Tag Archives: identifying opportunities for improvement

Is Year-end a Good Time for a Fresh Look?

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As we approach the end of this year and look ahead to 2023, this might be an ideal time to gather the group together for a fresh and penetrating look at where the business has the biggest opportunities for getting more of the waste out.

Over the past year, you likely have studied the work in a number of areas and found and eliminated a substantial amount of waste.

Congratulations! And while bringing those results to the bottom line, you almost certainly got close enough to the work to identify even more waste and opportunities for the new year. As long as you are willing to roll up your sleeves and really learn about the work, the opportunities for improving the business will continue to grow larger and larger. The more you gain, the more possibilities you can see.

Now is an excellent time to gather up these insights, step back, and make sure you are focusing your efforts on the right thing.

Inventory the Opportunities
Where do you go for your inventory of next best ideas?

Many organizations make sure that they document their findings about additional waste as a regular part of their improvement efforts, and it is a good idea to make a habit of capturing the improvement opportunities that become visible when a team goes after an area of waste.

By maintaining an easily accessible repository for these newly visible opportunities, not only does the organization gain the benefit of these insights and observations, but it helps teams to avoid scope creep as well because each new opportunity is documented, but not added to the initial scope.

But in addition to collecting these insights, step back and do some Imagineering: what would the business look like if everything were right? When people start to answer this question in detail, some major areas of waste are bound to surface.

Ask your group what problems and challenges are delaying the organization from achieving the vision and mission.

What strategic challenges does the organization face? What changes to the business are necessary to ward off strategic threats and capture strategic opportunities?

How do these translate into specific problems to solve?

Go through your list of improvement possibilities and areas of waste you have identified so far.

Which ones further your most important objectives?

Which ones should we focus on when the New Year arrives in January?

Identify Waste by Going to Gemba

identifying waste

As you may know, “Genba,” which has been popularized as “Gemba,” is a Japanese word meaning “the real place.”

The word is widely used in Japan, where detectives frequently refer to a crime scene as genba, and Japanese TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting from genba/gemba.

In the business realm, gemba refers to the place where work is done and value created. For example, in manufacturing gemba is typically the factory floor, but looking further afield it can be any location — a construction site,
administrative office, or sales bullpen — where the actual work is being done.

When it comes to Continuous Improvement, problems are most visible in these areas, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to gemba. If your objective is to identify waste, there is no substitute for ‘going to the work’ and there are things that can only be learned by going there and watching the work with a purpose.

Thus a gemba walk, or waste walk, is an activity that takes management and other stakeholders to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities for improvement; to observe the work where the work is being done, and to identify what goes wrong or could go wrong, how often it does or could go wrong, and the associated consequences. The waste walk is designed to help everyone understand the value stream and its problems; it is not to review results and make superficial comments.

Aside from identifying waste and the specific gains made during waste walks, there are also higher-level benefits associated with the practice:

  • Engagement: Since people at all levels are involved, and since the waste walks have proved to be an effective method of detecting hard-to-identify problems as well as solutions which improve both productivity and day-to-day quality of work life, a noticeable increase in workforce engagement is a common by-product. People like it when problems they have known about for a long time are finally solved!
  • Trust: Company leaders are able to establish greater levels of trust with the people closest to the work, by showing interest and seeking the opinions and input of those doing the work.
  • Learn the Truth: Going to gemba enables leaders to identify reality versus what they think (or hope) is happening. Waste walks help leaders to question their assumptions as well.
  • Better Ideas: When the people who are doing the work or executing the process every day start talking, thinking and feeling empowered, the ideas really flow…
  • Ask the Right Questions: as suggested in an earlier post, questions are often the “answer” to making breakthrough improvements. However, the quality of those questions is the key! Getting the data and seeing it for the first time based on direct observation is powerful; and then if you can get customers, suppliers and company personnel working through the chain, the quality of questions that surface promote more innovative and accurate solutions.
  • Improvement vs. Habit-forming Execution: The combination of fresh eyes, diverse perspective, amnesty, and a collective, sincere interest to eliminate waste and continually improve the work process tends to bring about real, often outside-of-the-box solutions; true Improvement versus dong things the same way.

Identifying Waste v. Solutions

get further faster

Surviving and coming out ahead in these turbulent times demands that we all think carefully and choose well what to study and improve.

As Bill Conway frequently said, “At least 50% of improvement is working on the right things.”

Organizations that are able to engage people in making good, fact-based decisions about what to work on and then execute with laser focus reap huge gains.

An opportunity search is key. That means that we must identify and act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results.

In many cases, organizations do not focus on identifying waste, but instead come up with lists of idea driven improvements. That is, someone comes up with an idea for an improvement, puts together a proposal, and then tries to implement it.

The problem with the idea-driven approach is that there is very little correlation between the list of ideas for improvement and the biggest problems or opportunities for improvement within the organization. The idea-driven approach to improvement depends on someone identifying a solution at the outset. But the biggest opportunities are usually buried in the tough long-term problems for which solutions are not immediately obvious to anyone! If a solution doesn’t occur to someone, the problem doesn’t make the list. If it doesn’t make the list, it is never studied sufficiently to come up with a solution.

Organizations get further faster by identifying the waste first and choosing the best opportunities from all of the areas of waste you have identified. A portion of the waste is easily spotted and addressed if you take the time to collect the information. But much of the waste is hidden — built into budgets, accepted practices, current operating procedures, and shared assumptions. It is built into processes that are compensating for problems that have not yet been solved. This waste is difficult to see without expanding the vision of what is possible.

Our next post will focus on best practices for seeing “what is possible” and for identifying the best opportunities for improvement.