Staff – Your Greatest Resource

Today is the final Tim Woods day, S for Staff.  Underutilized staff talent can be the greatest waste possible.  Recognizing and engaging the talents of your staff will lead to the greatest innovations.

There are three primary ways in which staff is underutilized:

  • They are hired to a certain set of tasks, but spend their time on other tasks.
  • They are not encouraged to speak up or innovate.
  • They are not involved in problem solving.

As a manager or a project manager, part of your role to clear the way for people to contribute.  This could mean

  • training, both in process improvement methods and also in how to communicate their ideas in a positive manner.
  • working with managers so that they know what to expect and can encourage their staff to participate.
  • spending time coaching quieter employees to help give them the confidence to express themselves.
  • spending time matching people’s skills to their roles.  Just shifting people a little to where they are best can mean huge gains for little effort.
  • actively involving multiple levels of staff in projects, so that they have ownership and become more engaged.
  • encouraging people to try new things on a small scale, even if they fail.  Encourage them to try again.  Your biggest successes will come from this.

Google is perennially listed as one of the best US companies to work for.  Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google, in Work Rules!, describes the work dynamic between managers and staff.  The managers role is more to clear obstacles and make sure the staff have whatever they need to excel at their jobs.  This sets a high standard of work on both managers and staff.  Managers are put in a position to give staff more freedom then the manager feels comfortable with and staff have very high expectations set upon them.  Google does this across the organization by design.  And it works.

Let’s look at some math.  If you have a staff of 10 people and they are an average of only 30 years old, they have maybe 10 years of professional work experience each.  That is 100 years of work experience.  There are not many companies that have been around that long.  Those 100 years are going to have sparked some ideas and you just need to bring them out.  Even better if those 100 were not all in your business or industry.  Now you are effectively bringing in fresh talent!  All from your existing staff!

To sum up, engage your staff.  Give them the freedom and the expectation to innovate.  There is a huge, deep pool of knowledge there that just need to be let through the dam.  And you can ride that flow all of the way to success!

Defects – Oops

Today is the penultimate Tim Woods day, along with the most obvious.  Defects.  There is a something wrong with the part, data, or finished product.  Which means it has to go back for rework or be replaced.  Which is…waste.

Defects can be created for any reason from accidents to malfuctioning equipment to loose tolerances to simple human error.  Rather than go into all of the possible causes, let’s look at the total impact and the ways to address the causes of defects.

First, a defective part, data, software code, or anything else costs more than just the time it takes to do the process over again.  A good rule of thumb that I learned in my software days is that if you find a defect, the cost is 1 (time unit, dollar, whatever).  If someone else internal to the company finds the defect, the cost is 10.  If a customer finds the defect, the cost is 100.  Each step away from the step where the defect was caused creates an order of magnitude more work to fix it.

Think about any example from work.  From banking, if someone submits a form that has incorrect information, when it is finally caught internally, there are emails and phone calls that go back and forth, otherwise smooth workflows that get interrupted because this is usually a Push process, and time spent by multiple people to correct the problem.  If the customer finds the error, the same work has to be done and now the entire organization looks bad, someone has to apologize to the customer, and depending on the severity, other steps may need to be taken.  That is no fun for anyone involved.

The same cost logic can be applied to blood draws at hospitals, auto parts, school bus drivers forgetting to pick up kids, a botched podcast and a thousand other examples.

Once you find a defect you need to

  • find out why it was caused.  Was it a training issue, mechanical issue, overly complex requirements?
  • determine how many of these defects are being caused.  Was it just the one time or is this a pattern?
  • determine the impact.  If you have multiple defects to follow up on or some other type of waste to address, which is the most urgent to fix?
  • apply an appropriate remedy.  This will be case specific, possibly requiring a change to the entire process or just one step.
  • figure out how to apply and track accuracy measurements.  This can be tricky sometimes, because requiring too much time at process steps for this can lead to over processing.

Defects, no one likes them.  From typos to dam failures, they range from annoying to catastrophic.  But with a little foresight and examination of your processes, you can tame them.

Over Processing – Why Are We Doing This?

The second O in Tim Woods stands for Over Processing, sometimes referred to as Extra Processing.  If you think that this sounds similar to Overproduction, you are right.  But there are some important differences.

Over Processing waste is basically any work done that does not add value for a customer, whether internal or external.  For instance, if you are building a refrigerator, you want the finishing on the parts that are visible to the customer to be very well done.  But you don’t need the parts on the inside, like compressor wires, hoses, circuit boards, etc., to match.  That would be over processing.  Similarly, if you require signatures from management to perform certain functions, but they are not truly needed because there is limited risk, than that could be over processing.  Even using complicated, bureaucratic language when something simpler will do is over processing.

