Using Lean Principles for Effective Continual Service Improvement

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"Standing On A Lean Scale Takes Discipline and Unusual Courage"

Lets face it sometimes ignorance is bliss!

One of the challenges related to effectively engaging in continual service improvement or even the initial task of documenting processes, policies and roles is that it forces us to take a long hard look at what we do today.

The desire not to acknowledge or confront what we know to be issues stems from the same irrational dislike we have for bathroom scales or even worse the annual fitness assessment at our family doctor. As long as we don't have the facts confronting us we can willfully ignore what we intrinsically understand to be true but do not have to will or desire to face.

This is where formal Improvement Models can be used effectively to move us into the discipline of self evaluation and prioritized improvements. This is the same reason we sign up at health clubs and work with expensive personal trainers or in our context consultants. It is not that we could not figure out what needs to be improved on our own, but somehow working within a structure and being held accountable gives us the discipline to get things done.

This is where Lean Principles can be used to drive a discipline of assessment and improvement.

First: We acknowledge that there are many things we do today that are not directly or indirectly beneficial to our goals or produce value. In short activities or actions in which we engage that are wasteful, redundant and provide zero to no value.

This means we have to first understand which activities of a process are part of its "Value Stream" where process inputs are worked on and transformed into a valued output that meets a validated need. In light of this understanding we can assess all process activity in terms of:

Valued Activity: Actions, resources or activities which have a direct connection to producing the desired outcome

Non Value Activity: Actions, resources or activities that while not having a direct hand in producing outcome provide the necessary measurement and governance elements to keep the process intact. (The glue that holds the process together and executed as expected)

Waste Activity: Actions we take that neither support the outcome or have a hand in keeping it glued together

With these principles in mind the goal is to optimize the valued activity, minimize the necessary Non Value Activity and eliminate the waste. However the question is how do we identify the waste, trim the fat and make sure we are only doing things that produce value?

This is where the Lean waste categories come in; time to have your process measured on the Lean Scale!

Consider using the following categories to evaluate either your current "As Is" process or even your freshly minted "To Be" process design and face the unpleasant and sometimes downright ugly facts of process bulge that will likely require a lifestyle change to remove.

Overproduction--Too many steps, transactions, authorization requirements, cycles in the process

Lets face it sometimes our processes look like Mac Trucks when what we really need is a Honda Civic or a GM Vibe. The problem with some of us process geeks is that we can over engineer a process based on the goal of perfection versus fit for purpose. Sometimes good enough is good enough!

ƒƒOver processing--Too much Non Value-added activity

Yes measurement is good, and assessments have their place to keep an eye on quality and service improvement opportunities. However, maintaining a sane balance of reports, administration and process governance is key based on the complexity and risk required.

ƒƒWaiting Unnecessarily--Too much time between process activities

Since a process is at heart a series of dependant or parallel tasks which take inputs from the upstream activity and passes them downstream towards the eventual value based outcome there are many points of potential wait states where the flow of the value stream spends unnecessary time queuing. Making sure that these wait states are not unduly long or even necessary is a key part of finding opportunities for process improvement.

ƒƒOwnership Issues--When a single person cannot be identified as the single point of process accountability (The request "Take Me To Your Leader" produces a blank stare!)

Without clear ownership a lot of finger pointing and "Someone should really take care of that" type of statements are common. Just like having 25 priorities means you have no priorities, a process with out clear ownership suffers from benevolent neglect. The concept of we all own it is sure to lead to wasteful activity.

ƒƒUnnecessary Movement --Too much or redundant movement between value-added steps

A good example of this is an incorrectly designed Change Management process where all changes regardless of risk or size flow through a change advisory board for approval. This tends to bog a Change Process down to where it is deemed to be ineffective, bureaucratic and yes wasteful of people's time. The idea is that changes should have the right level of approval and release assurance based on the level of risk. To many approval cycles for a minor change is not beneficial.

ƒUnderutilization Of Human Resources and Talent -- We don't use the skills and talents that we have

We typically think of waste in regards to things we should not be doing. How about those things or people we should be using but do not due to political or lack of knowledge reasons. An example of these types of situations? How about not giving the Service Desk ownership of end to end incidents? Not utilizing your Quality Assurance folks as part of your production assurance steps of Release and Deployment Management Not tying your Architecture group into the process of defining IT Services (many of which they helped to design). Unfortunately we too often allow silo mentality block us from using the skills already inherent in our organizations.

Lets face it we could all loose a few pounds of inefficiency if we looked at our current practices through the pragmatic lense of value and waste.

Troy's Thoughts What Are Yours

"Regret for time wasted can become a power for good in the time that remains, if we will only stop the waste and the idle, useless regretting." 
~Arthur Brisbane

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Troy DuMoulin published on August 19, 2010 11:17 AM.

Introducing the first BSM Maturity Model was the previous entry in this blog.

The Emperor's New Clothes? is the next entry in this blog.

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