeness, or other reasons, it is redundant checking that should not need to be done.

I once worked with a global Fortune 500 company trying to find root causes to the problem of sales professionals who would not get their commission check on time.  I don’t have to be a sales professional to tell you that this was not a good situation.  The commission checks were on average 7 days late with extremes of 20+ days late.  Process map and some data in hand, we performed a root cause analysis.  One of the worst areas of delay was a manifestation of this waste. 

Right after the quarterly sales figures were in and the automated commissions calculated, the process map showed a span of quite a few days where several administrative assistants manually recomputed the commissions for each Sales professional to make sure what the system had generate was correct.  This was going on for thousands of sales professionals.  Part of the reason was mistrust in the system to compute the wrong figures because something like that happened a decade ago and part of it was simply, “This is the way we’ve always done it!”  Although this is the largest example of this waste I have ever seen, it is remarkable that I see this waste hiding in an overwhelming percent of processes I work with.

Once you’ve identified this waste within your processes, ask the most powerful question in the world: “Why?” More specifically, “Why are we re-checking information?”  Amazingly enough, most people who live with this issue simply respond, “We do it because we don’t trust the system.”  The deeper questions then become, “Are we finding errors in the system?  If so, why aren’t we having them fixed? Are these discrepancies the exception or just the rule? If not, what the reason?”

Many times I hear that it is too expensive to fix the system.  This is extremely short-sighted.  Looking at a one-time expense vs. the expense for the time taken by one or more people to constantly do this work, not to mention the delays to the customers (internal and external) will easily justify the return on investment of a fix.

Have you seen this waste in your environment?  If so, comment about it. I’d love to hear from you.

Tags: , ,
Categories: Continuous Improvement | Lean Office | Office Waste

Who Needs a Stinking Charter?

by JoeWhite 7. May 2010 10:19

Series: Executing a Kaizen Event

You do if you are a project leader. I know that creating a project charter can be a little bit of a pain and it may seem tedious, but it really is the first step to a successful project. We discussed a basic structure for Kaizen events in a previous post titled “Kaizen is not Japanese for free lunch”. Periodically, I plan to revisit this topic and discuss various components of a successful Kaizen. Depending on the response we get, we may accelerate the discussion or drop it, so be sure to let us know what you think.

A project charter is more than just a summary document. Of course, it contains all the particulars about the project, and since the concept is so well documented, I won’t bore you with a detailed description. Rather, I will list some key components of a good charter (with a slant for Kaizen event planning) and then we can explore why we need them. A good charter should contain:

1. Project summary including the problem statement, issue to be solved or improvement opportunity, dates and project and location.

2. Organizational Metrics that will be impacted. Current state and expected results. This is critical to attain buy in.

3. Team: include champions, sponsors, team leaders/co leaders, members and support peronell

4. Cost and financial impact summary

5. Current and Future state descriptions. Pictures,drawings, value stream maps and process maps should be used rather than lengthy/wordy descriptions if possible.

6. Other items as needed.

A good charter serves several purposes. First, it ensures alignment with the sponsors and champions. A team leader is wise to use this document to ensure that all key stakeholders are in agreement of scope and expectations before the project begins. The school of hard knocks has taught me that the final report out is probably the worst place to discover that the champion’s expectations conflict with the team’s.

Charters also provide guard rails for the team and make sure that efforts are directed at the areas of highest impact. As a team leader, the charter is your main tool to keep your team on task. There are always many opportunities that arise and it is difficult to tell a team that the great idea needs to go to the parking lot. If it isn’t part of the scope and everyone has agreed to the charter, this task becomes much simpler.

Finally, developing a charter forces us to think through the project in detail and gives us an opportunity to plan the event in detail. While no amount of planning with keep the unexpected from happening, a good plan will certainly make dealing with the unexpected much simpler. Charters lead us through the planning, team selection and even project selection process. They help us tie the projects to the big picture and help ensure our success. I can think of no better insurance policy to protect us from project failure than that.

Use Lean Everywhere, Not Just in the Office

by JoeWhite 4. May 2010 08:56
Like most of you, I thoroughly enjoyed a long weekend celebrating Easter recently.  The extra day off gave me some time to work around the house and while I did, I got to thinking about Lean and how it applies almost everywhere.    In fact, the Lean Tools almost form a foundation that has allowed us to progress and create ever more complex technologies. 

