How does process documentation of best practices fit into your continuous improvement cycle? We recently asked the same question, and found plenty of good articles about best practices / standard work. Yet, it seemed the majority of folks were not doing much in this area. That’s when we decided to put together what we already knew, and headed out to find some new answers.
Our assumption was that incorporating best practices into an continuous improvement program would look something like this.
It’s important to note that there is, or could be a loop created by the best practice activities. Not only should the best practices and continuous improvement be documented but used as a training tool and guide for when someone forgets part of the process, it should also serve as the method to gain efficiencies as new more efficient methods are discovered.
We wanted to see firsthand if best practices do have a place in the continuous improvement cycle. So, we needed a guinea pig. Fortunately, Paul Farmer and Veridian Credit where willing to help us out.
“No trainers. Processes had to be documented by the very people who performed those jobs.”
Our Approach to Best Practices
When it comes to our work, we have developed a lot of technology over the years and have a pretty seamless way of creating standard operating procedures. Since we were trying out a pilot, it would have to be done without any process engineers. No trainers. Processes had to be documented by the very people who performed those jobs. With this in mind, we started our project in the loan-processing department. Veridian was splitting a job role traditionally performed by one person, into multiple chunks with multiple people handling varying aspects.
The first task was to develop a process map and look for efficiencies in the current system. This allowed Veridian to break the job into multiple parts. Some of those parts would be performed by new hires with no previous experience.
Once we had identified the most efficient system and determined the work to be documented it was time to experiment different methods of documentation.
We needed to conduct time studies to determine and evaluate cost. So, we identified a couple Veridian employees and set them up with the software, and with a little training they were off on their own. While there was of course a learning curve, the first 15-minute process still took a long time. It took two people 9 hours to document a task that takes about 15 minutes to perform. That 18- man hours to process a 15-minute task was obviously not fast enough. However the content was really good click-by-click instructions, including arrows on all of the screen shots for where to click and what fields to fill out. But at this rate it was never going to make sense from an ROI standpoint.
We figured we could reduce this time by streamlining some of the tools for capturing screenshots and provided some more training to get them more comfortable with the software. Of course there was a basic learning curve that always happens when you do something for the first time but we knew the production time must be reduced significantly.
On our second test, things went much better. We reduced the production time by half. The 15-minute task, which originally took 18 hours of production, was reduced to 9 hours. Better, yet but still not near fast enough to justify documenting the entire department. So we went back to the drawing board and started brainstorming for other ways to get the data with less time from Veridian staff. It was then that we landed on a really innovative solution that hit the target.
We simply said, “Why couldn’t we just install screen capture software on an employee’s computer?” We could set that person up with a headset and ask them to just do their job and talk out each step as they go. Then back at the HowFactory offices we would have another person take that screen capture, transcribe the text, and capture the screenshots. From there, HowFactory could compile all of the data into a best practice procedure. This worked like a charm.
“It turns out that the roadblocks people run into are less about the information to document. People get stuck on questions like, where do I start?”
The Innovative Solution to Continuous Improvement
With this new procedure, Veridian staff would only lose a few minutes of their regular job. Our solution allows them to document the process while actually doing the work. Even on the back end at HowFactory, time spent was so much more efficient. For HowFactory, processing 15 minutes of documentation takes about 4 hours. Versus the original 18 hours it took.
It turns out that the roadblocks people run into are less about the information to document. People get stuck on questions like, where do I start? Do I need an introduction paragraph at the beginning? How should I label my steps? When you just ask someone to do a job and explain the steps, it takes all of that pressure away and they naturally can provide information that is amazingly accurate.
What About You?
As mentioned, we are new to Lean thinking. Veridian is one of the first projects we have inserted the tool which is HowFactory into a continuous improvement process. We would love to hear from others about their experiences developing and teaching continuous improvement. We want to know what works and what doesn’t. Why does it seem to be harder or less interesting to implement for many lean practitioners?
So, if this is interesting to you, please reach out. I would love to write a follow-up article after having conversations with others in the Iowa Lean Community.