Your automation desperately needs some D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E.
The 8 types of WASTES in your team right now
A pitch for Lean automation
Is your team automating your business processes without streamlining them? Perhaps you’re missing a trick for getting the most out of this technology.
Optimizing processes first, not only saves on development time and the Bot power needed to complete automated processes, but it can also improve the robustness of your automations, this keeps your support and maintenance costs down. Lower running costs mean higher returns on your automation investments.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “garbage in garbage out”. In the automation world, this means that if you automate a bad process, these eight types of waste that are in your business processes that are unnecessarily using up time and resources. Let’s look at what you can do to identify these wastes so that you remove them and streamline your processes so that they are ready for automation.
No matter what industry or business you’re in, these eight forms of inefficiencies exist in probably every department and team of your business. To completely optimize a process is to completely remove these eight types of waste, which may be impossible however it’s something to strive toward.
Let’s look at a well-known acronym in the lean thinking community D.O.W.N. T.I.M.E. that you can apply to the work that you and your team do. Let’s look at how to identify these eight types.
D stands for defects or defective products that your process produces. These outputs are not just products the business produces but also the outputs of individual internal business processes where the results are of subpar quality. This could be forms or procedures with missing information or teams that frequently miss deadlines or submitting incorrect versions of documentation that are now in circulation.
If you have teams or processes that have high error rates, you can set up quality assurance checkpoints to help reduce these defects. For example, if you added an approval step, yes that may slow down the process but overall, it will speed up the customer journey because this will reduce the amount of rework.
To take this one step further by building quality assurance into the process it reduces and minimizes the mistakes that staff who are doing that process can make for example if people are misspelling suppliers' emails all the time you could just design into the process a drop-down of all the suppliers emails into a list so that you can only select from the drop-down and that just eradicates any misspellings altogether or if users are putting spaces or letters into costs that obviously should just be numeric you could set that field on the costing field on a costing form to only accept numerical input
Overproduction is when a process is producing too much and as a result, is wasting resources and energy. This can be at a business, team, or individual process level. Counterintuitively, overproduction actually makes a business less productive.
This is not going the extra mile for clients, customers, or colleagues, or beating targets or deadlines. This refers to doing extra things that are unnecessary. Producing something too early, too much volume (which creates stockpiles or backlogs), or focusing on non-priority work items.
At a lower level, this could even relate to adding too many people into a workshop that don’t need to be there or rushing development to finish quickly, and cutting corners. Or teams who are working on easier tasks rather than focusing on priority items. As an example, a team that received work in a queue had the ability to cherry-pick the easier work items. This meant that harder and more urgent work was left and created an extremely high average waiting time for customers.
Another example was in an accounting department where a surprising lot of time was spent sending reminders and chasing clients for payments before the due date. By automating reminders just before the 30-day payment period ends and then several times after, teams could spend this saved time focusing on other more important value-add tasks.
Probably the most obvious form of inefficiency and easiest to spot. This spans from having long customers queues, and hold times with customer service, to delays within a process between the different steps. For example, if staff are waiting for others to respond to emails or sign paperwork (due to backup of unread emails or piles of paper), this waiting stops others from proceeding to their next task and can accumulate into huge delays in service.
Augmenting staff with automated technology can be very beneficial in reducing turnaround time for these micro-steps, which can add up, creating much smoother processes. Automated workflows can also give better visibility into where these blockers and bottlenecks reside and can be used to redesign a process that could remove blockers.
For example, manually collecting information from customers could be replaced by customers filling in web forms while they’re waiting and so when customers reach a representative, they are already well informed about the customer's situation. Customers could even answer questions in a webchat, and a chatbot could take care of a good portion of customer queries instantaneously, that are more general. Not only are those customers serviced instantly, but other customers are also serviced faster due to the short queues.
If staff team members are spending a lot of time chasing, or reworking submissions that have been rejected by an approver, building quality checks into an automated process, this would reduce the number of rejections that the approver will make due to not meeting criteria or forms being filled out incompletely or incorrectly.
