Sum-up #5: Work Process Improvement Workshop

Efficiency and productivity are vital to stay competitive, and continuous process improvement is the key to achieving these goals. Blabla… the usual blown-up phrases. Why you must improve work processes is to retain you best people, who otherwise would get frustrated of the nonsense or missing requirements.

To optimize work processes, you need a systematic approach that involves a cross-functional team, data analysis, and an iterative process. In this comprehensive guide, we will outline the step-by-step playbook for improving work processes.

Step 1: Scope and Team

Start by hosting a workshop meeting to clearly define the scope of your improvement project. Ensure that everyone on the team has a shared understanding of what the project covers and what it doesn’t. Document specific objectives and establish simple, measurable, and achievable goals.

Bring together a diverse team, including individuals from different departments or areas of expertise, such as production, quality control, maintenance, and safety. This mix of team members ensures that you get different perspectives and knowledge on the table.

Choose 3-4 individuals or teams responsible for the task you’re looking to improve. Their active participation is vital in providing insights and firsthand experience during observations and brainstorming sessions. Make sure these participants are enthusiastic about process improvement and willing to contribute actively.

Step 2: Standards

Create a comprehensive document that compiles all relevant standards, including Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), work instructions, visual aids, training materials, and any other pertinent documents. Make sure these standards are easily accessible to the project team.

Compile a list of the most critical quality and safety requirements related to the task. These requirements might include specifications, regulatory standards, and safety guidelines. Ensure that the team fully understands these requirements and their significance in the process.

Step 3: Preparation

During a preliminary observation, where you simply watch someone perform the activity in scope, focus on understanding the current state of the task. It’s a good idea to map and list the key activities and tasks without timing them. This initial understanding will help you prepare effectively for the main observations. Match your observations with the standards to gauge “compliance.” If there’s a significant deviation from the standards, ask one of the individuals, during the actual observations, to perform the task according to the standards (after proper preparation and possibly re-training). You might be surprised to see that the existing standards work if followed. Alternatively, you have an excellent opportunity to understand why – like a true detective’s work.

Develop (if not available) a detailed map of the work area. Highlight relevant equipment, tools, and material staging areas. This map will be your key tool during the observation, so the more detailed, the less manual work you’ll need. It’s perfectly fine to have a hand-drawn sketch of the area if it’s proportional and accurate. You don’t need a fancy CAD drawing; a template that helps you draw the spaghetti diagram suffices. However, if you choose to make your observation on a blank paper, you might waste too much time mapping the objects and miss the essential movements.

But please don’t forget the most important thing: COMMUNICATE and COMMUNICATE and COMMUNICATE. Tell the team whom you observe why you are there, and what would you like to do. It’s not about policing. You would like to help them to make their work easier, simpler, and more efficient (and who knows, maybe more fun and enjoyable by eliminating the frustration).

Step 4: Observation

For each observation, form observation teams consisting of 2-3 individuals. In a team, assign a timekeeper to record action/move and time requirements, a person to create spaghetti diagrams, and a general note-taker. During each observation session, capture data such as time spent on each task, the sequence of actions, and any interruptions or delays. Ensure that team members are trained to document observations accurately. As mentioned above, it’s okay to go out with a blank paper to observe a simple activity, but the more prepared you are, the more details you can add. If you dive too deep into the details at the beginning, the observer responsible for capturing time and activities won’t be able to perform their task effectively. Ideally, the length of a movement/action is around 10-45 seconds or longer, depending on the overall duration of the observation.

Multiple observations help reveal variations in how the task is executed and provide a more accurate picture of the current process. At this stage, it’s a good idea to involve experienced individuals in performing the tasks to find best practices, unless you’re confident that the standards are followed. In such cases, observing a newbie could highlight opportunities to speed up their learning or error-proofing.

Step 5: Analysis

5.1 Task Classification

In the work process improvement framework, tasks are typically classified into three categories: Value Added (VA), Non-Value Added (NVA), and Non-Value Added but Needed (NVAN).

  • Value Added (VA): Value-added tasks are those activities or steps within a process that directly contribute to meeting customer requirements, improving the product or service, or enhancing its quality. These tasks add value from the customer’s perspective. When categorizing tasks as Value Added, focus on identifying activities that customers are willing to pay for or that enhance the product or service’s features, quality, or functionality. Eliminate waste and inefficiency in these tasks while preserving or enhancing their value.
  • Non-Value Added (NVA): Non-value-added tasks are activities that do not contribute to the product or service’s quality, functionality, or customer satisfaction. These tasks are often considered waste and should be minimized or eliminated. When categorizing tasks as Non-Value Added, target activities that can be removed or reduced without affecting product or service quality. These are typically tasks that do not align with customer expectations and can be streamlined or eliminated to improve efficiency.
  • Non-Value Added but Needed (NVAN): Non-value-added but needed tasks are necessary activities that do not directly contribute to product or service value but are essential for safety, compliance, or other critical factors. They cannot be entirely eliminated but can be simplified or made more efficient. When categorizing tasks as Non-Value Added but Needed, consider activities required for regulatory compliance, safety standards, or other critical aspects of the process. While these tasks don’t add customer value, explore ways to simplify or streamline them to minimize their impact on efficiency.

