Can You Improve An Immature Process?
Yes, of course, but how you go about it can make a huge difference. Here is the catch: attempting to “Kaizen” an immature process leads to seemingly quick benefits but very low sustainability. Until a process is stable, even if there remain great opportunities for future improvement, any changes made to the process are unlikely to stick. Come back a few months (or sometimes a few weeks!) later and your improvements most likely have disappeared.
I am suggesting, therefore, that before you embark on any process improvement project, you do an assessment of process maturity as described below. It doesn’t take a lot of time and you may find yourself changing your focus for the project.
From this perspective Value Stream Maps are missing an additional important data element: the assessment of Process Maturity. The level of process maturity can be measured easily against a set of criteria defined in the Process Maturity Model, shown below, developed by Michael G. Beason and used by the Supplier Excellence Alliance (SEA).
LEVEL 1: THE PROCESS HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED, DEFINED, AND HAS AN OWNER.
At this stage of maturity, you have given your process a name and assigned a responsible person or owner. The sustainability and success of the process is at risk, and highly dependent on individual management. Training is typically done through the “buddy system”.
LEVEL 2: THE PROCESS HAS BEEN DOCUMENTED TO THE WORK INSTRUCTION LEVEL.
At this level, you have created detailed work instructions and are on the road to standardization. You have not yet completely deployed this standardized process to the workforce, and the actual work may still be performed in a variety of ways, depending on the preferences of the individual worker.
LEVEL 3: THE PROCESS HAS CERTIFIED TRAINERS AND IS STANDARDIZED.
Level 3 is considered the minimum acceptable level. You have a formal training process in place, with certified trainers. Workers are trained and certified to follow the standard work definition, and an audit process is in place to ensure that this discipline is maintained. A certified worker can perform the work in accordance with the standard work definition, can perform inspection of the work quality, and can meet the time standard established for that process.
LEVEL 4: THE PROCESS IS UNDER PROCESS CONTROL, IS ANALYZED AND IS IMPROVED USING DATA.
At Level 4 you gather process-related data, review the data on a regular basis, and take actions to improve process performance. This may take the form of SPC control charts, through performance metrics, and through suggestions from the people actually doing the work. The ability to continually improve the process implies a high level of engagement of the certified workforce in process improvement, and this is sometimes called “Quick and Easy Kaizen”.
LEVEL 5: THE PROCESS SHOWS CONTINUOUS POSITIVE TRENDS.
To qualify for Level 5 of the Process Maturity Model, you need to show a trend of continuous improvement for at least 24 consecutive months. Industry performance metrics, if available, show that your performance meets or exceeds the best in class. A key improvement for many manufacturing processes is a reduction in Manufacturing Cycle Time or MCT. Quality improvement are also fundamental.
The importance of assessing the level of process maturity is clear and critical: if a process that you are working on is not at a sufficiently high level of maturity, Level 3 or higher, then process changes will not be sustainable. Changes and improvements that you attempt to implement will have a strong tendency to fall by the wayside.
A Lean initiative normally involves several, and usually many, different processes. Realizing that your process or target area is not at a sufficient level of maturity doesn’t mean that you are prevented from advancing on your Lean journey. It does mean that there is some preliminary work that needs to be completed before you can continue with confidence. Most companies start the Lean journey at a low level of maturity and the Maturity Model helps them focus their attention on process maturity issues as they move forward.
An important use of the Process Maturity Model takes place early. Each defined process on a Value Stream Map is accompanied by a Data Box, which documents the key characteristics of the process, including cycle time, changeover time, and the number of operators and shifts. You should add to the data box an assessment of process maturity, based on the model presented above. You may even choose to color code the process box to identify processes that are at a maturity level less than three, as a target for special attention.