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Value stream mapping is a phrase that gets banded around in lean quite a lot, "Oh you should map that process" "have you VSM'd that?" and a hold host of other phrases (I quite like to ask if "you have mapped the value of a process" or variations on that). You will hear it in pretty much any lean organisation or an organisation with aspirations to be lean and rightly so, it's probably one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox, when done right, but it's easy to do it wrong.
So let me tell you about an organisation I visited a while back who had their 'lean' processes sorted. Bob, their quality manager (not her real name!) was really proud of all the Value Stream Mapping she had done and wanted to demonstrate this with the 75 pages of Visio flowcharts she had ready. These were incredibly detailed, the only thing missing were the instructions to turn over to the next page and remember to breathe, pretty much everything else was documented. She was very very proud of all the work she had done. I couldn't help but ask her what she meant when she said she, was it she who leads the team working on it? or she had written it all up? or what did she mean?
The answer was.. no, she had done it all by herself, in a room and sometimes a coffee shop so she couldn't be interrupted. She had gone through every process they had, mapped it into a flow chart and boom this was the result that she kept safely in her binder on the 2nd to top shelf which was carefully kept in its correct place with some diagonal lean tape running across all 12 binders of the 'lean' system on her shelf. The outcome, although certainly detailed and ridding the world of more of those pesky trees really didn't accomplish very much else
There are many many things I love about Value Stream Mapping, it's the clarity that results when you see what people think happens vs what really happens, it's the excitement people get when they get to toss dumb processes in the bin, its especially the arguments about why the heck would you do it that way! Yes, Value Stream is messy, it is sometimes noisy and it's 100% interactive, no sitting down allowed!
The beauty of the process is the ability to get so many ideas and opinions and people in one room 100% focused on figuring out the steps through a process. I like to describe it to people as them imagining themselves as the sales order flowing through the business. They arrive via the salesperson and bounce around their assorted processes, then they get passed along to the admin lad who has only been there a week so isn't sure what to do, so, they leave them to rest a while on the pile of paper to his right. Then suddenly it's dark because now, there is another pile of paper on top of you and you hang around there for a week or 2 until you get found again.
It's visual, it's a story that you cannot do on your own. You need Frank to argue black & blue that the right way of processing an invoice is X and Martha to argue her point that no it's Y. What you are finding here is what we call variation, that's what you want to eliminate where possible. You want to identify what your Runners are – those things that happen every day, common activities, and then your Repeaters, they happen a lot maybe weekly or monthly and then the best ones of all, the strangers! Those oddball things that toss your entire system under the bus and make you find a whole new way of doing things.
As you go through the process of understanding you start to see these things come out and realise that perhaps not everything you thought was a stranger really is, actually they are repeaters and we need a process.
We get to the point of having a great map of what you actually do in reality, and everyone stands back and says ooo that's cool now I understand and look at all the dumb stuff we do that doesn't add value! This is your Current State.
Now the real fun starts!.. invite yet more people into view what you have done. Give them post it pads with colours you haven't used on your map & ask them to add their inputs and highlight other issues for you to consider as well. Leave to simmer for a week on public display.
Now you want to pick a whole new wall to play on and figure out what the simplest, slickest and leanest process is to do what you need to only move the product or information along from initial receipt to final despatch as quickly as possible. This is your Future state and it's all about dreaming big and finding a BBQ for the sacred cows you no longer need (apologies to any vegetarians reading this post).
When you are developing your new future state you want the same team doing this as did the current state. Start by reviewing the original process and let them get back up to speed, a pat on the back here by the MD or CEO goes a long way! Now repeat the process of debate, arguing and excitement as you create what you could do.
Don't be constrained by the systems you currently have, just because you don't have something now to automatically move a file from A to B doesn't mean you can't have one next year (incidentally if you need this functionality there are products out there to do it now!) Dream Big and then plan the steps up the hill!
The final part of any Value Stream Mapping process is building the plan on how to go from current state to future state. It's worth spending a little bit of time here to look at costs if you can but don't get too hung up here ballparks are OK. Plan the states to transform each element of your current system to the new system, think about the training required, processes that will need redocumenting, things that will need bought, layouts that need changed. Who will do what and when. This is where you should gain sign off from your sponsor, exec team and anyone else who will be impacted.
Once you have both states and a plan there is only 1 thing to do before implementing the plan, take the whole team out for pizza and Beer to celebrate a job well done, as a team
Value Stream Mapping is an incredible way of helping people understand both the organisation end to end or in sections and see the waste. It can hugely help build cross-functional relationships and increase the level of engagement of your team organisation unless bob does it on her own in a coffee shop.
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