This is part 3 in the series of explaining What is lean. I’ve covered that Lean is an approach to align your business to meet your customers’ needs.
Part 1 addresses the first principle of putting your customer first.
Part 2 dealt with the second principle of Mapping your Value Stream
Part 3 is where we start to optimise our system, by creating FLOW
Why is creating FLOW important, and why should I bother with it?
When I started my career as an Industrial Engineer, we were transfixed on standard work, and optimising everything to ensure we could produce the best quality product in the shortest possible time. This meant we assessed each workstation for optimal layout. Placement of parts in the optimal position, design of the task to ensure minimal effort, and incentive for above standard performance was also quite common.
The whole focus was on the work component of a product or service, and how the work required could be reduced, and as the actual effort was minimised, we could produce something for a lower cost.
All of the above is quite logical, and it will translate into better outcomes. However, when we think of FLOW in a Value Stream, it does not just stop at the end of each process. It continues until the product or service has been delivered to the customer.
The impact of working on each segment of a process at a time, to optimise it, bit by bit, was like putting blinkers on. We can’t appreciate the whole value stream when wearing blinkers.
Each part of the system can produce without any regard for up or downstream processes. This leads to stockpiles and possibly warehousing things, which were not needed, as they had been produced in large quantities, without regard for customers needs. Perversely, customers couldn’t get what they really needed while organisations were busy using their resources to make things that weren’t needed.
So, by having a focus on FLOW, it is possible to have a birdseye view of the overall system and make decisions of benefit for the overall value stream instead of one process within.
How do I create FLOW?
We create FLOW by examining each time something stops before it arrives with the customer. We look at why it stopped, how long it stopped for, whether it could be processed in another way. Much of the information is captured from the people on the frontline, doing the work firsthand, as they have intimate knowledge of stoppages. The original value stream (from part 2), which only had a value-add indicator of 0.45%, it didn’t FLOW, it was stop-start-stop-start (a bit like a learner driver, trying to drive a manual car).
Once stoppages have been uncovered, they can be listed in priority. Involving people close to the process is great when looking at possible solutions to reduce or eliminate stoppages. In the example used at the header of this post, the team identified initiatives which they could use at each of the particular processes to improve the overall value stream.
We know the impact of each of the stoppages, so we can use that knowledge to set a new target position. This way we continue to move from current to a future state.
Does FLOW make a big difference?
Returning to the worked example of an actual value stream, used in the blog header. We looked at the value stream and considered the things we could do to improve this situation. The lead time was 10.9 days, and we knew if we tackled 5 areas, it would be possible to reduce the overall lead time to 3.6 days, which would improve our value-add to 4.87%. I appreciate this might not sound great, however, it was a 10-fold improvement from the current state.
What impact would a ten-fold improvement have in your organisation?