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Division of Human Resources

Process Improvement (Lean)

Lean is all about improving processes by taking an in-depth look at your current workflow, eliminating inefficiencies in your process and implementing a plan for improvement.

UofSC's Lean Community of Practice 

Throughout the university, employees are learning and using Lean methods and tools to bring about improvement. These trained Lean practitioners are making work processes simpler, faster, better and less costly – and using Lean tools elsewhere to solve problems, improve workflow and strengthen service to customers. 

Numbering 26-people strong, the group follows a three-step model of learning, practice and teaching. Their bimonthly sessions involve practical hands-on learning, and they're using what they learn while teaching others.

If you want to learn more about improvement, attend one of our Lean Process Improvement Basics training classes. Check the availability on our calendar or class list by subject page. You may also approach one of USC's in-house Lean practitioners – and ask them to share a lean-powered idea or approach relating to one of your current workplace challenges.

Examples of Improvement

The group had its first learning sessions in September and November 2016, and they're already putting Lean to work and effecting positive change.

Results are adding up fast. For example, a team used Lean methods and tools to cut the FTE hiring process in half – and set the stage for upcoming IT imporovements. Another team used Lean to make the benefits enrollment process simpler, faster and better for everyone. A third team used Lean to streamline the process for granting access to student information systems that will strengthen service, guidance and controls.

In addition, people are using Lean practices in smaller efforts that are adding up to big improvement.

  •  The new workflow has 54 steps – compared to 104 steps (staff hire) and 119 steps (faculty) with the current process. (reduction of 58% to 63%)
  • Loopbacks (to get or fix needed inputs) will be nearly eliminated – from 9-10 to 2 on average. (reduction of 78% to 80%)
  • The new process will go from start to finish in 4-5 days, compared to the current average of 10 days. (reduction of 50% to 60%)
  • A faster process, fewer salary overrides, and fewer off-cycle paycheck requests will increase customer satisfaction.
  • Download a one-page fact sheet [pdf] or the team’s presentation visuals [pdf] for an in-depth look at the project.
  •  The new approach has 44 fewer steps – it streamlines the process from 100 to 56 steps. (44% reduction)
  • When the improvements are in place, the process is expected to move 12 days faster, averaging 20 days vs. 32 days. (38% reduction)
  • The leaner process will free up an estimated 1,073 staff hours yearly for value-adding work.
  • The new process will be virtually paperless, eliminating 2,800 pages per year.
  • Download a one-page fact sheet [pdf] or the team’s presentation visuals [pdf] for an in-depth look at the project.
  • The new process will have just 14 steps, compared to the current average of 43 steps. (67% reduction)
  • Time-consuming loopbacks in the process will go from an average of 7 to a maximum of 2. (71% reduction)
  • The new approach eliminates 11 downstream decision points, because needed request info will be received early in the process. (85% reduction)
  • The leaner process will free up an estimated 525 staff hours per year for other work.
  • Download a one-page fact sheet [pdf] or the team’s presentation visuals [pdf] for an in-depth look at the project.

Lean Tools

Departments are encouraged to start their own process improvement projects by using the tools provided below. Remember, you can always call a Lean practitioner, if you need help along the way.

Three parts to every project – prep, project and implementation. This roadmap [pdf] provides a snap shot for each phase of a project and how a Lean practitioner can help. 

Start out by using this project charter [pdf] to plan and communicate all key elements of your process improvement project.

This project flow overview [pdf] lays out the schedule for a 5 day event. 

Its important to ensure you have plenty of room [pdf] to work in groups, while still being able to move around. And don't forget lots of wall space for butcher-block paper and sticky notes!

This document [pdf] lists the types of process improvements that surface time and again as the biggest drivers of positive change.

Use these measures [pdf] to help gauge the effectiveness of your process improvement project. 

Enlist TIMUWOOD [pdf] (transportation, information/inventory, motion, underutilization, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, defects) to help you pinpoint occurrences of waste in your processes. 

Here are some methods and concepts [pdf] that may be used to implement Lean-powered improvement in your department. 

Use this quick worksheet [pdf] to help you determine who your customers are and how they feel about your service.  

Looking for other ways to begin implementing Lean process improvement? Here are 10 ways [pdf] to get started now. 

"A3" a short-hand name often used in Lean-powered organizations to describe this structured problem solving and continuous improvement approach. Sometimes you'll even hear it as a verb: "We need to A3 that problem." It's based on the plan-do-check-act cycle that's at the heart of so much continuous improvement. Process improvement calls on us to leverage our "inner Sherlock Holmes" – how improvement practitioners need to take time to study the situation, look at data, analyze the problem, get to the root cause(s), and only then start thinking about improvement actions. The A3 approach is based on this, building all of the requisite front-end steps into the form. So the form is like an on-paper facilitator, guiding you along the path toward improvement.

A3 Problem Solving Tool (Landscape) [pdf] 
A3 Problem Solving Tool (2 Page Portrait) [pdf]

Why two versions? The landscape version packs everything into one page – for people who love their one-pagers. The portrait version is two pages, but it has more writing space. In terms of content, both versions are identical.

At the Lean Community of Practice (COP) Meeting, held on 7/18/17, two tools frequently used in Lean were discussed:

  1. The 5 Whys (Root Cause of Analysis) – This is a simple but powerful technique for uncovering the root cause of a problem when you lack data regarding why the problem is occurring. 
  2. Hensei (Deep Reflection) – This is a process of reflecting on ideas or experiences in order to learn from successes or failures to improve oneself in the future. 

Review the Lean COP presentation [pdf] to learn more about the 5 Whys and Hensei, or try the 5 Whys exercise [pdf] to help determine the root cause of a problem. 

NOTE: These documents are not copyrighted by Tom Terez Workplace Solutions Inc. 

The copyrighted documents listed above (“the Materials”) are proprietary information of Tom Terez Workplace Solutions Inc. These Materials are provided for the exclusive use of administrators, managers and Lean practitioners at the University of South Carolina.