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Discovering How To Become Lean

Jan 01, 2017

How many times do employees come to you with a problem, looking to you to come up with the solution even though they know their job better than anyone? If this happens more frequently than you would like, you are not alone. This article will offer some insights on how to increase efficiency by teaching your employees how to be lean.

The financial institutions we work with frequently engage Wipfli to perform a two-day service known as a Discovery Event. We recently completed such an assignment for a client, and the president sent me an email afterward saying, “The solutions were uncovered by our own employees.” How refreshing is that? Rather than employees coming forward with issues alone, they are now presenting solutions as well. This type of culture begins to develop when you introduce continuous improvement (aka lean) thinking within your organization.

A Discovery Event is a process we facilitate with your employees using a value stream within your organization that could use improvement. Often the first value stream or process we work through is the one that is performed most frequently. In a financial institution, this could be the processing of a new commercial/mortgage/consumer loan or opening a new relationship along with a checking account. As the culture change takes hold, employees begin to perform mini Discovery Events whenever a problem arises or a process change is needed. The two-day Discovery Event begins with teaching lean thinking to a team of six to ten employees who are directly involved in the value stream. Next we walk step-by-step through the process (e.g., working with a lender taking an initial application all the way through the closing of the loan and entering the information on your core processing system). The time spent learning the process helps the entire team to understand the individual roles each team member plays and why each step is critical for the success of the entire process. This helps the team build the foundation to establish a culture of continuous improvement.

After the process walk-through has been completed and with the help of the Wipfli facilitators, the team will document its findings by mapping out the current state process. It is fun to see the reaction of the team members as they begin to realize the amount of waste and number of inefficiencies they are already discovering. But we stress the importance of documenting every step to ensure the future state process is clean. The first day typically concludes with this exercise.

Day two begins with a discussion on the importance of dreaming as we begin to develop the future state process. We encourage everyone to share their ideas no matter how far-fetched they may seem. When the team members’ minds start coming together, what once seemed impossible might actually become attainable after all! As an example, during one Discovery Event, a participant said she envisioned a process taking four hours from start to finish, and she was almost laughed out of the room. In the end, however, the joke was on the rest of the team because collaboratively the team was able to decrease the time for that process from two days to less than four hours!

As we document the future state value stream, we also record all of the discoveries the team has identified that may need to be changed in order to improve the process. The discoveries are categorized by focus areas such as Management, IT, Marketing, or Training. This document becomes the working plan the client can use to ensure implementation.

The Discovery Event is followed by a team Report Out to senior management and others at the financial institution. This allows the team members the opportunity to share findings and recommendations with a broader team of their peers and help the audience understand the opportunities for improvement that exist in the current environment.

During one of Wipfli’s most recent Discovery Events, the process we explored was taking 45 minutes to complete. During the brainstorming session on Day two, the team came up with 86 discoveries; one of those discoveries was tested prior to the Report Out so the team could disclose to management that by implementing just one of the discoveries, it was able to decrease the process time by 22 minutes!

The president quoted earlier in this article followed up his initial statement with, “I certainly appreciate the background and knowledge of banking the Wipfli facilitators bring to the table in this process. They developed a level of respect and trust among the team with their ability to listen and empathize with the team and help the team come to the conclusions on their own. The true value the Wipfli team brought was the ability to create an atmosphere that would allow my team to help solve our own challenges that will work for our bank, not a one-size-fits-all solution for all community banks. My team members have a much better sense of personal ownership in becoming more lean and efficient in the future."

Discovering how to become lean can be a win-win process for all involved. In this day and age of doing more with less, the synergies of using a lean process with your team can pay off exponentially.

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