The invisible made visible

A common complaint from those resistant to lean thinking is that it can’t be applied to processes that aren’t visible, particularly office processes where most decisions are made with e-mail and phone calls. The InBox Simulation our Master of Business Operational Excellence students recently ran with the help of Peg Pennington, Gary Butler and yours truly disproves it.

The simulation uses’s SigmaBrew case study, which looks at a large (and fictional) specialty coffee retailer struggling with quality and customer service issues amid an increasingly competitive commercial market. Senior management identifies the unacceptably long cycle time required to open new stores as one of the major issues to be addressed in a Kaizen event.

Each MBOE student had a role to play in the process involved in opening a new store, from market and site research workers to lawyers, landlords, government officials and more. The catch: The communication occurs mostly through e-mail. After the first simulation, students realized they needed a lot more information than they were working with. They also needed to know they were working with to get the work done efficiently. This is how a lot of processes exist in reality. People know only their jobs. They do not know what is being done with the information they generate and how it impacts the whole process.

In one full day, students created an A3 to describe the problem, a value stream map to highlight the problems, and a future state map to design a new and efficient process. The students had the ability to run as many simulations as possible to try their improvements. Each group came up with improved processes that were very different and yet very promising.

Our students return in June to begin the second half of the MBOE program year…

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