The Lean IT Kaizen Event: When Problems Are Out Of Control

The Lean IT Kaizen Event: When Problems Are Out Of Control

A few weeks ago I found myself faced with a major dilemma. Our team of developers were solely working on problem solving rather than planned projects. On a weekly basis, several company team members gather to exchange ideas and prioritize all software development projects across our company. Unfortunately, I found myself arriving to this meeting each week only to notify everyone that we had not progressed any further on planned project work than the week prior. We were all beginning to realize that this problem we had yet to face was spiraling out of control.

In a case like the one above it is easy for those that are external to the processes to place blame and suggest quick fixes. For those internal to the process the problems are usually well known before anyone outside the process spots them. A key issue in this case was the time needed to fix the problem - time we didn't have. Our team's initial attempts at quick fixes did little to fix the problem, and at times appeared to make the problems worse.

I found myself firefighting under the direction of those external to the actual process. That is where I failed my team; I failed to follow the lean way I had learned over my years with LeanCor. Here I was practicing continuous improvement, but my approach was all wrong. I was putting in place quick fixes to please others without standardization or sustainment - which led to problem after problem. Focusing on the problems they identified without having a strong and stable process in place caused the little bit of standard process we had around unplanned work to no longer be valid. I was actually leading my team to continuous disaster. It was time to pull our resources together and hold a kaizen event. Below are some recommended steps we followed:

  • Quantify the perceived problem. We collected data from available resources to highlight the problem. Reviewing the data may highlight issues that may need attention during the kaizen event.
  • Populate an A3P. Define the problem statements, develop a plan using lean tools, and complete a Gantt Chart.
  • Complete a Root Cause Analysis. Complete a 5 Why Analysis to understand the root cause of the problem(s).
  • Engage in process mapping. Identify the processes being utilized by all team members and map them out. Notice if different team member processes are different for similar/ repetitive tasks.
  • Standardize. Once all current processes are mapped out, identify all areas of muda (waste) and discuss discrepancies in similar processes across team members. Use your notes from this discussion to develop your new process(es).
  • Sustain. Share the new processes across the team and develop a continuous improvement culture. Just because we developed a process today, doesn’t mean the process must stay the same. Develop a schedule that focuses making time for improvements.

During this kaizen event we learned that each developer had his or her own processes. When developers were forced to switch their workload from one employee to the next they were passing off their own set of practices that were centered around one piece of software and adopting new ones. This passing off lead to quite a bit of confusion. Additionally we found several existing manual processes that could be automated - in turn freeing up developer time. Developers were so focused on trying to meet customer demand that they certainly didn’t want to add to their work load.

I learned a valuable lesson: improvements not based on standardization or stability will likely lead to a string of continuous disasters. Today, I follow the House of Lean and always start from the foundation.

House of Lean House of Lean

It was only a few weeks after this experience that I noticed others around me falling into the same trap. Typically this trap is a result of someone external to the process requesting immediate answers or a solution to a problem. Some problems are as simple as a lost document as it is passed around for multiple signatures, or trying to identify why so many documents are printed to a company printer and never picked up. Other problems are much larger. It is the larger problems that affect multiple team members that require standardization and some method of sustainment.

While traveling on my lean journey, I have learned it is not only about using the lean tools, but the tools combined with lean principles that prepare the way.

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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