OK, I know this may be a little bit of a stretch and I’m not saying that without Lean techniques, we would still be using square wheels, BUT the core beliefs of Lean certainly align with those that have enabled us to advance.  For instance, the Lean concept of Standard Work forms a foundation for improvement much like any other standard practice.  Once a new idea has proven effective, it must be shared.  At first, others adopt the practice and learn to apply it.  Then they improve on it and the sharing of the new idea starts all over.    When work is standardized, the same principle applies.  Others can be trained to perform the task in the standard way, and then improvements can be made.  If there is no standard method, it is impossible to tell if a change has a positive impact or a negative one.

Another foundational principal of Lean is the implementation of small improvements to our daily work. This concept is often called Kaizen: continuous change for the better.  Most of us are continually seeking to improve our daily lives by reducing the amount of time different tasks take.   In fact, we spend a great deal of money seeking to make tasks such as cleaning and yard work easier and faster.  If we use the Lean principles such as 5S (Workplace Organization) and Waste Reduction, we can eliminate waste in our daily work both professionally and personally.

Standard Work, waste elimination, Kaizen and many other powerful tools of Lean can be applied to our everyday lives to reduce frustration, improve efficiency and increase effectiveness.  Maybe in later posts, we will discuss some others.  I am pondering a video post on applying Setup Reduction to our daily lives, but let’s see what you think of this concept first.  Please let me know.  Chime in with examples of small improvements to your daily life that fall into this thought process or ideas for future posts on this topic.


Tags: , , , ,
Categories: Continuous Improvement | General | Lean | Lean Office

The Top 10 Wastes in the Office

by JoeWhite 28. April 2010 15:32
Hello Friends,

I wanted to let you know about an interactive webinar that I thought you may be interested in called ‘The Top 10 Wastes in the Office’ on Monday, May 3rd at 2:00pm Eastern.   

Waste is any item, practice, task, process, etc. that adds no value to customers or shareholders.  It is all around us but we rarely see it as waste.  Join us for this free web event on what we consider 'The Top 10 Forms of Waste in the Office'. We will review definitions of value and waste followed by counting down some of the largest forms of wasted found in the office, including waste due to data and information, workflows and employees.

THIS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL WEBINAR.  Don’t expect to simply listen and type in questions at the end. This webinar will include interactive exercises and discussion.  Along with slides, you will see the instructor at all times via a LIVE streaming video.

Our goal is for you to start identifying waste in your own workplace immediately after this session.

For more information, please browse the webinar page.

Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think may be interested.


Tags: , , , , ,
Categories: Continuous Improvement | Lean | Lean Office | Office Waste | Value

Lean Office Waste #1: Redundant Input and Output of Data

by Darian 19. April 2010 04:50

Type: Data and Information Waste

No matter which office environment and industry I have encountered, this type of waste is always prevalent and always a source of massive inefficiencies.  Redundant input and output of data occurs when the same data is entered or reported more than once without adding any customer value.

There is at least one place where we have all experienced this: The doctor’s office.  Every time we see a doctor for the first time, we are asked to fill out new patient forms.  Do you ever notice that an overwhelming amount of information you are filling in is duplicated across forms.  Who does that benefit?  Certainly not you, the customer!  The same applies your son or daughter’s school enrollment and other forms or information given during a call to a credit card company.

Although both these examples are the customer’s perspective, it doesn’t have to be.  This waste is prevalent within work processes, especially during handoffs from one party (or team) to another.  Furthermore, it may also occur electronically.  Redundant data entry will create more opportunities for error and creates work that shouldn’t need to be done. 

In addition to inputs, redundant outputs of data are just as bad.  One widespread example of this is creating the same report in different formats for different internal customers.  I once worked with a global organization that had 12 particular VPs receiving the same report but with the colors and formats varying according to each’s specifications, which frequently changed.  When we compared them, more than 95% of the information was the same.  However, the cost of supporting the formats was enormous.   To boot, most of the report past the first page was ignored.

This waste is deceptively hurtful and needs to be stomped out little-by-little.  The next time you are at work, look for these and suggest changes.  You will be amazed at even how much more efficient things are when removing even the smallest duplications.

What examples of redundant or duplicate inputs and/or outputs have you experienced?  Please share them with us through the comments.  We would love to know.

Tags: , ,
Categories: Lean Office | Office Waste




© VRDS, Inc. All rights reserved.

Powered by BlogEngine.NET