One of the most common questions when it comes to Lean is “Where do I start?”. There seems like a million areas you could focus your attention on, and you don’t want to waste your time concentrating on the wrong thing. Reading about the Lean practices of reducing waste and maximizing value is all well and good, but how does it apply to your specific company?
There are many tools and techniques that make up Lean, but the very first one you’ll use is called value stream mapping. According to the Lean Expertise Institute, a value stream is “all the actions (both value added and non-value added) currently required to bring a product through the main flows essential to every product.” This means every step taken from the customer request to the delivery of the product, with no detail spared. This includes both the flow of information as well as material through your company. Value streams can be mapped out with pencil and paper, sticky notes, or even flowchart software. This is also a great opportunity to gather representatives from each department at your company. Value stream mapping can’t be done by yourself; unless you’re a one-man-band, there’s no way you could know each little step in the value stream. Having someone from each department describe in detail how they operate can be illuminating. It also brings these departments together for the common goals of customer satisfaction and company prosperity. This is the first step of your continuous improvement journey.
Once your team has fully mapped out how your product is requested, created, and delivered (or how your service is requested, processed, and provided), take a step back. By seeing it mapped out, can you identify any problem areas? If you have a problem with long lead times, try mapping how much time the product spends at each step, and how much time is spent waiting in between steps. Are there any processes that can be done simultaneously instead of one after the other? Can information be entered a certain way so it doesn’t have to be reformatted later? Does the order of operations make sense? Keep working with your team to identify your pain points and suggest solutions.
There are a multitude of reasons why mapping out your value streams has, well, value! Firstly, you’re not fixating on a single process, but the entire flow of your company. This helps you avoid cherry picking what you think are the areas most in need of improvement. By seeing all the detailed steps, you can accurately identify where the waste is coming from, instead of merely observing that waste exists. The map also acts like a blueprint for implementing Lean concepts. It can be referred to, and a common language can exist about your process improvements. This makes decisions about the flow apparent and explainable. Finally, value stream mapping goes beyond number and statistics to show what your company is actually doing to produce those numbers. It’s a clear, reality based perspective that acts as the perfect jumping off point.
Once your team has identified where you would like to make improvements, it’s time to experiment with possible solutions. Make tweaks and changes in how the process runs, and see if those changes gave you the results you were looking for. If they didn’t, pay attention to why those ideas didn’t work. Track these changes and encourage departments to come up with solutions they want to try. Now you’ve got the ball rolling and set on a path of continuous improvement!
By Aubrey Dion
Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.
Purdue University - Value Stream Mapping: The Search for Adding Value and Eliminating Waste
Lean Enterprise Institute - What is Value-Stream Mapping