Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Project Kaizen: Making the Workstream Flow

Project Kaizen: Making the Workstream Flow

Our week-long study of Project Kaizen gets tough today: How do we regularly improve a workgroup that spans different companies?

The workstream is different than the workgroup. It usually involves people who don’t know each other, work for different companies, have very different allegiances and are united (often) only by the project. Hal Macomber wrote well on
the distinctives of a workstream last week if you want to understand the distinctives better. .

Examples abound. Most outsourced issues are workstreams. Building maintenance and cleaning. Most construction projects. Many contract technical evaluations. Funded research. Very different from the workgroup. Yet, often the source of a lot of cost to a company and a basis for improvement.

In very large companies, many projects also become workstreams for similar reasons. Mark Graban speaks on this phenomenon from personal experience.

My fellow bloggers (
Bill Waddell, Chuck Frey, Hal Macomber, Jon Miller, Mark Graban, and Norman Bodek) will cover this well. These guys see it more than I do. I’ll simply contribute some of my observations from my experience.

Workstream kaizen is much harder than workgroup kaizen. Deal with it. Don’t have expectations that things will happen as fast or as well or as deep as workgroup or individual kaizen.

The relative size of the organizations have a big impact. If you work with a vendor who really, really needs your business, you can make some headway. If you are a twig on the end of a stick on the tip of a branch at the split of a trunk of a very big tree to the other entity, well, it’ll be tough.

Pay close attention to the handoffs in a workstream. What happens when the project work shifts from one group to the next? There is your prime opportunity for improvement. Simple meetings, clear statements of satisfaction, declaring a job finished, metrics for handoffs; all of these work.

So how can you improve the workstream if you are the twig and not the tree trunk? Try what I call a “one-sided” kaizen effort. Make things happen for your side of the transaction. Don’t expect any reciprocation. Do pull, even if they don’t cooperate. Do mistake-proofing, even if they don’t ask about it. Do visual management, even if they don’t see.

My good pal Ken Kellams and I learned this approach with a number of vendors during my days at
FBi Buildings. What was amazing to us was that, after a year or so of consistent effort (solely on our part), several of these outside entities said “Hey, you guys are doing something different.” We explained. A couple actually adopted our lean practices. Ken told me a month ago that one vendor adopted lean tools and increased his total inventory turns from 5 per year in 2002 to 14 per year in 2005. Given that this vendor was landlocked in his facility, this nearly tripled his capacity. With no capital expenditures. Guess who gets good service from that vendor?? Ken’s a happy man.

It is possible to improve workstreams. Read up from my blogging pals. Try something and measure the results. You may well surprise yourself!

Make it a habit:

1. Identify one or (at the most) two workstreams.
2. Identify two handoffs for each.
3. Find some improvement on each of the handoffs.

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