Business process improvement (BPI) is an area where IT departments can contribute by helping organizations reduce costs, shorten cycle times, and improve process efficiency. Automation can be used to automate routine tasks, eliminate waste, reduce cycle times, improve quality and achieve a systematic approach for continual improvement.
In this blog article, I am going to discuss two methods that business analysts can use to help their business partners streamline and improve business processes. Improving the business process should be part of every major IT project. Automating without first fixing the business process never results in the optimal solution. We call this repaving the cow path in Texas; you might get there but it will never be the straightest most efficient way. The two methods that I will discuss in the blog, 5S and Kaizen, both come from Japan.
5S is a productivity method whose name is derived from the five first letters of Japanese words: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. The method was originally intended to organize a workspace for efficiency. Let’s examine each ‘S’ and determine what it means.
- Seiri – Sorting. Keep the necessary in work area, dispose or keep in a distant storage area less frequently used items, discard unneeded items.
- Seiton – Systematic Arrangement for the most efficient and effective retrieval. There should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. The place for each item should be clearly labeled or demarcated. Items should be arranged in a manner that promotes efficient workflow, with equipment used most often being the most easily accessible. Workers should not have to bend repetitively to access materials.
- Seiso – Shining. Clean the workspace and all equipment, and keep it clean, tidy and organized. After the first thorough cleaning when implementing 5S, daily follow-up cleaning is necessary in order to sustain this improvement. A “Shining” work environment will lead to great efficiency gains.
- Seiketsu – Standardizing. Work practices should be consistent and standardized. Work stations for a particular job should be identical. All employees doing the same job should be able to work in any station with the same tools that are in the same location in every station. Everyone should know exactly their responsibilities.
- Shitsuke – Sustaining. Once the previous 4 S’s have been established, they become the new way to operate. Maintain focus on this new way and do not allow a gradual decline back to the old ways. The effect of continuous improvement (Kaizen) leads to less waste, better quality and faster lead times.
5S was originally intended for manufacturing but works just as well in an office environment or administrative environment or even in a healthcare environment for delivering patient care. A book I recommend for Healthcare professionals is 5S for Healthcare by Rona Consulting Group, available on Amazon. According to the book, “the 5S system sounds so simple that people often dismiss its importance. However, the fact remains that a neat and clean healthcare facility:
- Has higher productivity.
- Produces fewer clinical defects.
- Means patients do not wait so long for treatment.
- Is a safer place to work.” If you are in the healthcare industry, you will realize that these are big benefits that we constantly strive for.
Now, lets move onto Kaizen. Kaizen is method and a word that was created in Japan after World War II. The word Kaizen means “continuous improvement.” It comes from the Japanese words 改 (“kai”) which means “change” or “to correct” and 善 (“zen”) which means “good.” It is pronounced “k-eye-zen.” The method and the word have become part of the Toyota Production System (TPS), where it means “small, continuous improvements on everyone’s part. Kaizen is a system that involves all employees – from senior management to the janitorial crew. Everyone is encouraged to come up with small improvement ideas and recommendations on a regular and continuing basis.
In Japanese companies, such as Toyota and Canon, employees typically make 60 to 70 suggestions per year, which are written down, shared and implemented. In most cases these are not ideas for major changes. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste. Kaizen suggestions are not limited to a specific area such as production or marketing. Kaizen is based on making changes anywhere that improvements can be made. Western philosophy may be summarized as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Kaizen philosophy is to “do it better, make it better, improve it, even if it isn’t broken, because if we don’t, we can’t compete with those who do.” Kaizen encompasses many of the well-known Japanese process improvement methods such as: quality circles, process automation, suggestion systems, just-in-time delivery, Kanban and 5S that I discussed earlier in the article.
Kaizen involves setting standards and then continually improving those standards. To support the higher standards Kaizen also involves providing the training, materials and supervision that is needed for employees to achieve the higher standards and maintain their ability to meet those standards on an on-going basis. The cycle of kaizen activity can be defined as:
- Standardize an operation and activities.
- Measure the standardized operation (find cycle time and amount of in-process inventory).
- Gauge measurements against requirements.
- Innovate to meet requirements and increase productivity.
- Standardize the new, improved operations.
- Continue the cycle continuously. Key elements of kaizen are quality, effort, involvement of all employees, willingness to change, and communication.
Kaizen can be applied to the office environment as well as a manufacturing environment. In fact, Kaizen has been applied to the following areas:
- Human Resources
- Materials management
- Product design engineering
- Accounts payable/receivable
- Records/document administration
- Government affairs
- Customer service
- Engineering support
- Software engineering
- Loan processing
- Order entry
- Sales support
- Regulatory compliance
A good book on this topic Office Kaizen: Transforming Office Operations into a Strategic Competitive Advantages by William Lareau. According to Lareau, “Office Kaizen provides the foundation for the next great, step-wise competitive advantage. Office Kaizen is an implementation path, management philosophy, leadership structure, and set of tools, all wrapped into one consistent package. If employed as an executive-level, strategic weapon across an organization, Office Kaizen will create a competitive advantage that competitors cannot match, unless they do the same thing at the same time. Few will, as most will continue to search for the “brass ring” without realizing the merry-go-round has slowed to a near stop. Those who do not embrace Office Kaizen will be left in the dust of those who do.“
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