Some of the main causes of Over Processing are

  • “doing business as usual” when processes or technology has changed.
  • doing work that is not required by the customer.
  • extra steps that lead to waiting for the customer.
  • in the case of signatures, not trusting employees.
  • lack of communication between people at different steps or about customer requirements.

Just like with previous forms of waste, the best way to find these is to walk though the process as a team.  And have that team look at your processes from the point of view of a customer.  That will help you determine if there are steps you just don’t need.  Simplify until you have met the customer requirements and nothing more.  (There may be regulatory requirements that you need to meet that the customer does not care about, but you have to leave in.  I will cover that in a future post on Value Added and Non-Value Added work.)  Use technology when possible to automate steps and let your people do things that computers cannot.

If you think that the solutions for all of these wastes seem similar, they are.  Look at your processes with an eye to all of the wastes in Tim Woods.  Otherwise, you may risk underprocessing. 🙂

Overproduction – If The Customer Does Not Want It, Don’t Do It

Today, we cover the first O in Tim Woods, Overproduction.

Have you ever

  • sat in a meeting with too many people in it?
  • done work that you knew did not matter?
  • sent or received extra emails?
  • had to process a huge amount of one type of work when you knew others were more important to get done?

You have experienced overproduction waste.  Overproduction is doing extra work that your customer, whether internal or external, does not need or cannot use right away.

Sometimes this is an easy one to figure out.  There is a huge amount of inventory, either virtual or physical, waiting to be processed somewhere.  And it causes people to either be waiting or feeling like they cannot keep up with their work.  Often at the same time at different steps in a process.  And instead of having a smooth workflow with consistent process times, there is a huge variance, so that you are unable to tell your customer when their product or service will be complete with any confidence.

Sometimes this is more difficult.  You may be producing things that you think meet customer requirements, but really do not.  And this can be for internal or external customers.  There may be features in a product or information in a report that you think are great, but that your customer does not value.  For instance, if you are providing daily numbers in a report, but the reader only cares about the monthly totals, you are overproducing and potentially causing motion waste.

Overproduction, especially in the second case, needs to be fixed by looking at the entire process by the owners of the different steps in the process along with the customer, ideally.

Look for things like:

  • Are you delivering everything the customer wants, but no more?
  • Can you remove steps from the process?
  • Does everyone understand every step in the process?  If you cannot describe it using common words, it is hard for others to understand the requirements.
  • Are people or automated processes working at optimal times to do their work in time for when it is needed at the next step?
  • If there really busy and then slow times, are you staffing appropriately?

Overproduction can be something that sneaks up on your, especially as customer requirements change.  The best way to identify this is to educate your staff and encourage them to identify areas where work requirements are changing so that your processes can keep changing with those requirements.

Again, for a handy chart of these process wastes, visit the Minnesota Office of Continuous Improvement’s website.  The chart can be found here.

Waiting – The Hardest Part

“The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part” – Tom Petty

I won’t make you wait.  Today is the W in Tim Woods. Waiting.  Everyone knows what waiting is.  Something is not ready – a person, a part, a computer program, anything.  And unlike some other types of waste, this one is easy to spot.

I worked in IT for many years.  I know all about waiting.  And I know about the other end, hoping that IT can improve computers and programs to make them run faster.  Because it is more than just annoying.  Even a 1 second delay in a screen refresh is enough time for your mind to wander into another line of thinking.  For example, imagine you are a doctor or nurse and you want to look up information on a patient.  If it takes 10 seconds to pull up the record, that does not seem long.  But it is more than enough time for the care provider to start thinking about their other patients, to mentally start listing other tasks they have to perform, to wonder what is for lunch.  Then, getting back to the patient takes more than the 10 seconds.  Research has shown that it can take up to a minute to mentally switch between tasks.  If you don’t believe that, think about the last time you were deep into a task and then took a phone call on a completely different topic.  It took a little while to figure out where you were when the phone call was done.

This applies to any environment.  Keeping customers waiting on the phone while looking up their information is not fun for you or them.  Not being able to send a customer home with a part they really need because you cannot get it right away makes customers visit other stores.

Some things to consider when you have identified waiting:

  • Do you have all of the information and material you need?
  • Is there confusion on the part of staff on how to handle certain situations?
  • Do you have approval requirements that can be mitigated some other way?
  • Is your technology and equipment up to date?
  • Are roles and responsibilities clearly understood?

It will be easy to identify waste due to waiting.  It will be harder to remediate it.  Just like the other wastes, look at your processes as a whole.

And don’t wait.  Spending 3 hours to save someone even 5 minutes a day will pay for itself in about 7 weeks.  And they will thank you for it.

Motion – Good For Health, Bad For Productivity

Today is the day of the M from Tim Woods, standing for Motion and the process waste caused by too much of it.

