A couple of weeks ago, we covered off some of the aspects of what Lean actually looks like once you start to implement it in your organization. One of the biggest sticking points is trying to find solutions to problems. Brainstorming is definitely a good starting point, because it gets you think about your activities differently. But there is a lot of waste locked up in processes that don’t require a wholesale change – or where a wholesale change would be far too risky. So you’ll need another approach, something that is more process-driven and repeatable. In this installment of the Lean MSP, we’ll show you how to break down tasks.

The starting point for breaking down tasks is to identify the problem you want to solve, and the metric by which you will measure your success. The KPI gives you a target, and that should keep you focused for the rest of this process. Each task consists of variables, processes and decision points, and there can be waste in any of these.

Variables

First, think about which variables affect the process. Remember the different mudas, or wastes. Your technology stack, the capabilities of your staff, resources such as time or money…these are all variables that will affect the process you’re trying to improve. Work through these individually so that you’re not leaving an opportunity for improvement undiscovered. Some basic questions might be:

 

Am I giving my new techs enough training?

Are the right people doing the training?

Is there a way to create repeatable, process-based training?

Are there changes or upgrades to our stack that would improve the onboarding process?

Is there opportunity to improve the hiring process?

 

Each of these questions can be broken down further until you arrive at action items (i.e. “Are our job descriptions aligned with the demands of the job?” or “Are we paying enough to attract the talent we want?”). The point is to examine your inefficient processes carefully and identify the different steps you can undertake to improve these processes.

Processes

As with variables, the way to extract good analysis of processes is to think about the eight mudas. This will lead you to ask the right questions, such as:

“Are there steps that add nothing to the process?”

“Where are the bottlenecks in the current process?”

“Should somebody else be performing this process?”

Decision Points

Any service function likely has a lot of different decision points, and these can be a source of waste:

If there are too many decision points, the process might take too long to execute.
If there are needless decision points, the process could bottleneck for no reason.
If there are decision points where insufficient information is available to make a decision, then errors are more likely to occur.
If there are decision points where there is insufficient time for the decision-maker to perform proper analysis, again errors are more likely.
If the decision is being made by someone who can’t seem to make a decision in a timely manner, maybe that’s the wrong person to make that decision, or something should be taken off that person’s desk so they have more time.

 

  • If there are too many decision points, the process might take too long to execute.

 

  • If there are needless decision points, the process could bottleneck for no reason.

 

  • If there are decision points where insufficient information is available to make a decision, then errors are more likely to occur.

 

  • If there are decision points where there is insufficient time for the decision-maker to perform proper analysis, again errors are more likely.

 

  • If the decision is being made by someone who can’t seem to make a decision in a timely manner, maybe that’s the wrong person to make that decision, or something should be taken off that person’s desk so they have more time.

Key Takeaways

  1. Let the mudas guide you. Knowing the different forms of waste will focus your analysis and questioning, taking you more directly to improvement of processes, optimization of variables and streamlining the decision points
  2. Use data where possible. You might be a savant and your gut is always right, but even the best of us sometimes holds biases or is swayed by faulty decision-making heuristics. Data doesn’t lie.
  3. Make decisions. If you’re not used to Lean thinking, these problem-solving processes might seem lengthy, and cumbersome. But the more you work through them, the easier they get. Strong analysis and access to good data should allow you to make decisions quickly. The best lean practitioners are willing to make decisions without delay – don’t rusk, but don’t dither.

 

The next in the series will show you how to build a Lean culture in your organization, a critical element in making Lean philosophy sticky.