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By: Nicola Balloch

Hello readers!

As we have mentioned a few times in this series, the current situation is an unusual and difficult time for many. As such, it might not be the best time to begin a significant overhaul of your organisation. However, it has also given some of us a unique opportunity to look at the workings of our business from a whole new perspective!
For most businesses, planning how to respond and adapt to significant external changes is common practise. However, actually experiencing changes as significant as those we have been faced with due to the Corona virus is (thankfully) incredibly rare. This means that many organisations had to respond in ways that were completely unprecedented, such as adapting many (or all) of their processes into something functional for staff that were suddenly unable to work or communicate ‘as normal’. Of course, this has been a huge challenge for many. But it’s also wise to recognise the opportunities that it presents. Whilst trying to quickly and efficiently rethink processes, we’ve been able to consider the steps involved in them from a new perspective. It raises questions like ‘is this step actually needed?’, and ‘can we do this more efficiently?’. In other words, it naturally creates a focus on assessing  whether steps are adding value or creating waste.


The 8 Wastes

This point leads nicely to the topic of this week’s blog post, the 8 wastes (and waste reduction)! Adding value and reducing waste is one of the principles of Lean. To start doing this, it is important to understand what is meant by the terms ‘value’ and ‘waste’, and the different types of waste that occur. When work is adding value, that work meets customer need. All work that does not meet customer needs is non-value adding or waste, although some of it may be necessary.

So how do we deal with these wastes? The ‘non-value adding but necessary’ steps are impossible to avoid (and are often necessitated by legal or practical requirements). However, this does not mean that such steps shouldn’t be reviewed to make sure they are as efficient as possible. Unnecessary wastes, on the other hand, should be removed. The elimination of waste makes processes quicker and less prone to errors. This offers obvious advantages to those running a process and, ultimately, benefits the customer.

For example, let’s consider one of our case studies: the Student Status Confirmation Letter process (you can find out more details about this here). Initially, after placing a request for a confirmation letter, it took 10 days (and 30 minutes of work) for the student to receive it. However, during a Rapid Improvement Event we facilitated, many steps in the original process were identified as waste, and so were not needed. After removing these steps, the process was shrunk to only two minutes from request to receipt.

Typically, 75% of a process that hasn’t been leaned is waste!


What kinds of waste do we want to eliminate?


As we have said, anything that not necessary or does not add value should be removed from the process. In particular, there are eight categories of waste that Lean strives to eliminate:


The unnecessary movement of materials, information, or equipment.


Excess stock, unnecessary files and copies, and extra supplies.


Unnecessary walking and searching, and things or people not within reach or easily accessible.


Idle time that causes the workflow to stop, such as waiting for signatures or machines.


Processing things that don’t add value, such as excessive duplication or checking.


Producing too much information or paperwork, or before it is required.


Work that needs to be redone due to errors (human or technical).


Not using the full potential of staff, and wasting available knowledge and experience.

After identifying any of these wastes in your process, it is important to take steps to eliminate them. However, the exact way to do this depends on the specific type of waste you are dealing with. Lets take the example of transitioning processes to suit remote working. Perhaps during this you realised that the process contained multiple checking and approval steps, or unnecessary transferring of the task between staff members. These are examples of overprocessing, and make the processes more complex (and thus more error prone) that it needs to be. To overcome this it is important to take on the perspective of your customer and identify which steps in the process actually add value for them. Then, identifying which staff members are required to do which steps, and ensuring all of the relevant parties are aware of these responsibilities, will help these kinds of wastes creeping their way back into the process.

Lean processes have obvious advantages for making the current situation less challenging. However, their benefit doesn’t stop there. It is important to consider whether anything could prevent these simplifications from being maintained if and when circumstance change again. If the new, simplified process meets the requirements of the customer, then why wouldn’t we want to keep the version that is easier for staff and better for the company overall?


For more advice on being lean whilst working remotely, look out for our next blog in this series! Or, if you would like to find out how we can help your business or organisation make its processes more efficient during this difficult time, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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