Improve your process with a Lean Approach to Removing Waste

Do you pursue mastery of the services you provide? As sports medicine and physical performance professionals, we are always told to “continue our learning” of practical knowledge. Our continuing education classes are typically geared toward learning or reviewing new exercises, treatment approaches, and assessment/evaluation skills. Ask yourself this: “When is the last time I reviewed the process by which I perform my day-to-day professional tasks?” What about those processes that help our application of the above knowledge be efficiently and successfully transferred to our clientele? It may be time to start thinking differently  It may be time to to consider some Lean process improvement.

Recently I attended a small introduction to Lean (Lean 101 you could call it), and it definitely got me thinking. I learned some new ways to analyze parts of the processes I am involved with, and it was also rewarding to learn that the thought approach for reassessing processes I currently use falls in many ways under the Lean approach (*self high-five* – Hey, give yourself one too if you’re already doing this stuff!). “Lean is a customer-centered methodology used to continuously improve any process through the elimination of waste in everything ones does.  The concept is based on the ideas of “continuous Incremental Improvement” and “respect for people.”” – (Lean for Dummies). Lean philosophy dictates anything that does not add value to a process or product, or that the customer is unwilling to pay for, is waste and should be eliminated. Each step of a process in the production of a good or service either adds value or waste to the end product. Ultimately, the elimination of waste increases an organization’s productivity and profit.

So how Lean are you?  

Let’s take a look at some current data on waste. According to Lean data, 95% of the time a problem occurs in an organization it is due to the processes in place. Many times we incorrectly place blame on a single person, yet only 5% of the time it is truly the fault of an individual. Studies also show that during our work day anywhere from 75-95% of our time is spent doing things that can increase costs (waste). We are highly inefficient most of the time! Therefore, our goal should be to decrease waste. Before waste is removed, processes are often scattered, which can negatively affect your customers in the end. By decreasing waste, work cycles go down, delivery becomes more efficient, production and capacity increases, and quality improves. After waste is removed, processes are more streamlined, resulting in more satisfied customers. You’ll save your organization time and money!

8 most common types of waste in the process  

This post’s goal is to share the 8 most common types of waste, so that we can give these areas of our work some deep reflection and start developing some process-improving solutions. Here are a couple wording notes before we start. When I say “customer”, that can refer to an injured athlete, a rehab patient, training client, or anyone else who we are providing a service to. When I say “product”, I am referring to the end result of what our process is trying to produce (examples – a successful training program and increased business revenue).

To remember the 8 common types of waste, think “D.O.W.N.T.I.M.E.”…

DefectWork that contains errors, incorrect information being shared, or lacks something necessary. This is the waste category that I believe most encompasses our traditional continuing education approaches. Being open-minded, we should always be willing to address defects in our clinical skill set through continuing education. Are we performing a treatment or using an exercise approach that is outdated and has been shown to be ineffective or incorrect. Are you still giving Coca-Cola to your athletes during “water breaks” á la Penn State Football practices in the early 80’s? Yes, that was actually happening. By improving our practical skill set, we are looking to decrease defects in our end product (end product being positive results and successful outcomes). Additionally, defects include products or services that are out of specification that require additional resources to correct, such as missing necessary equipment, data entry errors, and utilizing incomplete documents as resources. 

Overproduction: production that is before it is needed or more than is needed. Producing information or materials sooner, later, or in greater quantities than the customer is demanding? Examples of overproduction include creating reports no one reads/needs (“Yeeeeah, I’m going to get you another copy of that TPS report cover sheet memo, mmkay?”) and making extra copies of flyers and forms that are not yet (or will ever be) needed. Overproduction is not only physical, but can also be verbal. Consider verbal cueing of exercise technique and programming – are we providing more information than needed to the client. Sometimes providing too much information can lead to confusion and overthinking – assess exactly how much info your client needs. As managers, are we providing so much information through excess guidance to our staff that we are stifling creative flow and intrinsic motivation?

Waiting: wasted time waiting for the next step in the process. Are there clients, staff, equipment, facilities, or systems sitting idle – waiting for a work cycle to be completed when they could be used during that time productively? Idle time is created when materials, information, people or equipment are not ready. Late-starting training and rehab sessions, delayed meetings, and poor scheduling can lead to lots of wasted time waiting. Equipment that is either broken of insufficient in number based on client/staff volume can cause waiting waste. Not only when they start late/run late, ineffective use of meetings can also be a waste in this category. Are projects getting “backed up” because some parts of the process are efficient yet others are not? Are tasks awaiting signatures/approvals from seniors and information/materials not ready when needed?

Non-utilized talent: not using or under-utilizing staff’s talents, skills, and knowledge. Not effectively engaging employees during the process can lead to high absenteeism, high turnover, and inadequate performance. This could be due to insufficient training (either on-the-job or in professional education), employing people in the wrong position or poor hiring decisions, or missing out on process improvements by failing to listen to employees. Maybe there is an employee with a strong skill-set in one area but for whatever reason those skills are not being embraced. Try to promote autonomy with your employees when possible and appropriate, as long as it does not lead to excess waste in other areas. Humans by nature are autonomous, and in that mode we are more actively engaged and creative in our production. The key is to have autonomous team members who work well interdependently!

Transportation: unnecessary (non-value-added) movement of parts, materials, or information between processes. Not to be confused with Motion (see below – having to do with people), transportation waste has to do with unnecessary movements of products and materials that does not add value. Examples of this include delivering unneeded documents and materials or moving a piece of equipment around from different workstations rather than keeping it in one centralized location. If performing rehab or performance training off-site, would it make more sense to have equipment that stays there rather than having to transport everything you need back and forth?  (Is it also an Inventory issue?)

Inventory – Do you have any raw materials, work-in-progress (WIP), or finished goods that are not having value added to them? Are there excess products and materials on hand that the customers or employees do not need right now? Examples of inventory waste include purchasing excessive office, medical, or training supplies, searching for computer files in poorly managed databases, obsolete files or office equipment, more finished products than demand needs, extra materials taking up work space, and broken machines sitting around.

Motion: movement of people that does not add value, i.e. unnecessary movements. Consider how often do we move materials, people, equipment, and goods within a processing step? Excess motion can be due to people making unnecessary movements caused by inefficient facility layout, ergonomic issues, and searching for misplaced items. Examples of motion waste include searching for client files that are not in order, reaching for equipment that is poorly placed, sifting through an unorganized inventory to find what is needed, walking to get a piece of equipment multiple times instead of keeping it with you, and repetitive movements that could overwork/injure an employee.

Extra processing: how much extra work is performed beyond the standard required by the customer? It is easy to want to go above and beyond to “wow” your customer – but is it always necessary? In other words, are certain aspects that are above and beyond what is needed actually going to provide value to the end result, or are they “just for show”? This includes performing any activity that is not necessary to produce a functioning product or service (i.e. that do not provide value from the customer’s perspective). Examples: developing programs that are never utilized, not having pre-developed home exercise sheets for your clients (and instead having to write/draw up every time), making more copies of a document than will be needed, saving multiple copies of the same file in multiple locations, using a more high-tech machine than needed (who needs the adductor machine when you have the thighmaster?! I kid, but you get the point), and taking extra steps to correct avoidable mistakes.

8 areas to evaluate for waste. There may be time to put back into your busy day and money to put back into your business. Make it a team effort to map your processes, looking for ideas from all perspectives to find any inefficiencies in these 8 areas. I’m personally looking forward to learning a lot more about Lean process improvement, and I will certainly look to pass that knowledge on! Pursue mastery.


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