Reinventing teamwork the Lean way

August 27, 2014
in Lean
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August 27, 2014
in Lean
Connect with me
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3 reasons Lean does team and project work better

Two-way communication. Silo-busting. Collaboration. How to work effectively as a team and the value of teamwork have received some heavy treatment in business literature over the last few decades. Maybe you’ve read books and blogs on the subject, or watched TED Talks and taken part in teambuilding events as organizations have embraced new approaches to effective teamwork. It’s perhaps no surprise then to find teamwork at the core of Lean, the continuous improvement methodology that we use at First West. But, Lean takes teamwork to a whole new level, leveraging common-sense and diversity for success in continuous improvement efforts.

Teamwork in Lean has two primary forms. One is the traditional idea of a group of people working toward a common purpose. The other is the familiar notion of the project team—in Lean, it often takes the shape of what’s called a “Kaizen event” or “Kaizen blitz”. But that’s where the similarities end. The Lean approach to project teamwork is “all-in,” meaning there is diversity of skill, knowledge and expertise on every team, at all times, for the entire project. The Lean Kaizen blitz team is tightly integrated for the entire course of a project.

Blitzing the pain points

The Lean approach to teamwork is a gamechanger when it comes to continuous improvement. Take our stubborn U.S. bank draft process. In the days before Lean, it took an average of 20 minutes to issue a U.S. bank draft. What’s more, the process was prone to errors and various equipment limitations. Still, we were determined to make the process better. We carefully interviewed branch staff to understand the issues and circulated the list of issues among stakeholders. We tried shifting into fix-it mode through training webinars (training must be the problem!). We increased the posting limits and investigated a different equipment set up.

We even researched new suppliers—only to discover that the challenges were the same. In the end, all of our effort failed to make a dent in the 20-minute ordeal.

We had hit a wall and had mostly given up hope. But with the arrival of Lean at First West came a glimmer of hope. Here are just three of the ways Lean and its fresh approach to teamwork made a difference in our efforts to improve our U.S. draft process—and can make a difference in any deficient process.

  1. All-in, all the time.
    Lean puts together the right mix for successful problem solving. Its power is in diversity and continuity. Rather than one person—often a business analyst—bouncing around to various stakeholders and subject matter experts trying to identify and understand the problem areas, Lean Kaizen teams are diverse—having a variety of skills, knowledge and perspectives—and continuously connected.

    We assembled a team of people that, together, could provide a complete picture of the U.S. draft process: a teller, a teller supervisor, an administrator (who reconciled the draft at head office), a systems analyst from information technology, and a member experience champion.

    Where our previous attempts used traditional project teams that suffered from disconnectedness and limited perspectives and knowledge, the Lean Kaizen blitz team possessed comprehensive knowledge of the process and was tightly integrated for the entire course of the project.
  2. Proof is in the pudding
    As this age-old saying suggests, the real facts are in the experience, in the evidence. Core to Lean is the concept of Gemba or “go and see,” an intentional effort to see and experience first-hand.

    Our Kaizen team did just that. We walked over to the nearest branch and observed a draft being created, being careful to note everything that occurred and total time of the transaction.

    The wonderful thing about Gemba is how it creates a collective experience. For our U.S. draft project, this meant the entire team experienced the actual process of obtaining a draft. The group experience is extremely valuable for gathering information about the process from the first-hand experience of all group members.
  3. Seeing the big picture—and the details
    The breadth and depth of information arising from a diverse team, Gemba and other Kaizen activities cultivates an environment for thorough problem solving.

    Armed with in-depth knowledge of every stage of our U.S. draft process, we mapped out the process as a team immediately after the Gemba component. The map—called a value-stream map in Lean terminology—captured the major steps and every small detail of the draft process.

    When absolutely every moving part in a process is documented visually like this, it becomes easier to pinpoint the problems and propose ways to eliminate them, thus creating a new process.

With an effective team that experienced the process together, we were able to see everything clearly. By the end of the Kaizen workshop day we had our U.S. draft process down to just two minutes, a remarkable time-savings of 90 per cent.

Teamwork the Lean way took this previously difficult process and transformed it into a delightfully simple service experience for both our members and employees. We continue to use Lean Kaizens regularly as part of our continuous service improvement efforts. It’s a new and improved approach for us that’s not simply good in theory, but is amazing in practice.

Do you have a Lean success story? I’d love to hear it. Leave me a comment below.

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