November 9, 2018

Risk-Free Process Improvement for the Public Sector

Many public sector organizations are stuck in the status quo. Why is that? There are a couple of reasons:

In some places, the pressure to change has not reached a critical level.

Making changes entails risk. The perceived risks outweigh the rewards.

The current budget situation has been placing huge stress on many public sector organizations. The typical response has been to cut services, since these leaders do not see the waste that exists in their organizations. People who practice “lean” techniques can identify waste and then apply methods, techniques, and countermeasures to eliminate or shrink these wastes. If waste could be cut 20-30%, services could likely be maintained. Our Analyzing and Improving Office and Service Operations (Lean Office) seminar trains participants to see waste in their own organizations. By using lean tools and techniques, these wastes can be dramatically reduced.

What about the risk of making changes? A mistake in the public sector is disproportionately punished, especially if the mistake gets in the news. It is safer to maintain the status quo, even though the status quo is incredibly inefficient. So what can be done to make change safe?

The first and most important step is to test, practice, simulate, or role play the change. If we were using a military metaphor, we would not be using live ammunition. Of if we use a sporting metaphor, this is what a professional football team does from Monday through Saturday, practice. Hardly any organization tests, practices, or experiments with the changes they are considering. They go from idea to doing. Then they pick up the pieces.

If we precede every process change with a safe test, experiment, role play, or practice, then we can work out the “bugs” until things are going smoothly. We can do “what if” analysis in our practices, tests, and experiments. We can stress the new process until it breaks. Once our testing, practice, or role play is running smoothly, then we can up the risk a little.

The next step is to conduct a pilot program with the new process. Here we are using “live ammunition” so if something goes wrong it could have negative consequences. We reduce the risk by watching and monitoring the pilot very closely so we can react immediately to any issues. Secondly, because it is a pilot, the process change has not been rolled out extensively. Once the pilot has been operating successfully for some time, then we can begin to expand the process change in other areas. In fact, those who worked in the pilot can become trainers for others in the organization.

Make testing, practice, experiments, role plays, and simulations a part of your organizations change management approach. Stress the process change in a safe way to find its weaknesses. Do “what if” analysis in your practice or role plays. These techniques allow you to safely change your processes while dealing with the pressures of budget reductions. Manage the organization in a state-of-the-art, best practice fashion. Continue to deliver needed services, even though your budget is reduced. If you want to learn how to experiment, practice, test, or role play process changes, contact us at 925-459-8755.

Dan’s Second Rule of Process Mapping Continued

The second rule of process mapping is that the problems in the process should be easy to see. In my last post, I talked about using different colored post it notes and symbols to draw attention to process issues. I suggested using blue post it notes for worker frustrations, orange notes for quality issues, green post it notes for value-added activities, and red dots for delays and waiting.

The next way to make the problems visible is with data. Here is a list of items that can give us insight into process performance:

  • Process time (P/T)
  • Lead time (L/T)
  • Setup time
  • Batch sizes
  • Demand rate
  • Percent complete and accurate (%C%A)
  • Number of people
  • Inventory
  • Reliability
  • Available time

Process time is the amount of time spent working. One way you can get this data for a particular activity is to ask people “If you were not interrupted, how long would it take you to do _______?” Or you can use a stop watch to time someone when they are doing the activity. We represent process time as P/T.

Lead time is the amount of time from when the step or activity starts to when it ends. Lead time includes process time,  move time, set up time, wait time, review time, and rework time. There is lead time for a particular step. There is lead time for a complete process, called total lead time. Lead time is represented as L/T. If you find a small amount of process time for a step, yet a large amount of lead time, usually the difference is caused by waiting. A simple equation might make this easy to understand. Lead time = process time + wait time. 

Setup time is the amount of time consumed in preparation to do the work. For instance, suppose you have to do a report. Before you can start the report, you must go get files, load a software program, and finally scroll to the page you need. Now you can begin the report. Setup time is the work that precedes the work of the step. If setup time is large, it encourages people to do multiple activities of the step, which we call batching. In lean, we do not like batching. So in order to cut batch sizes down, setup time needs to be shrunk.

