How to Identify Your Wasteful Processes
Waste is a sneaky thing. If you were asked right now what percentage of waste existed within your organization’s processes, you’d probably say 20% to 30%. However, a closer look would show that your processes are more wasteful than you think.
Humans spend endless hours on tasks like rearranging interviews, patching fleets with the latest security update, getting a copy of production data into development and getting basic observability and telemetry data.
These processes can be inherently manual, resulting in waste appearing absolutely everywhere. And once you spot it, you can’t help but notice inefficiencies.
The good news is that the volume of waste on display means that there are opportunities to automate everywhere too. Just think if your entire company magically got back 30% more capacity. Here are three questions you should be asking yourself to help identify waste.
Why Should I Care about Waste?
Waste is typically defined as any action or step in a process that adds little to no value. While most waste is in the form of manual efforts, recognize you can automate a wasteful process that results in, you guessed it, more waste. You might be wondering why this is such a big deal — all processes have an element of toil. Most people today only think they have a limited amount of waste, suggesting many think it’s at an acceptable level.
But consider these factors. The Great Resignation saw a wave of talented staff leave for new roles. This meant that a lot of IP and knowledge has also gone out of the door. This is compounded by a lack of systems and automation in place to keep processes going, and a lack of records that tell colleagues where the “skeletons” are. This means making changes, rolling new features out and more can involve a lot of manual work that could be repeated across multiple teams.
This environment is the perfect breeding ground for waste. As this waste piles up, it will have a direct impact on costs and burnout. The more people have to wade through wasteful processes, the more likely they are to leave. As people leave, you have to spend more to hire, onboard and ramp up new hires. But ultimately those new people won’t want to do wasteful tasks either.
This vicious cycle is what we need to break.
What Does Waste Look Like?
Breaking the cycle means being able to identify waste. But this can be hard to do in processes that have been a standard operating procedure for as long as people can remember. It’s not until you really take a step back out of the day-to-day and break things down that you can begin to identify just how much time is being wasted.
Take something simple as an example. You’ve arranged an interview, but the candidate doesn’t show up. Rearranging seems a simple enough task with no waste involved.
But think about how much work it takes to reschedule. You have to find out what happened, review schedules to find a new time, have phone calls to sort everything out and talk to recruiters to also get them on the case. Something as simple as a missed interview could result in a few hours of waste when you add it all up. That’s time that could be better spent elsewhere.
That’s what waste is: tasks that don’t add value. These can add up to weigh people down but can be tricky to identify.
How Can I Identify Waste?
Processes, much like software, can decay. The world of work is constantly changing. The processes that worked before won’t necessarily stand the test of time. Take the example given about rearranging the interview. If organizations kept up with how the world is evolving, they may have already adopted Calendly to find gaps in schedules. Or ask teams to color-code time blocks in their diaries for slots they can help with recruiting.
If processes are static, then they will inevitably decay. This is why you should start identifying the waste in your processes today. There are three methods that could be helpful for identifying wasteful processes.
Question everything — At its most basic level, identifying waste could just come from asking simple questions. If a team is saying it’ll take a week to turn around a relatively simple request for data, for example, then it’s time to dig into the why and question their processes. Follow your curiosity and don’t settle for the status quo as this reactive approach can help identify waste as it happens in your workflow.
Understand costs — Activity-based costing that assigns costs to products or services can help you see where time and money are being allocated. The benefit is that you can see in black and white where overhead exist. You may identify that your organization is spending a large amount on onboarding. From here, you can map the process end-to-end to identify waste and unblock bottlenecks across the entire process.
Gemba Walks — Part of the lean management philosophy Gemba Walks is all about going to the place where the real work happens. This can help you dig into how people work. By asking questions about established processes and problems employees experience, you can quickly get to the root of where waste exists and work with colleagues to fix or automate them. It’s a collaborative approach that gives responsibility to all for identifying and eliminating waste.
Waste is no good for anyone — it creates unhappy workforces and can result in unexpected costs for organizations. The good news is that it’s easy to identify once you know what to look for. It will also identify bountiful opportunities to automate, which will help to reduce the burden on teams and allow them to spend their time adding value.
Be careful though; automating bad processes will result in overspending and simply shifting cost from human time to computer time (cloud spend). In my next piece, I’ll take another dive into the waste plaguing us all, examining how best to automate now we’ve identified wasteful processes and the impact this can have.