The Lean look

January 13, 2015
in Lean

Winter is a hard time for me physically. Some people are affected by the dark nights. Others by the cold weather. For me, it’s the chocolate, the baking, the extra whip and marshmallows on the hot cocoa. It’s so hard, in fact, that I’ve been known to break out the “fat pants”—you know that go-to pair that’s ever-so-wonderfully less snug around the waste. Unfortunately, those extra pounds and inches that I almost magically accumulate can’t stay forever—they’re just not healthy. So it means doing things different, hitting the gym, making conscious choices to put my health first.

Credit unions have the same ‘health’ challenges. Through different seasons of organizational life, processes increase and technology changes, regulation accumulates and the experience a member has with us diminishes. In short, our waste expands. We can hide it over the short term with hiring more people or putting off things like innovation and service enhancement. But in the end, we have to look ourselves in the mirror and have an honest conversation about the shape we’re in.

 For the past four years, First West has been on the journey to get in better shape with a holistic approach we’ve talked about before called Lean. You see, we’ve realized that the more waste we have the less effective we are in creating real value for our members.

A huge part of our Lean work out routine is called the Kaizen. Kaizen means “good change,” and it’s a chance for team members to come together to improve their own workplace. In a corporate Kaizen, participants look at a current, problematic process or activity and devising new strategies to eliminate wasted time, money and effort. The goals are simple: to identify find ways we can help our members wait less, pay less and get better service from us. We’ve put together some photos from our latest Kaizen to show what steps are involved and how it all comes together.



The warm up: Map out the process

After deciding on which process to work on, the Kaizen teams create timelines that detail every single step in the process. No detail is too small or insignificant. And since Lean is very visual, the participants can map the process on to a physical space to better pinpoint and identify problem areas. In no time at all, the room is plastered in sticky note wallpaper.



Set a pace Go through the process step-by-step

Next, the teams go through every step individually to identify where potential challenges could appear. They look at how much time each step takes as well as how many decisions and people are involved at each point. Not only do they have to think about who’s involved, but how each step affects the member.



Heavy lifting:  Go and see

Once the team identifies the areas where the most waste occurs, they begin brainstorming ways to cut out any part of the process that isn’t necessary. This involves viewing the process from a personal level, not a corporate one. This part is known as Gemba, which means go-and-see. The teams go out and see the process in action so they see what’s happening through the eyes of the staff and member.  



Go for tone: Work out the details

After the team has zeroed in on what wastes need to be cut, the next few days are all about putting together a new version of the process. They need to challenge their own assumptions about how things are supposed to be done, continually asking “why?” and “what if?” The teams run over every detail and refine the process, never forgetting who is involved and what the changes will mean for everyone who will follow the new process.    



The new look reveal: Presentation time

At the end of the Kaizen, the team presents what they’ve worked on to the process owners and everyone who it impacts. The teams share both the information they’ve gathered and the ideas they’ve refined in order to create new knowledge for others. They also make every person connected to the process feel apart of what’s happening, showing how they incorporated suggestions and input to make the best possible changes.

It’s an incredible experience—the team is thrilled that they’ve been able to trim waste and challenges from a core process; those who use the process are excited to see how what they will be doing creates a simpler process for the member and (often) a much simpler process for themselves.



Improve the routine: Get ready to do it again

My favourite part of Lean is that it’s never over—there’s always room for improvement. After the changes have been implemented, other related processes are often brought to the next Kaizen to be refined with the goal of creating even more member value.

Like any work out, Lean isn’t an easy job. But when you see the new, trimmer organization and all that you can now do for your members, you know it was worth it.

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