How do you improve your process flow? How to reduce or eliminate process flow obstacles.

The goal of continuous improvement is to provide the customer, with the highest quality, at the lowest cost in a shorter time.  For a shorter time, your processes need to flow without interruptions or obstacles.  How do you achieve that? Yes, you guessed it, you have to identify and eliminate waste.  These are the steps that you can use to improve the flow.

  1. Start with your longer processes to assure biggest impact on the operation.  
  2. Define the value of the process from the customer lenses.  
  3. Go to see the process.
  4. Breakdown the process in steps and ask what is the purpose, why it is necessary?
  5. Can you combine or eliminate steps?
  6. Can you rearrange steps to improve flow?
  7. Can you reduce or eliminate waste?
  8. Can you move equipment, machines or workstations closer together to minimize distance?
  9. Is it possible to reduce work-in-process inventory?

When you go to see the process, walk through the entire flow, and observe where it stops.  Waste is usually a symptom of obstacles to flow.  Every time you see work-in-process inventory, defects or errors, people waiting, excessive motion, or longer than necessary transportation, you are looking at things that stop the flow.

When you improve the flow, you are reducing the process cycle time.  That is how you will be able to deliver your product or service faster to your clients.  Reducing or eliminating waste is also a way to reduce operating expenses in the form of inventories and defects reduction.  

What is knowledge waste? One of the 8 Wastes of Lean.

In my previous post, I mentioned that the heart of the lean system is people’s involvement, a highly motivated team continuously seeking the best way.  I learn this idea from Pascal Dennis on his book Lean Production Simplified, which is one of my favorite lean books.  It was in the same book, where for the first time, I learned about the nine wastes of knowledge.

Value-added activities add something, change, or transform material or information into what the customer is willing to pay for, everything else is non-value-added or waste.  Although at the beginning was seven deadly wastes, now we include the waste of knowledge to have eight categories of waste.  

Knowledge waste has different names, unused or non-utilized talent, non-utilized potential or skills, and neglect of human talent.  Regardless of what name you use, this type of waste is one of the reasons why so many companies have huge turnover rates.   In traditional management, leadership dictates orders expecting people to follow them without even questioning.  Doing that is disrespectful, it is treating people like commodities, the same way machines are treated.  

There is no surprise that for Toyota, respect is one of its core values.  Self-esteem is one of Maslow’s psychological needs, the feeling of achieving things, confidence, and respect is important to have the right level of self-esteem.  As leaders, we are responsible for actively listening, understand, motivate, teach, and influence our team.  If we fail, we are stopping the flow of knowledge, ideas, and creativity.  In other words, we are failing our team and creating a waste of knowledge.

The nine types of knowledge waste are the following.

  1. Hand-off – a separation of knowledge, responsibility, action, and feedback.
  2. Useless information – false or incorrect information
  3. Discarded knowledge – acquired knowledge or information that no longer serves the original purpose
  4. Wishful thinking – making decisions without adequate information
  5. Waiting – for information, comments, authorization
  6. Misalignment – disconnects in information or time, between departments, or within departments. 
  7. Communication barriers – culture, language and organizational culture
  8. Inadequate checking – constant follow-up, check, and balances, lack of trust
  9. Wrong tool – poor communication tools, narrow information channels

Many leaders still think that to be the boss, they need to have all the information, and hold it for themselves because the information is power. There is a lot of hidden talent in our organizations, and it is our responsibility to motivate, develop, teach, communicate, and influence our team. If we are not doing this, then we are guilty of creating a waste of knowledge.