Getting your Business Processes to Flow
If you think about flow for a minute you can imagine all sorts of things that flow. Clouds flow, people queuing to get into an event flow, air currents flow, and rivers flow. At the heart of Lean Thinking is the idea of making value flow. So if you can picture your business as a river and use flow as a metaphor you can imagine all of the processes that goes into whatever it is that you make as a process that flows. If you view every business as a collection of processes and sub-processes that are designed to complete tasks and create value for the company and the customer, you can see how it applies to virtually every business. Sometimes there are blockages in how these processes flow and for you to create effective processes it’s your job to remove the red tape and the unnecessary task from your business. That’s what Lean Thinking calls waste.
For Lean Thinking waste comes in many forms, however the most infamous are the seven waste that Taiichi Ohno of the Toyota Production System (TPS) identified. These are the original wastes that are referred to in Japan as MUDA. The list is not exclusive so you are not bound to just the wastes below.
- The waste of movement is a bit different to transportation waste because the focus is on the movement of the operator and the machine that undertakes the work. Its all of the unnecessary movement that happens that could be fixed with better ergonomics.
- Waiting waste is the often overlooked idle time. Think of it like this if your processes are waiting well then they are not flowing. In a factory the waiting could be waiting on one line of production to complete before the next one starts. Or maybe you have a stock of components waiting to be processed. At the other end of production you could have a heap of finished goods waiting to go to your suppliers. If the goods are not moving then your processes are full of the waste of waiting. This is not just a waste for manufacturing. Service processes are full of wasteful waiting. Aside from your staff this affects because your customers are waiting for service, information or approval. If you put yourself in your customer’s shoes you will quickly see the frustrations that they experience from waiting. Luckily simple changes can remove the waiting.
- Overproduction simply is the waste of producing more than is needed. Not removing this waste results in a load of stock that you can’t sell. If you are a service business this means doing work that your customer does not need or has not requested. It can be all of the things that your people are ask to do by management that really don’t matter. In the office environment this might mean generating massive reports that no one will ever read or the over processing of paperwork, repeating and regurgitating the same stuff for different silos in your business
- The act of processing can also produce waste. Think of the times you didn’t give or receive the correct information to carry out the work or when there are no standard practices to follow. The process of work needs to be clear.
- The waste of defects results in the production of defected products that have to be scraped or reworked. It is also errors in documents or reports. If you are a service business defect in service could be your customers having to contact your business several times to resolve issues.
- The waste of inventories is your work in progress. It’s a result of the over production and all of the waiting and delays.
- Transportation waste could be the transport of parts in your factory or the transporting of documents in an office. It also could be the poor layout of your space, factory, office shop or website. Another example would be a poor or ineffective filing system.
Identifying and eliminating the waste can be quick way for you to improve profitability in your business. But a word of warning, some of the processes that you might think are wasteful are in fact necessary. Therefore you need to look closely at the big picture to see what’s causing the waste and if is really a waste. W.E. Deming, one of the pioneers of continuous improvement said that you cannot eliminate what you cannot see and if you “Manage the company as a system focused on the future. Encourage communication and continual learning. Draw a flow diagram to show how each component depends on others in the system so that people can see the process and improve it.”
To visually describe the flow of work, Process Maps are used as a graphical representation of the process flow or sequence of steps (activities) involved in a process or portion of a process from start to finish that produces an end result. It shows who and what is involved in a process and can be used in any business or organization.
The benefit of mapping your process is that it can help you to understand the important characteristics of a process, allowing you to produce helpful data to use in problem solving. Process maps let you strategically ask important questions that help you improve any process.
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