Making the Invisible Visible

In a recent blog post titled Green Money, I requested that readers provide their "thoughts on the tactics used and difficulties faced when mapping electronic value streams." I received an insightful response from Carlos Venegas (author of the book Flow in the Office) explaining how he approaches that subject, so I am presenting it here:

“The key task in improving any electronic or office process is making the invisible visible. In factory environments, you can see what’s happening. We don’t always have that luxury in the office. Too much happens inside computers, inside people’s heads, and between people in conversations and meetings. Luckily, there are ways to make the invisible visible.

Let’s start with value stream mapping (VSM). This tool is excellent for making the invisible visible. Because you are capturing blocks of activity on the value stream map, you are making the invisible visible. It’s really a no-brainer. You must not do anything different if you think of automated processes as blocks of work, just like in a factory process. From the VSM, you can determine which systems are parts of kaizen opportunities.

It’s in these kaizen opportunities that people tend to run into problems. How do you address an office process or computerized process using lean tools and principles? Again, the key challenge is making the invisible visible.

Here’s one way to do it: build a workflow chart. Within the scope/boundaries of the targeted process, print out screen captures of every single screen used in a process. Then put the screen captures up sequentially. Now, draw lines from data element to data element. (Sometimes there are paper forms used in the process; include those, too.) The workflow chart helps the team see the four wastes of the office: information waste, process waste, physical waste, and people inefficiencies.

In factory workshops, teams will often do a process walk to level-set the team concerning the process and the wastes held within. The workflow chart gives the office team the opportunity to have a ‘virtual’ process walk. They can use the workflow chart to understand the process, identify the specific wastes, and design experiments, and then document the solutions.”

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