Questions from the Field #3: Lean Engineering

And the third question on Lean applied to engineering…
3) When a process is very detailed, what is the best way to map the process so that it does not get too complicated with too much detail?
There is detail and there is complexity. Detail means that there are many small steps that need to be documented. In fact, all things are made up of small steps when you start to measure things in seconds and tenths of seconds. Measure only what you want to improve. First define if you are doing “process kaizen” or “flow kaizen”.
If you are doing process kaizen in order to save seconds on incoming phone calls or shaving keystrokes, measure in detail. If you are looking for a opportunities in information flow across processes (kaizen to create flow and pull) then map the macro level first.
Another point to remember with office kaizen is that when mapping information flow it may be easier to start by asking “what is value” and map only that, leaving out much of the detail that is either waste or non-value added. This is mapping in reverse, where you start with the ideal and work your way back to current state.
Be careful not to mistake the tool for the goal. Value Stream Mapping and its hybrids are not the measuring or analysis tool for every situation. It is a waste for a kaizen team spends days Value Stream Mapping, creating a colorful wall full of information, when the problem could be solved in the time it takes to observe, test, and evaluate.
If the problem needs to be defined in more detail cause and effect diagrams and other mapping tools may be more helpful. Define the problem, measure it, and analyze the processes using whatever tool makes sense.