I do some things in my life that add extra motion, like parking far from entrances and walking around town if I have several errands to run.  But in a work environment, when I am trying to be as productive as possible, I want to eliminate motion as much as possible.  Waste is created when people or tools are moved beyond what is required.   For instance, in a hospital environment, if the lab and radiology departments were far from the emergency room, the time spent moving patients or specimens only delays treatment.  Trips to a printer, even extra clicks on the computer searching to find files or information, constitute movement waste and time lost.  Additionally, there can be staff frustration because they cannot find what they are looking for.

As with most kinds of wastes, this one can be hard to find.  Most hospitals have their labs and radiology departments centrally located for quick access.  To find motion wasted inside of the departments, it is usually required to follow someone right through the process and even map it out on a piece of paper.

  • Determine your most common tasks and make sure that all of the tools to do them are convenient.
  • On the computer, use bookmarks and aggregate commonly accessed files and forms in a few, well-organized, pages of links.
  • Try to determine if there are any steps that are being done sequentially that could be done at the same time by different people or resources.
  • Use technology to automate processes, like transferring files or entering routine information.  Even pre-filling default fields on electronic forms can help with that.
  • Collaborate with your customers and suppliers, internally and externally, to make sure work is being done at the correct step.  Many times, especially with technology changes, moving a task to a different person or work area creates huge efficiencies.

Take the time to walk though your processes (commonly referred to as Gemba) and identify wasted motion.  Make sure to do this as a team and in a positive way.  Include the person doing the work to give them ownership.  And if work is being moved from one person or group to another, be clear about why that is happening.

It will be time well spent.

For more information on Gemba, follow this link to Wikipedia.

Inventory – Always Time For Spring Cleaning

Today, we are covering the I in Tim Woods, Inventory.  The classic picture of inventory is a bunch of unsold products waiting for a buyer.  Every item in the supermarket is inventory.  Every unsold car at a dealership is inventory.  But this can apply things that are only used internally or to environments where there is no physical inventory.

For instance, think of your clothes closet at home.  You probably have multiple articles of clothing in there.  When you get something to wear, you have to pick through them.  This is not a problem unless the closet begins to get too full, making it hard to find what you are looking for.  This is an inventory problem.

The same can be true on a network.  If a file is being stored in multiple locations, it vastly increases the likelihood that you will soon have out of date files on your network and that people will be using the wrong version.  If you are getting so many emails that you are not reading and processing them all, the chance of missing something important goes up exponentially.  If you have a bunch of pre-printed forms, you have the potential of them being obsolete and having to search through many to find the one that you want.

To identify if you have an Inventory problem, look for places where things pile up.  That can be forms, old computers, folders on your network, office supplies, emails, phone messages, etc.  Find the areas where things are hard to find.  For example, on your network, you can link to a file from a hundred locations to make it easy to find, but make sure there is a single, version controlled, copy of that document.  Try to make pre-printed forms easily available on demand.  If you have work backlogs, dig deeper into the process to remediate them.  That may involve changing your workflow.  See how different employees handle the same task.  There is a good chance someone has already found a better way.

Inventory cannot be completely eliminated, but inventory waste can be managed.  Let go of those old dresses and shirts you no longer wear and make things easier for yourself and your customer!

Transportation – Don’t Drop It!

Today, I am going to start a series of more detailed reviews of each of the eight kinds of process waste, following our acronym, Tim Woods.  Today is T for Transportation.

Transportation can include both physical and electronic forms of hand offs.  For instance, delivering parts to a work station is one type of transportation.  An email is another.  Storing files in a network folder can be another.  Even commuting can be considered.  In each case, there is the potential for things to go wrong.  Too many, too few, or the wrong parts can be delivered.  They can be too early or too late.  The email could go into a spam folder.  It could just be unread in the deluge of other emails.  It could go to the wrong person.  The file could be stored to the wrong location.  It might be accessed and modified by two people at the same time, losing some of the work.  Traffic, weather, and accidents can all affect a commute.  We cannot avoid these situations, but we can minimize them.

Transportation is often not viewed as a waste because there is often a physical structure that is in place.  Even in an office, if everyone is not in the same small room, this is something that has to be dealt with.  It is often caused by new processes being overlaid onto existing infrastructure without taking into account the changes that can be made for new processes and technology.  Staff turnover can affect this dramatically, too, as new people either have good ideas and implement changes or they do not understand the process and add complexity.  Even things as simple as having to get approval from a supervisor cause additional transportation.

And easy way to delve into this potential waste and find it is to count the number of time work moves from station to station.  These are hand offs.  A station is anywhere that work is performed.  This can be physical work or electronic files.  Look for delays and potential problems at each of those hand offs.  Make sure to include the movement of people as well, both commuting and having to move from station to station to complete work.   Draw a map of how the work moves from station to station.

