Process Improvement

by Rus Slater

Improving your process

Once you have reviewed the data from your analysis and decided whether or not the process needs to be changed, you can – assuming that changes are needed – use the following tools to work out what changes to make and to design your new, improved process.

The 5 S’s of housekeeping

Like the seven wastes, this is originally a Japanese ‘tool’ from the Toyota manufacturing system. It has been refined, however, for use in the service sector also. Surprisingly, the 5 S’s in Japanese have been translated to 5 S’s in English!

Inevitably there is a variant, known as the 5 C’s! Both are listed below.

Which means:
1 Sort Clear out Remove all unnecessary (non value add) events from the process.
2 Segregate Configure Arrange all events in the process and equipment (see Work triangle, below) needed for each event in an efficient location for its use.
3 Shine Clean and check Eliminate mess, clutter and anything obsolete. Ensure availability of equipment, tools and supplies for the events.
4 Strengthen Conform Map the process; disseminate the information; update the Standard Operating Procedures and the quality manual; keep things where they should be.
5 Standards Custom and practice Operate by and train people in the new process. If there is a problem, formally change the process; don’t work around it.


Downstream impact analysis

When you decide to change any part of the process, you can look at the process map and see quite quickly what the most likely ‘downstream impacts’ of that change will be within your process.

For example, if you remove a decision from the process, you can immediately see that this will impact on the person who makes the decision. Similarly, if you remove a movement from the process, you can see that the item in process has now reached a different place than the one it would have reached before.

What you must also do is consider the impacts downstream outside your process.

For example; will you now finish your process with the output in the wrong place for the next process to start?

You can use some of the methods of cause and effect analysis in reverse to assess downstream impacts that could affect areas you aren’t responsible for.

By following the timeline along from the point of change, you can ascertain the impact the change will have in the future. You need to assess any impact that may be felt at each future event by the changes you have made. To do this, you can reverse the use of the ‘families’ of the Ishikawa cause and effect tool here (manpower, machinery, method, management, material).

You can look not only at the M’s above the spine of the diagram above, but you can also consider the affect of your changes more generically, upon the stakeholders shown below the line.

Communicate with stakeholders

It is wise to inform all the stakeholders of the changes you are making as well as trying to ascertain for yourself what the impact will be. This will allow the stakeholders the opportunity to carry out their own assessment and to let you know if they spot something you missed.

You might also want to look at the topic on Communicating Change.

The work triangle

The ‘work triangle’ is an accepted standard in ergonomic kitchen design; it can be adapted for use in an office/shop environment. Here, the work triangle is comprised of the distance between your three primary equipments in your role: for example, the keyboard, filing cabinet and printer or the till, EFTPOS equipment and bagging area. Its purpose is to create an efficient work area that saves you time and energy.

Suggested dimensions will vary from industry to industry, but the triangle might be designed like this:

  • Each leg of the work triangle should be between 1.5 and 3 metres in length
  • The total length of all three legs should be between 4 and 9 metres
  • Nothing should intersect any leg of the triangle
  • Major traffic flow shouldn’t move through the triangle.

Follow these simple guidelines and the work triangle can help you plan your space for maximum efficiency, saving you time and many extra steps

Monitoring and checking

Should you put steps into a process to catch the ‘workarounds’ that people do?

Generally, you should only put in a monitoring check when you have new, inexperienced staff or a new process. Once you know that people are familiar with the process, you should remove these checks or they will become your non-value-added bottlenecks of next year.