(N) NON/UNDER-UTILISED EXPERTS
Experts that are either not being utilized or are under-utilized can also be a problem. Imagine if you have a team of automation analysts and developers who are underworked and waiting around for projects because the automation pipeline has dried up.
This can also be extended to not including the right subject matter experts or involving the business team at all when designing automation solutions
If a process has a disorganized and convoluted workflow this can result in unnecessary movement of documents, data, products, and materials. A redesign of the process with the team using lean thinking techniques like the 5 Rs can remove, reorder, reduce, replace, or redeploy process steps. Perhaps it may now be possible to remove posting or receiving physical mails from customers tasks and instead use web forms or digital documents instead or have teams cover more ground with virtual consultations, rather than on-site visits.
Do you have processes that are producing too much of a product or output that is sitting around not being used, taking up space, or has a storage cost?
Having an inventory and stockpiling products can mean customers don’t need to wait for good, but too much inventory has a cost of storage and maintenance attached to it, especially if it deteriorates over time like food. In recent years we have seen the disadvantage of the polar opposite “just in time” method, which resulted in massive supply chain issues. Generally, with the use of automated processes, we can use historic data to accurately forecast when we need to produce more, or less inventory so that we’re pretty much on the mark when demand increases or drops.
Motion is about the needless movement of people. This is down to the physical environment that you’re working in, which may be too spread out (perhaps it takes forever to walk across the hall down the stairs around the corner to you know to speak to someone).
However, this could also include the virtual environment where processes are over cumbersome, with too many keystrokes or the use of too many screens or too many applications just to complete a single process.
Do you have processes that require a lot of paperwork or teams are spending a lot of time chasing or following up colleagues for work?
In these scenarios, automated workflows and web forms can take care of chasing people and sending follow-ups. Staff who use ten to twenty different applications to service customers can use a unified desktop that automatically pulls information together from multiple applications into a central place for staff to use.
(E) EXCESS PROCESSING
The final type of waste is Excessive Processing when the process is overly complex with too many steps, too many reviews, or too much red tape. For example, customers want businesses to protect their privacy and security but they don’t need an email or text message every day to tell them that everything is fine.
If there are too many checkpoints and sign-off points in your governance process, you could instead build quality assurance into the process, like having data integrity checks in the web forms so that checkpoints and approval steps can be removed. So, instead of having someone check that a customer has filled a form correctly, a web form that uses mandatory field settings, selectors and dropdown menus would ensure the form was filled incorrectly.
Reducing these eight types of waste will optimize your business and processes, however, fully removing all these wastes down to zero would be virtually impossible. Having a continuous improvement mindset in your business will drive you to use new technologies as they emerge to become more and more efficient, and more productive.
No matter what technologies you adopt, streamlining the process first had a massive impact on development time, and a need for less machine power and less demand on the infrastructure. Additionally, a simpler, faster process is also much easier to support and maintain.
One final point to add, removing the efficiencies of a process is beneficial, but finding and improving the root cause of an issue can potentially positively impact multiple processes in one go, maximizing the return of investment you will get from technology, and further optimizing the end-to-end process and customer journey as a whole.
Check out my article on the 7 steps for finding the root cause by running a root cause workshop.
If you want to learn more about lean Intelligent Automation in your office, subscribe to my YouTube channel Tony IA (Intelligent Automation, Simplified) for videos created weekly, to simplify intelligent automation for business leaders and professionals who are new to automation to level up your knowledge. Become empowered to optimize your business and discover new technologies, in a lean and accelerated way.
You can also learn more from my book, Business @ the Speed of Bots: The AEIO YOU method HOW TO IMPLEMENT ROBOTIC PROCESS AUTOMATION THAT SCALES. Get ready for the new digital transformation age for more information. The foreword is written by Guy Kirkwood, who is the Chief Evangelist at UiPath, and a very well-known advocate of RPA with over 20 years of experience in outsourcing.
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