Driving out waste from business processes
The term 'waste walk' has been around for decades and is still a really useful tool in any business' quest to drive out wasteful activities and engage staff. Right in front of us are wasteful activities taking place; poor layouts, ineffective maintenance, bureaucracy, long winded reports and more. Every one of these items is a waste that the business has to bear, something the ultimately affects the performance and profitability of the business.
If you are unfamiliar with the term wastes, let me expand this term and give you an overview:
Defects – producing a product incorrectly, or delivering the wrong service to a customer.
Overproduction – producing too much, be it a report or a stock of parts.
Transport – taking products for a 'walk' or travelling the long way round.
Waiting – delays in the business caused by processes not linking together.
Inventory – holding inappropriate stocks of parts, materials, or people.
Motions – using more effort than needed to perform a task.
Inappropriate Processes – using a poor method to conduct an activity.
Untapped Human Potential – not encouraging and making the best use of the brains of the people who work with and for you.
A waste walk is a primarily a group activity to identify wasteful practices taking place within a business process. You gather a group together, you agree on a route and then you walk the process. On the way round you look for the common wastes associated with business, as described above. Depending on the group's size you may choose to have some people focusing on specific wastes, which is an approach that can certainly improve the rate of spotting wastes.
After you have concluded your walk you then debrief and generate actions from your waste walk; creating and executing the action plan is one of the main benefits of having a waste walk. The other benefit, and this really ties in with the last waste listed above (Untapped Human Potential), is the learning people gain about your business. Many people understand a business process intellectually, but once they have walked the process they can put the process into context. When you see the difficulties associated with a process, or you witness how things work, you get a far better appreciation of what is going on within the business. Some organisations use a waste walk to help compound the induction process for new starters, which is an enlightened strategy by most business' standards.
Waste walking is such a quick and easy to learn improvement methodology that we have built this in to our StreamLiner software. If you are unfamiliar with the StreamLiner product it is a straightforward application that allows you capture improvement actions from a wide range of process analysis methods and manage the changes thereafter. The real power of StreamLiner is helping busy employees (charged with facilitating continuous improvement) to process all of the opportunities in front of them and manage them in a logical and systematic fashion. The aim of StreamLiner is to help businesses accelerate their continuous improvement projects, simplify the management of change and stop people from getting lost along the way!
The waste walking functionality of StreamLiner allows you to record the wastes found within the business process, generate actions directly from the waste walk records and then to submit prioritised actions into the main improvement action plan for that project. This tool can also be combined with other tools within the software, such as the meetings management area and the CCC (Concern - Cause - Countermeasure) method.
So, to recap, if you want to engage the minds of your team and want to find some ways to improve the performance of your business then consider using the waste walk approach. Even a handful of opportunities correctly implemented can make a big difference to a business. And, if you want to get an idea of whether this approach really can work, one business that did this with me found a $150,000 annual saving in the first five minutes of one of their walks. I'd say that it is worth the investment in time!