What keeps you up late at night? Is it the dishes you didn’t wash? The game you missed on T.V.? Well, if you are anything like me, the things that keep me up late at night have nothing to do with my personal life; they are all work related! Countless times, I have stressed about something I “should’ve”, “could’ve”, or “needed” to do better at work. The key factor in all of this is time; there is never enough time in a single day to get everything done at work that needs to be done. No matter how many calendar reminders I schedule in Outlook, or the randomly placed sticky notes all over my desk, there is always one task that I cannot complete before my shift is over.
Two years ago I attended the 2016 Washington State Government Lean Transformation Conference, and it changed my life. Guess what? I no longer stayed up at night torturing myself with thoughts of inferiority or complete failure. Instead, I stayed up thinking about all the ways that I could improve productivity at work by changing some processes and procedures, trimming away the waste and integrating LEAN thinking. Efficiency was now my main focus, I knew that the power to change things at work were my responsibility. I represented the frontlines of my Organization and quite frankly people support a world they help create.
Lean Thinking hinges on the principle of continuous improvement through incremental change based on outcomes. A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. Lean Thinking requires a change in perspective of how the organization views things so that attention can be shifted away from the status quo of daily rituals and on to a new focus on value enhancement and continuous improvement. The success of implementing Lean Thinking is very much dependent on a receptive organizational culture that embraces active participation, and a clear vision and purpose of what needs to be accomplished.
Luckily at my organization they are very receptive to change, always listening to the thoughts and ideas of our employees. The existing hierarchy always understood the need for self-managed teams. I explained the importance of Lean thinking and the benefits of changing some of the processes and procedures. The responses I received were positive, and I felt empowered. I then re-introduced the three areas that every organization should be focused on to my team Thankfully, my team attended the conference with me so they were able to grasp these concepts with ease.
In order to make changes in our organizations and businesses we must first identify the root of the problem. Paul Keller brilliantly outlined the three areas in an excerpt from his book ‘Six Sigma Demystified’ saying: “Lean focus is on three areas: visibility, velocity, and value. Visibility, also known as transparency or visual control, broadens our awareness of problems. Visibility implies that problems become immediately (or very quickly) known to all stakeholders so that action may be taken. Visibility fosters an ‘all hands on deck’ philosophy: Stakeholders stop what they’re doing to help relieve the bottleneck caused by process problems” (2011, McGraw-Hill).
Velocity, is sometimes referred to as the flow of procedures. Focusing on the time work takes to flow through the process is important in several ways. The best way to speed up production is to use a methodology that focuses on fast work cycles. This way, iterations of the product can be quickly created and reviewed by everyone involved. It ensures there is consistent progress on the project because small steps are taken toward project completion every single cycle.
Lastly, value is the most important area to focus on. Values are the heart of any business, and in Lean thinking, they are no different. If the end result of your process proves to be invaluable, and the customer/employee isn’t happy, then it has become a waste. Waste is the kryptonite in Lean thinking; it must be eliminated in order to produce success!
Paul Keller said it best, “Visibility, velocity, and value are key focus points of lean. Visibility (or transparency) allows the organization to see progress and barriers to success. A focus on value forces resources to activities important to customers. Improved velocity allows us to be more responsive to customer needs” (2011, McGraw-Hill).
The vision is now clear and those late nights have now turned into early morning brainstorming sessions. Lean thinking is always on the forefront of my mind, in every aspect of my life, not just at work, and I have seen dramatic improvements in regards to efficient productivity, especially at work!
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