By: Joshua Ebert, UL
In the early days of implementing continuous improvement tools at our 110-year old engineering services firm I had an opportunity to help develop visibility into our workflow. Most of our work resided on paper, in e-mail systems and in the minds of our associates. We labelled a lot of our initial efforts as “Making the Invisible, Visible.” We learned from other organizations and from lean consultants that we couldn’t improve our processes without first seeing flow or the absence of it. I believe we did good work and am proud of the various visualizations and tools we were able to produce including Dynamic Cycle Time Charts and Capacity Heat Maps.
All this work culminated in a global scheduling system that was designed to match incoming demand with the best available capacity. However, it wasn’t long before we started to get an occasional complaint from staff and/or customers that the way work was being routed potentially caused issues. This new way of redistributing the demand was revealing variability in our processes, as well as in our way of handling differing customer specifications. At the time, these new discoveries seemed like an undesirable consequence, rather than the gift they really were.