Batch sizes tell us how many items are processed at one time. Batching is only convenient for one person, the batcher. Everyone else has to wait for the batch to be done. Batching leads to waiting, overproduction, inventory, mistakes, extra processing, and movement. As we cut down on batch sizes and run them more frequently, the above issues diminish and we get closer to continuous flow (nirvana).

Demand rate comes from the customer. Demand rate is the time frame expected by the customer for something to be done.

The percent complete and accurate is our quality measure for office and service processes. Don’t we want everything we get to be complete and accurate? This measure is represented as %C%A.

The number of people refers to the number of people who perform a particular activity.

Inventory is measured by how long items are in inventory. This could be measured in seconds, minutes, hours, or days. Obviously if the amount of time something is in inventory is large, we want to find out why.

Reliability refers to the reliability of the systems and software you use. Here we are looking for uptime. If your system is “down” how long does that typically happen?

Lastly is available time. Available time is the amount of time allocated for this person to do this activity. In office and service work, people wear multiple hats. It could be that demands for other tasks impinge on the amount of time available for another task. By calculating available time and comparing that to demand rate, process time, and the number of people, we could see the cause of a bottleneck.

Below is a process map with some of these items. There is a time line across the bottom of the map that shows process time and lead time by step and also the sum totals for the process. Batch sizes, inventory and percent complete and accurate are also shown. If you compare this process map to the one from the prior post, you can see we converted the post it notes and symbols into data.

Process data helps us focus our resources. It tells us how large a problem might be. And when we institute countermeasures, it tells us if our countermeasures are working.


Is Micromanaging an Aspect of Lean

What is micromanaging? It is when a manager closely observes or controls the work of her or his subordinates with excessive attention to minor details. In micromanagement, the manager not only tells a subordinate what to do but dictates that the job be done a certain way regardless of whether that way is the most effective or efficient one. A pattern of micromanagement suggests to employees that a manager does not trust their work or judgment, it is a major factor in triggering employee disengagement.

Two important factors are at work in micromanagement. First is the lack of trust that the employee will do the job well. Second is the underlying lack of respect regarding the worker’s intelligence and desire to do a good job.

If you have someone telling you how to do your job and monitoring it closely, it sends a message that the worker is not valued. Research has shown that being valued is one of the main factors in loyalty and retention.

How does Lean approach the goals of doing high quality work? The first step is to identify the best way of doing the job today. That would include evaluating worker quality and speed. When we can quantify a superior way to do something, shouldn’t everyone who does that job do it in the best way we know how to do it? That best way is called Standard Work. Standard Work is the best way to do work right now, which also implies we might find a better way to do it tomorrow, and then that way will become Standard Work.

In Lean we encourage and reward people for finding improvements in work processes and the ergonomic aspects of the work space. One of the ways to get workers to focus on improvements is to teach them to find waste. Then we want ideas to shrink or eliminate these wastes.

The most important place in a Lean organization is where the work is done, the Gemba. Consequently, the most important person is the one working in the Gemba. There is intense focus on the Gemba, with managers and supervisors doing “Gemba walks” regularly. In this fashion, lean can resemble micromanaging, but not with the attitude of distrust or disrespect. Quite the contrary, managers and supervisors have an eye for the things that get in the way of the worker. Managers and supervisors have the desire to partner with the worker to make the work processes and work space the most conducive to safe, efficient, and effective activities.

A micromanager would likely blame the worker when something goes wrong. In Lean, the manager would partner with the worker to uncover the root cause and jointly create countermeasures. It might be the workers responsibility to test the countermeasure, and ultimately implement it. We have confidence that the countermeasure will be implemented because the worker was highly involved in creating it. Remember people support what they help create. And people resist, fight, and sabotage what we ram down their throats.

Yes the devil is in the details. However there is a world of difference on how we manage them. If you find this useful, please check out our training class titled Analyzing and Improving Service and Office Operations (Lean Office).

Micromanaging Approach

Lean Approach

Little respect for the worker

The worker is the most important person

Little trust that the work is done correctly

The worker is following standard work

Boss tells me how to do the job

The worker is following standard work

Boss comes up with improvements

Worker engaged in finding improvements

Blame the worker when something goes wrong

Worker and supervisor jointly find root cause, jointly come up with countermeasures, and the worker tests and implements the countermeasures