Removing waste from all of your processes is especially critical in today’s increasingly competitive, global market. Such streamlining not only includes the obvious supply-chain processes, but the demand chain (customer-facing) processes as well. In particular, finding and removing waste in white-collar processes can be a challenge, either because we are not used to looking for “waste” in these processes, or we just don’t open our minds to the idea.
Too many white-collar processes are designed from the inside out. They’re designed to make it ‘easy’ for the people working in the process (well at least some of them), and not necessarily effective for the process users … especially customers (designing the process from the outside-in). Many years ago we had a contract with a VERY large electronics company. To issue us a PO for the materials they needed took two weeks. However, there was a clause in the contract that required they give us at least 10-days notice to ship the materials, otherwise there was a significant penalty involved. This meant that the user had to start their process 24 days prior to their need, and usually 30 days to allow for slippage in their process. One day the user discovered they needed materials in 11-days. Somehow they were able to process the order internally in one-day. Apparently there was lots of waste in their process.
My best example of waste in white-collar processes is approvals, which are an example of in-line quality control. In the ‘old days’ of classic production systems, in-line quality control inspectors were common. Their job? To watch over the quality of the work being done and to reject work-in-process that did not meet spec; the idea being to stop working on out-of-spec product before it reached the end of the line and rework it sooner. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Until a better one came along.
The better idea? To have the next downstream person be the quality control inspector for the upstream work. If they received work-in-process that was out of spec, they rejected it. Otherwise, they added their value and the production continued. So how are approval processes waste?
Exactly what is the approver approving? We’ve all seen “check approvers” in retail stores who barely look at the check they are allegedly approving. What about the process that requires approval for spending on something that is already within the budget, which has been approved? When I ask companies why they need yet another approval for spending within a budget that has already been approved, the answer is usually that something may have changed and this allows for last minute “adjustments.” So the logic here is that we will slow down all projects in case something changes. Wouldn’t they be better off with a process that quickly identifies changes that affect budgets and modifying the approved budgets, rather than have work done on something that is will ultimately be cancelled due to a change?
Take a look at your white collar work processes and ask yourself, where has the waste crept in and how can we remove it?
P.S. A special thanks to Dick Lee for help in editing today’s post.