Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Everyday Leaner

Anything done more than once can benefit from kiazan-taking a few moment to think about how to eliminate waste. Normally conducted by a group, anyone can look around for ways to streamline their work. For one of my projects I had the task of summarizing five winning proposals in a contest to suggest transforming our health care insurance mess. That's another area full of waste but not a topic for today.

For the first 40 page proposal I tackled I followed these steps:
1) I read through the proposal and made margin notes appropriate to the five sections of my final summary: Executive Summary, Financing, Delivery System, Management and Migrating the System.
2. Went through proposal a second time and typed in what I had found into a computer. Each heading had a page and I moved back and forth in the file to the appropriate page as I moved through the proposal.
3. Edited my document for formatting, spelling, readability, grammar, etc.

This process took 9 hours, an hour more than the 8 hour my client and I had estimated. I felt mentally wiped out.

As I sat in kaizan, I saw that most of my time was spent sorting and placing sentences in the right section. I also noticed I had to work my way through the proposal twice. In a previous project I had discovered the one click paragraph sorting function in modern word processing programs.

What if, I imagined, I dealt with the proposal just once. To do that I had to sit at the computer and enter sentences as I went. And, if I let the computer do the sorting, I just needed to make a table and put a symbol in the first column. So X would show a sentence that would go in the executive summary section, M would later find its way to the management section, and so on.

I could see a need for one more column for a secondary sort (showing if a sentence should be closer to the top of the summary or nearer the bottom). The outer columns served as scaffolding and would ultimately be removed.

My next proposal, just 20 pages, took just under 4 hours using this scheme. Makes sense if the first one took 9 hours and was 40 pages. But it felt much easier and I ended up with my mental juices still flowing. Actually, parts of me disbelieved I'd actually done the work right because it felt so easy.

So the new steps became:
1. Read proposal and type notes and quotes in one long three-column table.
2. Highlight the whole table and sort on the first and third columns. This put it in order by section and within section.
3. Remove first and third columns.
4. Convert from table to text.
5. Continue with editing and finishing steps.

As I type this I can envision a system that eliminates the use of tables. This would be an advancement as then I could compile a summary in any text program or even email and later sort it all using my word processor.

Office tasks are the next frontier for the application of lean concepts. With this project, the first 40 page document took me about 9 hours, the other four, including a 200 page book, took about 4 hours apiece. From a potential total commitment of 45 hours lean thinking shrank my work down to a total of 25 hours, an improvement of almost 45 percent. Looking only the 4 I applied my lean thinking to-my work withered from 36 hours to 16, a savings of 56 percent. And preserving my mental health was a surprising bonus.

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