To effectively classify tasks into these categories during the improvement process, consider the following steps:

First of all, understand the real purpose and the history of each task: some might be a remnant of an old process that is no longer in use, but it’s possible that the task is absolutely necessary to prevent a serious accident. When assessing tasks related to safety or quality requirements, keep in mind the big picture and the real purpose.

Use clear and predefined criteria to assess each task. This may include customer value, compliance requirements, safety considerations, and any other relevant factors. Also, don’t forget to involve the cross-functional team in the task classification process to ensure diverse perspectives and comprehensive assessments.

By carefully classifying tasks into these categories, you can make informed decisions about which activities to target for elimination, simplification, or improvement, ultimately driving efficiency, safety, and quality improvements in your work processes.

After classification, you are ready to create the Effort Balance Charts: color-coded representations of each task, showing the time required to perform. You can hand-draw it or create a digital version, but don’t overcomplicate it. Keep in mind, that it’s just a visual aid, not the primary focus of your workshop.

5.2 Spaghetti Diagrams

Analyze the spaghetti diagrams to identify patterns and trends in movement. Focus on reducing unnecessary back-and-forth motions, long distances traveled, or frequent handling of materials. These are potential areas for improvement:

  1. Bottlenecks and Congestion: Look for areas with numerous overlapping lines or where lines converge. These represent potential bottlenecks or areas where congestion occurs, which can impede efficiency.
  2. Detours and Backtracking: Observe paths that unnecessarily detour or backtrack. These may highlight opportunities for streamlining routes or eliminating unnecessary steps.
  3. Waste and Inefficiency: Identify patterns of movements that do not contribute to the value of the process, such as excessive waiting, excessive handling, or unnecessary transportation. These are areas where waste and inefficiency can be reduced.

This diagram can be a powerful tool to present your observations, not only to senior management but also to the operational staff. It helps you show how much easier their work can become by embracing the proposed changes. Feel free to add color codes to the original spaghetti diagram or redraw it to make it presentable.

5.3 Compare Observations

Compare different observations to identify similarities and differences. Look for areas where the process consistently deviates from standards, as these are potential targets for improvement. Also, try to understand the reasons for the deviation. Look for best practices among the individuals your team observed.

Step 6: Ideal State - Using Tools for Work Process Improvement

In the ideal state phase of work process improvement, you have various tools and methodologies at your disposal to make the process more efficient, reduce waste, and enhance overall productivity. Let’s explore the specific tools and techniques that can be employed during this phase:

6.1 Brainstorming

Very simple yet powerful, brainstorming is a dynamic and collaborative technique that serves as a catalyst for generating innovative solutions to enhance work processes. It encourages participants to think creatively and explore a wide range of ideas, fostering a non-judgmental environment where every suggestion is valued. Brainstorming sessions bring together a diverse group of individuals, often with varying perspectives and expertise, enabling them to collectively address challenges, identify inefficiencies, and propose improvements. By promoting open dialogue and generating a plethora of potential solutions, brainstorming plays a pivotal role in the continuous improvement journey, offering a valuable foundation for refining processes and achieving the ideal state.

Facilitation: Appoint a facilitator to guide the brainstorming session. The facilitator’s role is to encourage open dialogue, manage time, and ensure that the session stays focused on the topic.

Rules and Guidelines: Establish ground rules for brainstorming. Encourage team members to refrain from critiquing ideas during the initial brainstorming phase. The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible.

Divergent Thinking: Encourage participants to think “outside the box.” Promote creativity by asking open-ended questions and exploring unconventional solutions.

Idea Generation: Invite team members to share their ideas freely. Use techniques such as mind mapping, sticky notes, or virtual collaboration tools to capture ideas. Encourage everyone to participate and share their thoughts.

Evaluation: After the initial idea generation phase, group similar ideas together. This helps identify patterns and common themes among the suggested improvements. Once you have a list of ideas, assess each one for feasibility, potential impact, and alignment with the project’s objectives. Prioritize ideas that are realistic and have the most significant potential for improvement.

6.2 ECRS (Eliminate, Combine, Reduce, Simplify)

The ECRS framework, which stands for Eliminate, Combine, Reduce, Simplify, is a systematic approach to identifying and implementing improvements. Here’s how to apply ECRS:

Eliminate: Identify and eliminate any steps, tasks, or components of the process that do not add value. These are typically non-value-added activities that can be safely removed.

