Becoming Lean in the New Year

Now that the New Year is upon us, it is time to set our resolutions. What could be a better resolution than becoming lean? I am not referring to the lean where you pretend to go to the gym for 2 weeks and then give it up, but instead using lean methodologies to remove non value added steps in your business process.

Ever heard of Lean BPM?

As a consultant, all too often we walk into a room with the client, discuss their current process, and immediately (the agile way) start to automate said process using BPM. Only down the road, when the application is more mature, does the question of “is this step really needed” get answered. Instead, optimizing the process should be completed during the planning phase of the project. Doing so will save time during development and also help to further optimize the process (along with automating it). Diet and exercise is better than just one or the other alone.

The first thought that pops into people’s heads when thinking about Lean is a manufacturing environment. But the Lean Methodology can work for any business process as well. The idea behind lean BPM is to identify each task as either value added or a waste, and then subsequently eliminate any waste.

Below we will discuss the following:

  1. What is the value added?
  2. What are the different types of waste?
  3. Why is it important to eliminate waste?

What is the value added?

As mentioned earlier, it is important to look at each step of a process and decide whether it is value added. In order to be value added, the step of the process has to meet all of the criteria listed below:

  1. The customer is willing to pay for this activity
  2. It must be done right the first time
  3. The action must change the product or service in some way

So how does this relate to BPM? Take a look at each assigned task. Does this task collect information that is meaningful to both the process and the end user (as opposed to data overload)? Are the fields on this task user friendly enough to cut down on rework (use of dropdowns instead of free form fields, make necessary fields required)? If you can answer yes to these questions, than the step does add value.

What are the different types of waste?

So if the task does not add value, it is considered waste. Below are the 7 types of waste:

  1. Transport – moving products that are not required to perform the process
  2. Inventory – work in process
  3. Motion – extra movement that is not required to perform the process
  4. Waiting – interruptions in the process or waiting for a step to finish
  5. Overproduction – production ahead of demand
  6. Over processing – resulting from product design creating extra activities
  7. Defects – effort involved in fixing bugs

Not all of these pertain to BPM, in fact some of these are taken care of by automating a process (e.g. motion). By categorizing wasteful steps, it often makes it easier to identify where the problem lies.

Why is it important to eliminate waste?

Now that we have identified each step as either value added or wasteful, it is easier to optimize the process. There are two ways to optimize the process, to reduce cycle time of the value added steps, and to eliminate waste. Certainly automating using a BPM software will reduce that cycle time, but by removing entire steps of the process that are deemed wasteful, you will experience a greater cost and time savings.

So this new year, I encourage you to reevaluate your processes and become lean. Do feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. Follow Princeton Blue on LinkedIn and Twitter to get updates regularly.

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