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I recently taught a series of three lean courses for a national food manufacturing and distribution company. The difference between applying lean in a government service vs applying lean in a manufacturing setting could not have been more obvious. Seeing opportunities to apply lean thinking in the manufacturing of food products was easy. A walk out to the manufacturing floor and you could see tools in the wrong place and no visual management of where they go, documents not organized for easy access, food that has to be trucked from one plant to another plant and then back to the first plant, and the plant itself not being laid out according to the flow of work process.
However, in government services, most work processes are hidden. You cannot physically see a product move along an assembly line. Instead information tends to move from one desk or one computer to another. Processes can breakdown but without a detailed analysis the problem could have happened several steps backs.
This is the value of lean kaizen events. Laying out the process along a wall on butcher paper turns the invisible process into a tangible reality. The process can be seen. Places where processes breakdown can be seen where people must handle the same piece of paper multiple times, or large batches of documents are pulled from files and lost, or where quality control check could have gone to prevent the most common errors early. Just making the process visual has a way of making the obvious known.
As another way of doing this. Besides building the traditional value stream map on a wall via butcher paper, we are thinking that another way of doing this is to lay out the process in a flat world of work stations. Turn the invisible government process into a one room assembly line. Make the process visual, then redesign the process from there. I think this could really work.