Combine: Look for opportunities to combine or merge tasks or steps that can be performed together without compromising quality or safety.

Reduce: Evaluate if any aspects of the process can be reduced, such as the frequency of a particular task, the number of materials used, or the duration of a step.

Simplify: Seek ways to simplify the process by reducing complexity, minimizing decision points, and making tasks more straightforward and user-friendly.

6.3 SMED (Single-Minute Exchange of Die) Techniques

SMED techniques are particularly useful in reducing setup times for processes, especially in manufacturing. Here’s how to apply SMED:

Separate Internal and External Setup: Distinguish between internal setup tasks (those that can only be done when the process is stopped) and external setup tasks (those that can be performed while the process is running).

Convert Internal to External Setup: Identify opportunities to convert internal setup tasks into external setup tasks to reduce downtime.

Standardize Setup Procedures: Create standardized setup procedures that can be followed consistently to minimize errors and reduce setup time.

Parallelize Setup Tasks: If possible, perform setup tasks in parallel to reduce the overall time required.

6.4 5S

The 5S methodology focuses on workplace organization and standardization. While not a separate tool, 5S principles can be integrated into the improvement process to systematically resolve housekeeping issues. Here’s how to do it:

Sort: Organize and declutter the workspace by removing unnecessary items and materials. This reduces visual and physical distractions.

Set in Order: Arrange essential items and tools in a logical and ergonomic manner, making them easily accessible when needed.

Shine: Maintain a clean and organized workspace. Regular cleaning and maintenance can prevent equipment breakdowns and safety hazards.

Standardize: Create standard operating procedures and guidelines for organizing and maintaining the workspace. Standardization ensures that improvements are sustained over time.

Sustain: Continuously reinforce the 5S principles through training, audits, and regular assessments to ensure that the improved state is maintained.

Remember that the choice of tools and techniques should be tailored to the specific process, its challenges, and the objectives of your improvement initiative. Combining multiple tools and methodologies can provide a more comprehensive approach to achieving the ideal state for your work process.

Step 7: Action Plan and Execution of Improvements

Develop a detailed action plan that outlines the steps, responsibilities, and timelines for implementing the identified improvements. Consider any necessary training, resource allocation, and potential risks.

Execute the action plan in a controlled manner. Involve the project team members and affected stakeholders in the implementation process. Provide the necessary resources and support to ensure the success of the improvements.

You can consider Pilot testing: Select a subset of ideas for pilot testing and implement these improvements on a small scale to evaluate their effectiveness without disrupting the entire process. Piloting allows you to refine and validate ideas before full-scale implementation. Once you’ve validated the improvements, create an action plan for their full-scale implementation. Clearly define responsibilities, set timelines, and allocate resources.

It is important to continuously measure and assess the impact of the implemented improvements. Use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress and ensure that the desired results are achieved.

Step 8: Measure Back - Second Round of Observations

Conduct a second round of observations, ideally at least 2 times, after implementing the improvements (or pilots). Collect data in the same manner as before to assess the impact of the changes. Compare this data to the baseline observations to quantify the improvements achieved and iterate your ideas and action plan if needed. Don’t be afraid of making changes or adjustments: improvement, in most cases, is an iterative process, and be brave to learn from mistakes.

Step 9: Standardization

Once you have confirmed the effectiveness of the improvements, create a plan for standardization. This includes developing clear and updated work instructions, visual guides, and revising SOPs to reflect the new process.

Standardization involves asking the most important questions:

  1. What Are the Updated Work Instructions Material and Spare Part Lists? – Define and document the revised work instructions that reflect the improved process. Ensure they are clear, easy to understand, and readily accessible to all team members. Update any spare part lists or material requirements to align with the standardized process to ensure a smooth flow of materials.
  2. How Do We Train Team Members? – Determine the training needs for team members to adopt the standardized process. What training materials and resources are required, and who will provide the training?
  3. What Visual Aids Are Needed? – Identify the visual aids, such as charts, signs, or labels, that can help team members easily follow the standardized process and monitor their progress.
  4. What Are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? – Specify the KPIs that will be used to measure the performance of the standardized process. How will data be collected and analyzed to ensure ongoing improvement?
  5. How Will Compliance Be Ensured? – Develop a plan for ensuring that team members consistently adhere to the standardized process. This may involve audits, checks, and feedback mechanisms.
  6. How Will Changes Be Managed? – Establish a change management process to handle any future updates or improvements to the standardized process. Who will be responsible for reviewing and approving changes?
  7. Who Is Responsible for Documentation Maintenance? – Designate individuals or teams responsible for keeping documentation up-to-date, including work instructions, procedures, and records.

By asking these key questions, you ensure that the standardized process is not only documented but also effectively integrated into the daily workflow, remains compliant with standards, and is continually refined to achieve optimal efficiency and quality.

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