How lean processes can help your business
- April 5th, 2012
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In my first post on Lean processes and the Lean Start-up model, I explored the concept of reducing cycle times so that producers of anything, from software to boat repairs, can get customer feedback as quickly as possible. This ensures that adjustments made to the product you are creating or the process you are using to sell your products are based on “validated” learning, and not best guesses or hunches made by management or long term employees.
Whether you are responsible for manufacturing something or selling it, each of us can pick up practical lessons from Lean processes and principles. Let’s break down each phase of Build, Measure, Learn to see what might be applicable to those of us making a living in the real world.
Build: The quicker we can get something out the door, the quicker we can get validation as to whether the thing we are building (or selling) is right for our market. A great example of this in practice is envelope stuffing. If you are given a number of envelopes to stuff, how would you approach the problem to get it done as quickly as possible. You could fold each letter, stuff each envelope and affix each stamp in a systematic batch. Alternatively you could fold, stuff and stamp each envelope one at a time. Which way is faster?
Although counter-intuitive to most people, the large batch process is slower than doing them one at a time. I proved this in front of a live audience. Why? Because even though we believe we can gain efficiencies by doing the same thing over and over again, we forget about the cost (in time) to move from one function (folding letters) to another (stuffing envelopes). The amount of time it takes to rearrange your work space and get yourself focused on stuffing rather than folding has a cost. Another benefit of smaller batches is the cost to correct errors is much smaller because a smaller amount of the total production run has been effected.
Measure: If you are going to measure your results effectively, someone in your organization must own this process. The Lean Start-up method recommends that a product champion or liaison be identified. If it is your goal to reduce repair returns to less than 5%, someone in your organization must be focused on this metric, and analyze feedback from customers once their boat or RV repair is complete and the unit is back in their hands. CSI companies are especially adept at following up with customers after the service work is completed.
If it is boats you are repairing, ensure that your boat dealership software can track the key customer service metrics once the work order is closed so those details can be forwarded to your CSI company for follow-up. This is the idea of validating your process or what you believe to be true about your process with actual customer feedback and interaction. The responses must be measured over time to see whether tangible improvements are being made when you modify your process.
Learn: Reviewing the results once you’ve measured them leads us into the learning step. What can be learned from all of the data you’ve worked so hard to collect? It takes time to really dig into the root cause of an issue. One way to make sure that assumptions are not being made too early in the learning process is to use the “5 Whys” method. When an issue is identified, call a meeting with all of the stake holders. Present the issue to the team and then go through the exercise of asking “why” five times in an attempt to get at the root cause.
Assume for a moment that one of the issues you discovered in your boat dealership is the number of “come backs” or “rework” for a given fuel injection system. Take it through the steps:
1. Why so many reworks on fuel injectors? Because the injector diagnostic tool is failing?
2. Why is the diagnostic tool failing? Because it’s not calibrated correctly?
3. Why isn’t it calibrated correctly? Because we aren’t clear on the how to adjust the calibration settings after each repair?
4. Why aren’t you clear on this? Because we were never trained on calibrating it, only how to use it.
5. Why weren’t you trained on how to calibrate it? (Looking around the room a tech bashfully says), ”Because the service manager didn’t think we needed training on this. It was extra and not part of the original purchase”.
The 5 Whys can create some infighting and political posturing. When you first attempt to do this, don’t try it on your most pressing or significant issue. Start off with something trivial like “why is the water cooler in the break room always empty”. Furthermore you must have everyone who is involved in the process at the meeting. The person who ducks out is the person who will be blamed for the problem if you aren’t careful.
Does this seem like a process that will work in your business? Do you have any other process improvement techniques that have worked well for you? Don’t be shy, please let us know what you think.