Following Policy Adds Efficiencies, Removes Uncertainties

Policy. It is a word some dread.

But company policies are written for a reason. They are written to keep organizations running smooth and provide clarity to employees at all levels regarding specific topics. When policies are followed, organizations use time and resources more efficiently, create transparency, and reduce waste. From a previous entry, we learned there are eight different types of wastes (DOWNTIME) and policies will undoubtedly reduce the W of waiting and E of excessive processing. Instead of juggling with an issue, policies are the resource that quickly make an open case closed.

When companies are consistent with executing policies, each individual employee knows what they can expect, waste is kept to a minimum, and value-add activities are kept at the forefront.

When existing policies are neglected, the opposite is true. Topics become drawn out, meetings are held to discuss the topic, opinions are shared, and a decision may or may not be made for days, weeks, or even months. All of this rolls up into non-value-add activities, which could be easily avoided if the existing policy was simply followed.

Unfortunately, policies sometimes receive a bad rap because they aren’t followed 100% of the time. It’s imperative to not confuse having a policy with policy enforcement. Some companies choose to avoid the black and white and operate a grey area. Imagine if your company policy was to pay employees every two weeks, but that was not always followed. If there was some grey area,  you might get paid every three weeks some of the time. If the timing of your pay was negatively affected by failing to execute said policy, you wouldn’t be too happy. Why then are we okay when other policies are neglected? That, friends, can be a challenging question when it shouldn’t be. What’s policy is policy. To quote former U.S. President Harry S. Truman, “The buck stops here.” The same should hold true regarding policy.

To keep things running lean, smooth, and disturbance free, the next time you are faced with an unusual value-add challenge ask yourself if there is a current policy available to help overcome the obstacle. If there is, great! You have your answer and should execute the policy accordingly. If there is not a current policy, the second question becomes whether the customer (internal or external) is directly affected by this value-add challenge. If so, you know you need to begin working with a cross functional team to help establish a policy on this matter. This should go through the proper approval process for formal policy consideration and adoption. If the customer is not affected by your challenge, then it is not value-add related and effort should be redirected to what the customer is ultimately paying for — your product or service.

Looking for Lean Opportunities? Take a (Gemba) Walk

While we don’t tend to call them resolutions at work, the start of the year is a good time to set goals and implement strategies to get there. And just like at home, 2020 has many of us thinking of ways to be more lean.

For some, trying to determine a lean project to embark upon can be a cumbersome task and it can be difficult to know where or how to start. However, simply by applying the Go and See principle by incorporating a gemba walk in your daily routine can help identify lean opportunities in no time!

The process is simple. Go to the work environment where the work is being done (the gemba), observe the process first hand, and ask process owners open ended questions regarding the work they are performing to gain better insight as to how things are flowing, what obstacles may exist, etc. Below are a list of questions that can aid you on your future gemba walk as you interview process owners:

  1. What are you working on right now?
  2. Is there an established process for completing the task?
  3. What challenges are you facing?
  4. How do you identify a challenge?
  5. What can you fix on your own?
  6. What do you need help with fixing?
  7. Who do you talk to when something goes wrong?
  8. Do you use a visual management board?
  9. If yes, is it useful and how does it help?
  10. If no, why don’t you use one?

After compiling answers to these questions, you can quickly decipher between value-add vs. non-value-add activities and determine a game plan to better (or eliminate) the process, keeping in mind both internal and external customers.

Keeping the gemba walk part of your daily routine makes you visible to the team, creates open dialogue, and provides feedback, suggestions, and ideas — all of which can be used to continually better the process. Plus, the process owners see their input transferred into actions and results, helping instill a never ending lean culture.

So, make the gemba walk part of your New Year’s resolution and never stop improving!


The goal is to reduce waste. Why, then, are we adding waste?

Becoming LEAN continues to be a popular topic for most companies, and the goal is simple; focus on value-add activities and eliminate waste. Value-add activities are processes that support what the customer is willing to pay for, also known as your product or service. Waste is anything that gets in the way of this. When you really think about it, a business is nothing more than a string of processes, and if a process exists, there is a cost to that process. Period. Therefore, the ultimate goal should be to eliminate any process, or reduce the process waste, that does not add value to the customer.

Think of ordering a product from Amazon. As an Amazon Prime member, you order the product and like black magic, your product is magically delivered two days later. But it isn’t magic. The path to achieving guaranteed 2-Day delivery from Amazon didn’t happen overnight. Their process was examined, value-add activities maximized, wastes eliminated, and the customer is positively and directly affected by these actions. We should look at our processes and take the same approach.

If the rule of 80/20 applies (which it always does), this means 80% of your daily work is non-value add. Let’s think about that. Is the customer paying you to read this blog on company time? Is the customer paying you to update that special KPI that doesn’t affect them?

What would happen if you instead focused your efforts directly on what directly impacts the customer, which essentially boils down to our products and lead time? What if you question yourself every day about every task, “Is the customer going to benefit from this change?”

Again, 80% of the time, the customer does not benefit, so why are we continually adding waste and how do we stop? The answer is simple. Stop contributing to non-value-add tasks. Literally, stop! And if you can’t stop, then challenge yourself to reduce the total amount of non value-add tasks (ie. waste) from your process. Reduce the DOWNTIME on every project.

D – Defects. The goal is to eliminate defects and create a disturbance-free or defect-free environment.

O – Over Production. Don’t produce more than the customer requires. Think of a professional football game and all of the food being made to serve fans. Now think about the end of the game and how much food was leftover (i.e. over produced). If 1pc flow was implemented, over producing is kept in check.

W – Waiting. Imagine driving 10 hours to your destination, only to be stuck waiting in traffic for an additional 4 hours. What a waste!

N – Non-Utilized Talent. As a manager or supervisor, it is your duty and privilege to coach employees and tap into your teammates’ talent. Find their passion, coach them to follow their passion, and help them reach their goals. The world needs more do-ers and people executing their abilities to their fullest potential. Talent that is not tapped into is undoubtedly a waste.

T – Transportation. Analyze distance traveled, count how many steps from point A to point B and create a spaghetti diagram to map out the back and forth of a process. Reduce and eliminate accordingly.

I –  Inventory: Inventory gets lost, stolen, breaks, is outdated, etc. Getting to JIT (Just in Time) is the ultimate goal. This means your inventory arrives “just in time” when it is needed by the customer instead of sitting on a shelf.

M – Motion: An Olympic sprinter has perfect form. Any wasted motion does not add value to help him/her win the race. Reduce and eliminate unnecessary motion, twisting, turning, etc.

E – Excessive Processing: Reduce the total touches a product or item is handled, read, etc. Avoid rework!

Now that you are equipped to identify waste in your process, I challenge you to be a change agent in your department to focus on what the customer pays for and reduce or eliminate the tasks the customer does not pay for. It’s difficult and it’s trying, but it’s worth it!