Design our work

· November 18, 2016

We had a process improvement discussion the other day in one team I’m working with now and we realized that we were actually would slow down our process a bit now, but in the long run gain flow.

I asked the team to design their work to help us flow better, but it would of course, initially increase, the workload. Basically we would increase work in process, which of course felt strange for everyone, not at least me… since I was the one recommended.

In this post I wanted to explain why this can sometimes be a good idea and hopefully give you some ideas as to when this can be a useful option.

But first some examples;

Move fast - break nothing

The title of this section is a great talk by Zach Holman that I recommend you to watch.

The thing that we were discussing, in the intro of this post, was that we had to postpone a release of a report. This had to do with the fact that we don’t handle versions of the report but was changing the one report.

That means that everyone interested in the report (in this case a BI system) need to be ready too. And the training/informing of the users need to be done. Finally we are affecting other systems so this will be classified as a medium change and can only be done through the normal change flow. Minor (that only affects us) can be done whenever we want.

In short; there’s a lot of dependences of us changing that report.

Or is it…

What if we didn’t change the report at all but rather just created a new version of it?

  • But then we have to display a list of the reports instead of the one button that generates the report, as it works now
  • And then we have to re-train the users and they already now are a bit confused
  • Also, we will have to handle multiple versions reports at the same times
  • Wouldn’t testing be more cumbersome …

Yes, there was many questions. But our ability to move smoother, freely and ultimately faster would be greatly improved by this. We think at this point at least.

Changes on the parts suggested from the factory floor

I once visited a truck factory and in particular a plant that was creating rear axis for the trucks. Someone asked how often the design of the parts changed and we surprised to hear that it was quite often.

But even more surprising was that most changes was suggested by the people in the plant. It was things like:

  • Can we tilt this part a bit to the right - that would make it easier for us to grab?
  • What if we added to pins here that we could use to lift this part with?
  • Can this part be flipped upside down? That would greatly simplify mounting it on the truck

Big and small. But they were designing their product to suit their work. Designing work.

Designing work

There’s a quote by Donald Reinertsen that I’ve used often here on the blog:

Value trumps flow. Flow trumps waste elimination

Sadly many people think about lean as purely eliminating waste. This misses the core of the ideas that basically is a value / customer focus in all our processes.

The quote above captures this by saying the Value is what the goal for everything we do. We want flow, and we think that flowing work faster is the way to gain more value. However, should we see a way to (temporary) reduce flow to get more value - we would take that.

Finally we think that we will gain better flow by reducing waste. But should a situation occur where we have great flow while still have some waste in our process we would take it any day, and twice on Sundays.

Value trumps flow. Flow trumps waste elimination

Lower work in process is generally better but not at the cost of flow or value. By, temporary, doing something that takes longer (like handling multiple version of a report, or by adding a new handle on a axis for a truck) we would gain a better flow.

That’s ok. We design our work to support the flow in a better way.

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