Lean Thinking - The Process Improvement Journey

Lean Thinking - The Process Improvement Journey

Wendy Harris, Director of Information Technology at City of Memphis

Wendy Harris, Director of Information Technology at City of Memphis

Lean principles have played an integral role in manufacturing for many years. The idea of optimizing effort, people, and resources to create value is a no brainer. But don’t we all need to create value? Adopting lean principles for operational efficiency is key for continuous improvement within any organization. Everything we do, everyday can be improved! Thinking lean means culture change which leads to resistance. Let’s review three strategies on how to indoctrinate lean thinking without impacting employee morale- Welcome Ideas, Start Small, and Support Change.

As IT leaders we are always occupied, 24 / 7 / 365.  We certainly know how it feels when we are asked to implement this or research that at a moment’s notice. Well, it should be no secret that our employees are not shouting “hooray” when asked to work on something that does not fall within their normal operational duties. So, when you are ready to improve your business model, make sure you’re doing it for them. After all, they do the work that makes the difference. Start by meeting with your entire team together, off-site, during work hours while enjoying a meal. This atmosphere relieves tension and allows for cross functional collaboration. First, remind your team that they play an integral role in providing technology solutions and support, that technology is everchanging, therefore they must continuously improve. Then, introduce your Lean methodology by allowing your team to brainstorm on what processes they do daily that they believe add no value, that keep them from being efficient and that don’t benefit the customer.  Create a Kanban board, pass out sticky notes and allow them to think freely.

“Thinking lean means culture change which leads to resistance.”

Once your team has digested this new way of thinking you should immediately set your process improvement plan in motion.  It’s vital that you start small because you want your teams to welcome improvement and believe in Lean. And, to build trust you must make the first move. Transfer the physical Kanban notes to a virtual board and grant all employees’ access. Now, let’s explore some quick wins. Ask yourself these questions- Is there a line in the morning at the coffee maker? Buy another coffee maker or two. You may be asking yourself what coffee has to do with lean thinking. It’s important that your employees know that you not only care about work efficiency, but that you also have a genuine concern for their total well-being. You will be surprised by the increase in productivity with this simple improvement. Are you buying the same amount of copy paper that you were last year? Go paperless. Ask your employees to think about their daily tasks as they complete them and add any paper process to the virtual Kanban board that they think can be eliminated or transitioned to an online workflow. How often do your desktop technicians travel to customer work locations to diagnose and troubleshoot system issues? Review your desktop ticketing system data and notate how much you’re spending in mileage. Ask your employees to add the tasks that they believe can be done remotely to the virtual Kanban board.

The most difficult part of implementing process improvement is supporting the change. This means a serious and comprehensive evaluation of ALL the suggestions that your employees provide. Remember they need to believe in change, so you must execute. Prioritize by using the RICE framework- Reach, Impact, Confidence, Effort. This will help you in determining the number of people that will be affected, the quantitative and / or qualitative goal(s), data reliability, and effort to include resource and solution costs. Follow up is key and there are several ways to keep your organization informed without scheduling a meeting. Provide updates during your existing quarterly or bi-annual meetings. Create a SharePoint or Microsoft Teams site with a list of all initiatives and the status for each; a roadmap so to speak. This sets realistic employee expectations and allows for continued engagement. 

Small wins matter. They may seem insignificant to you, but you will be surprised of your employee’s appreciativeness to know that you heard them. Gradually increase to the medium and large improvements. Finally, remember that Lean Thinking is not a sprint but a journey.

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