April 12, 2023

Learn How to Streamline your Processes using the LEAN Six Sigma Methodology!

Lean Six Sigma. What is it and why should my business care about it? Streamline your processes using LEAN principles and run your operations more efficiently.

There is a close tie-in between Lean and Six Sigma and so the methodologies have been combined.

We are going to focus on Lean concepts only for this article because of it’s approach and applicability to any industry, and whether it is product-based, service-based, or both. LEAN focus on minimizing “waste”, or steps in a process that do not add value.

Sounds simple enough, right? “Don’t perform steps in a process that don’t add value.”

If it’s so simple, why do thousands of processes have wasteful steps in them each year?

It’s a real head-scratcher, isn’t it? Well, the reasons will vary.

One reason could be because there used to be a problem in the process which was resolved by a series of workaround steps. Over time, the problem went away, but we kept training people to do the process this way and those steps were kept in even though there was no longer a reason to keep them. Nobody questioned it and, years later, we’re still doing the workaround steps.

Another reason could be habit, or even tradition. Sometimes you may ask why we perform certain steps in a process and you might hear someone answer, “we’ve always done it that way.” Your Spidey-senses should tingle anytime you hear that phrase – it means it’s an opportunity for improvement that people have avoided.

We could go on about the reasons why we have waste in our processes, but let’s spend time on removing the waste instead.

First of all…what is LEAN?

Although the concept of LEAN may be several hundred years old, the first person/company to truly apply LEAN concepts on a larger production scale was Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company in the early 1900’s.

LEAN is a philosophy, or practice, of continually striving to achieve zero waste in a perfect process.

But who does it work for and how does it work?

Made popular by Toyota after World War II, Toyota could be considered the most recognized company when discussing successful use cases for LEAN. Other notable organizations who are adopters of LEAN include Intel, John Deer, and Nike.

Now, you may be thinking, “Hey, Process Guru, you just identified 4 multi-billion dollar companies. Does that mean LEAN is only useful if you’re a large organization with a massive bankroll?”

Excellent question. In my experience, the answer is, “no, LEAN is not only for large organizations. In practice, I find that LEAN principles are applicable to organizations and processes of almost any size! That’s why I love the concept and value proposition so much!

I’ve used LEAN principles to improve my processes when I was a company of one. It helped me improve quality and reduce waste on even an individual level! Amazing, right? I wasn’t always this process efficient, lol!

Wasteful processes add up quickly and, before you know it, you’re spending way more than you should be to accomplish a task or process.

Allow me to share a real-life example with you.

When I’m working on a process documentation initiative with a team member, there inevitably comes a point where I need to request a final approval from the client for a particular component of the document. Once approval is received, I need to forward that approval to my documentation specialist to help me insert and format the final content.

I used to manually create an approval email for this each time, send it off and wait for the reply. Once an approval was received, I click “forward”, type up the request for my documentation specialist to add the content into the final document and send the email. Then, I would mark my task as “complete” in an Excel spreadsheet, and add another entry for the documentation specialist’s pending work.

I mapped out the steps in my process, identified the potentially wasteful steps, made adjustments, and automated everything that I could.

The end result?

On average, the approval email chain and spreadsheet entries for Subject Matter Experts and Final Approvers took nine minutes. By automating it, I brought the time down to exactly zero seconds!

How did I make it zero seconds? Quite simple. I used Microsoft Power Automate to do all the administration work. I only need to save my final content file to a specific folder, Microsoft Power Automate picks up the file and does the rest. This is what the activity looks like with automation:

After identifying the waste (manual effort, also known as “motion”), I was able to fully-automate it and reduced my wasteful time to zero.

If it only saves me nine minutes, why would I automate this? This activity is performed anywhere from 50 to several hundred times per client. If I average down to 100 times, that’s a savings of 900 minutes, or 15 hours, that could be spent on more value-add activities.

Great, Process Guru! You’ve sold me on the concept of LEAN. How do I get started?

I thought you’d never ask…

I’m going to give you this in three simple steps:

  1. Identify a process.
  2. Assess the process for waste.
  3. Determine how you can remove the waste.

1. Identify a process.

Choose a process and use a tool to outline the steps in the process. You could use a SIPOC diagram, a simple chart or table with the steps typed out, a piece of paper with the steps written or drawn on it, or my favorite tool, a process map (also known as a workflow or diagram).

2. Assess the process for waste.

LEAN identifies waste within eight categories, and you can use the acronym TIM WOODS to help you remember them:

  • Transport – delivering supplies, inventory, or other products to your location of business process.
  • Inventory – holding excessive amounts of inventory, storing more inventory on hand than is necessary.
  • Motion – this can be moving around existing inventory, human waste in terms of redundant efforts or manual efforts that could be automated, entering the same data into multiple systems, etc.
  • Waiting – waiting for anything – from a shift change, to your computer restarting, to system performance issues, and even waiting for a page to print off the printer is considered idle, unproductive time.
  • Overproducing – producing more quantity of a product or service than is needed.
  • Over processing – putting extra quality into a product that is not perceived as necessary value and/or not value which the customer is willing to pay additional for.
  • Defects – less than adequate quality resulting in rework or additional support or customer care work.
  • Skills – the over or underutilization of human resource skill, assigning a task to an unqualified or untrained human resource, an over-skilled worker performing a task of low to little value.

Review the process that you identified and look for any wasteful steps that fall into one or more of the eight categories.

By using this approach, hopefully you were able to identify one or more steps that you feel may be wasteful.

3. Determine how you can remove the waste.

There are many ways to remove waste and this activity may require help from your subject matter experts. You may choose to simplify, automate, or even remove the wasteful steps altogether. The approach on how to remove the waste will vary, but basically, go in this order:

  1. Can I remove the step?
  2. Can I simplify the step?
  3. Can I automate the step?
  4. Can I find a faster or cheaper way to perform the step?

Technology has significantly improved our ability to streamline processes. If you have never automated a process before, be sure to read our blog post, Use Automation to Power-Up Your Processes.

Well, there you have it – removing waste from your process in three easy steps. It takes a bit of practice but, before you know it, you’ll find yourself constantly thinking about the eight areas of waste and how you can streamline all of your processes!

Process Primer Consulting is here if you need more advanced and experienced process improvement support. Feel free to schedule a free consult and we’ll be happy to have coffee with you and discuss improvement opportunities catered to your business goals.

Have questions? Need more information?
Leave a comment or contact us and we’ll be happy to respond!

Be healthy, be safe and be efficient.

Alwin Kwan
Your Friendly Neighborhood Process Consultant

Comprehend. Reimagine. Outperform.

Banner photo by Daria Nepriakhina πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦ on Unsplash

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