Don’t overlook Transportation waste, because if you can minimize it, you will find that your work processes flow much faster and with reduced defects.

For a great handout on the types of waste and what to look for, check out this PDF at the State of Minnesota’s Continuous Improvement site.

Waste Not, Want Not – Where To Look For Process Efficiencies

When you are working with a team to streamline processes, it is helpful to give them some places to look.  Here is a great tool that will work across any process in service or manufacturing.  I sometimes post these on the wall of the room of a project team.

Enter Tim Woods, a rather innocuous sounding name, but one that is guaranteed to help you out.  But his name is an acronym for the 8 types of waste to look for.  I am going to focus on the service industry today.

Transportation – each handoff in a process increases the risk of something going wrong, like the request being forgotten, or a specimen being lost.  For more on this, see my previous post about handoffs.

Inventory – any material that is not currently being used is inventory.  Some is necessary to have on hand, but the more you have, the greater the risk of it spoiling, becoming obsolete, and generally getting in the way of the things you really need.

Motion – this is movement of employees to get from one place to another.  Things like staff that are constantly going back and forth from different units, or having to travel to pick up and receive work.

Waiting – this is any time in a process where nothing productive is happening.  If you have ever sat in an ER waiting room, you know what this is.  This includes customers/patients and staff.  Waiting for lab or back office work to be completed affects everyone.

Over-processing – is when the work done is not valued by the customer or doing it sooner than then need.  A generic example is extra diagnostic tests.  Another is trying to interest a customer in a product before they have a need for it.

Over-production – when more work than necessary is done, this adds cost to the process. Things like features on checking accounts you never use, lab draws that are unnecessary, or even mailing letters to people in addition to email.

Defects – these are mistakes.  These lead to rework, meaning fixing accounts, new lab draws, corrective procedures.  These are worse than whatever a simple defect was because the mean people have to go outside of the efficient process to fix them, leading to any and all of the other forms of waste.

Staff – this is not a tradition form of waste, but one that is incorporated into many systems now.  Simple put, these are people who are underutilized, either mentally or physically.  In my experience, it is mostly the former.  Usually, they have just stopped sharing their ideas on how to do things better.  This can be the hardest to recognize, but the most rewarding to address, for both the staff and the organization.

Train your teams to look for these and you will make progress in Hour 1!

For more information on these topics, you can go to Wikipedia to research “Muda”, a Japanese word meaning “futility; uselessness; wastefulness”

I also got useful examples from 8 Types of Waste in Healthcare.

Don’t Push When You Can Pull

If you have ever tried to move something that was too heavy to pick up, you know that it is usually easier to pull the object then try to push it.  The same is true with most processes.

In any kind of process, there are two ways to organize work at a given step.  One is called a push method and the other is called the pull method.  They push method when you get work that you cannot schedule, like a phone call, a customer walking into your store, anything that you do not have control over.  The work just happens when it happens.  The pull method, on the other hand, means you organize your own work.  Going to your inbox in your e-mail, voice mail, any kind of work queue that you have set up.

For most processes the pull method is going to be much more efficient than a push.  For example in an emergency room, customer show up.  Patients arrive in no particular order as they need assistance.  This is a pure push model.  But, the triage nurse sorts through all the patients and their issues, just like you do with your e-mail.  She sets the order that patients that now can be taken by the emergency room staff.  Staff can then use a pull method to insure that they take the most critical cases first in order to optimize care for everybody.  There will be exceptions, because a patient in critical condition can arrive at any time, but the more efficiently they can deal with other patients, the more capacity they have for those extreme emergency cases.

The same is true for most other roles.  If an employee or department is allowed to organize their work and only move on to the next task when the current task is complete, they will be far more efficient than if they are constantly having to interrupt tasks they are working on and have multiple open tasks.  Research has shown that once a person abandons a task and returns to its it takes up to a minute just to figure out where they were in that task and re-engage their mind.  This is true of switching attention between two different patients, working on two different documents at the same time, or solving advance physics problems.

When you are looking to increase performance in an area that has multiple demands on it, look for a person or equipment that is being forced to constantly switch between tasks.  Look to see if there are ways that the workflow at that location, can be modified to optimize it for that person.  Sometimes you cannot.  If you in direct customer service, the job is mostly push.  You have to get more creative there.  And be wary of people will often claim they can multitask well.  The human brain cannot think about two different things at the same time.  People often take pride in how many things they can work on simultaneously, but usually either quality or quantity of the product suffers.  Part of your job might be convincing them that there is a better way.

Feel free to exercise the pull methods and read other entries in my blog!