The most common waste that I find in business processes is the waste of extra processing. Extra processing remember is the act of touching things more than once. In manufacturing processes, overproduction may be the greatest of all waste sins, but in business processes, extra processing is rampant and right under our noses every day. The good news is, it’s not terribly difficult to find. The bad news is, it can be difficult if not impossible to eliminate. But, put first things first by learning to see extra processing and recognize it for what it is; waste.
The first thing I look for in a workflow diagram are loop backs. You know, the diamond shape that indicates a decision. Things like, “Report Complete?” or “Amount in Range?” or “ID Correct?”. If YES, the process proceeds but if NO, the process loops back to a previous step. Dig in here. There is extra processing going on. Look upstream in the process to find where changes can be made to prevent the loop back (NO) condition. How far back does the loop go in the process? If the loop back spans multiple previous steps requiring those steps to be repeated, look for ways to move the decision point further up stream.
Look for words in process descriptions that indicate the act of “checking”. Words like, review, approve, authorize, check, test, governance, oversight, audit all hint at wasteful activities. That is not to say that they can be eliminated, but they are indicators of process areas that should receive scrutiny because they are non-value add. The people involved in these activities are a gold mine of waste. They can tell why things are rejected, or fail tests, or don’t get approved. They are the keys to developing business rules that can be applied upstream that reduce the failure rate and therefore reduce extra processing.
Remember that both the act of checking and the act of correcting (rework) are both the waste of extra processing. Applying business rules upstream in the process reduces both the burden of checking and the waste of rework. A simple example might be an automatic approval for expense reports under a certain amount. This reduces the number of reports that are reviewed and reduces the number of reports that will require revision and resubmittal. Look around for the waste of extra processing. You’ll soon begin to trip over it.