einstein

What Einstein Taught Me About Lean Six Sigma?

Should I Simplify, Innovate or Automate when improving a process?

 

Hierarchy of improvements to a process

In our Lean and Six Sigma Courses we teach the “hierarchy of improvements to a process” (Simplify, Innovate then Automate). We start by telling the students that we are going to take a baseline of how they would improve a process.

 

Western Union Video (the Unimproved Process)

We start by showing a short YouTube video of a complex process to certify vendors for Western Union. In the video, it takes 19 days to certify a Western Union vendor. We ask our students to take notes on the different types of waste they see in the process that contributes to this long lead time.

 

“How would you improve the process”

After the short video is complete, we then discuss the waste that they discovered in the video. This fuels a great interaction between the students and the instructor as they talk about the complexity (or waste) in the process.

Once the students have identified most of the waste in the process, the instructor then asks them “what would you do to take 75% or more out of the process?”

 

You will be surprised at the answer

Invariably, the answer comes back as “Automate the Process.” This answer does not surprise me as we live in the digital age. My response to that answer follows:

“If I were to map out the process in the video, listing each step on a post-it note, then post those on the wall to create a process map, I would have a process map that spanned several walls.” This is usually answered by nods of agreement. “I am going to give you three options to improve this process. Option #1: Do I want to add post-it notes to the wall? Option #2: Do I want to remove post-it notes and replace them with other post-it notes? Option #3: Do I want to remove post-it notes from the wall?”

The option chosen unanimously is most often Option #3.

 

What do the options look like in the real world?

We then talk about the first two options and what they look like in the real world.

 

Option #1: (Do I want to add post-it notes to the wall?)

(Do I want to add post-it notes to the wall?) shows up as checklists, increased inspection and multiple sign offs to mitigate a defect. This option is one of the root causes of complexity built into a process over time.

 

Option #2 (Do I want to remove post-it notes and replace them with other post-it notes?)

(Do I want to remove post-it notes and replace them with other post-it notes?) is basically the knee jerk reaction to automate. We pull Post-It Notes off of the wall and replace with other Post-It Notes (SAP, ERP’s MRP’s, etc.) in an effort to improve the flow of our organization. We are basically replacing complex manual processes with complex digital processes.  The result is a process that looks different but produces the same result. We have not addressed the underlying problem of Complexity.

Einstein had a great quote that I reference when talking about Option #2: “You can’t solve problems with the same thinking that got you into them.”

Another thought that I reference that correlates with Einstein’s quote is: “What is the definition of Insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”

 

Option #3 (Do I want to remove post-it notes from the wall?)

Option #3 (Do I want to remove post-it notes from the wall?) is the cheapest and most effective solution. This is the option to “Simplify” the process. In order to do this we must separate the “waste” in the process from steps that add value. We can then prioritize the wasteful steps by difficulty to reduce or eliminate them. As we reduce or eliminate steps, we add capacity, decrease operating costs and reduce chances for error.

 

Western Union Video (the Improved Process)

The class then watches a short YouTube video of the First Data process once it was improved. The goal was to reduce the lead-time by 75%.

 

Amazing transformation!

An amazing transformation! From 19 days to 22 Minutes! This improvement came from understanding and focusing on reducing waste in the process. This improvement came from following the “hierarchy of improvements to a process” and focusing on Simplifying in lieu of Automation.

 

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