Fitz: Hi everyone and welcome to the second episode of the Zeitworks Webinar Series. Today, I’ll be speaking with Matt Kirk, one of our data scientists here at Zeitworks who also has an incredible passion for frameworks, business methodologies, philosophy, and the future of knowledge work. Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt: Thanks for having me. This is very much a passion area for me, talking about lean management, business process management, and also data science.
Fitz: So, Matt for the viewers who may be checking in for the first time, can you give a quick background on your role at Zeitworks and your main area of focus?
Matt: I’m a data scientist on the team here at Zeitworks and my focus has really been on taking the stream of data coming from sensors installed on customer machines and trying to make sense of it. Really, trying to focus on what are those aspects of a business process that have waste and take up our time, so that employees and workers can spend more time doing what they find valuable like delivering more value to the customer. That’s really my focus - to make people’s lives a little bit better. It’s a big task given that we have a lot of data streaming through our sensors. But the frame of lean especially is such a great way of narrowing our focus a little bit.
Fitz: Awesome. So, the topic we’re going to discuss today is lean management and six sigma. As I was reading about them before our call I was surprised at how long they’ve been implemented at US and international organizations. So maybe a good place to start is the history of these methodologies. Where do they come from? And where have they been used in the past?
The name “lean” comes from the fact that if you take a process and what’s happening over time and take away everything not needed, then you have the lean process. It’s not about doing things faster, it’s about removing as much waste as possible so that all you have left is the important bits.
Matt Kirk, Zeitworks Data Scientist
Matt: A lot of people have struggled with Lean. Kind of like AI, Machine Learning, and RPA. A lot of these terms are floating around, there’s not a lot of definition on where they are from. Lean has been around since the 1950s or so. There was a scientist Edwards Deming who proposed a lot of these ideas to Ford. He was not very interested in statistics and that kind of thing. He actually went to Japan and it took fire at Toyota. They effectively built a lot of business improvement technology. Fundamentally, it grew out of this experience around what is working and how can we make it better. The name “lean” comes from the fact that if you take a process and what’s happening over time and take away everything not needed, then you have the lean process. It’s not about doing things faster, it’s about removing as much waste as possible so that all you have left is the important bits. That has led into this industry of Six Sigma, Green Belt, Black Belts, and others.
Fitz: Great, that’s helpful. That focus on eliminating waste is interesting on a personal level but when you expand to an organization, there is so much clutter and noise so when you mix in dynamics of processes it gets complicated quickly.
Matt: It gets incredibly complicated. We’ve all worked with legacy software where it takes forever to log in, you have to click a bunch of different buttons. We never really realize how much of a drag that is to a company without rolling it up and seeing that it’s costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just by people clicking buttons. It does make a difference.
Fitz: If you’re an operations manager, the immediate ways that come to my mind in terms of how these methods can be implemented are interviewing team members to understand what’s working and what isn’t, bring in auditors or management consultants do deep dives on a process to find areas of inefficiency. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how an operations lead who isn’t in the weeds of operations every day - is there one strategy more preferred to find ways to eliminate waste?
People will come up with different ways of improving a process, but then it’s a matter of syncing that up into a better enterprise level process. Empowering employees to really find the waste in their day is the best way.
Matt Kirk, Zeitworks Data Scientist
Matt: In my experience, which has been e-commerce and customer support like call center analytics, there is a level of managers managing by walking around. That is a valuable technique but doesn’t work super well with remote working these days. You can’t walk into each other’s offices anymore. I personally believe that the biggest impacts I’ve seen are from empowering employees to take a very continual improvement mindset. Really teach employees the 7 or 8 lean wastes and saying, “look at the times you are waiting for something, moving things around a lot, or overprocessing”. A lot of the time boots-on-the-ground people who are actually doing the work will be able to figure this stuff out by themselves. With e-commerce and warehousing, it’s almost better to ask them where to improve their process because they’re the ones dealing with the pain. You have to listen to them too though. People will come up with different ways of improving a process, but then it’s a matter of syncing that up into a better enterprise level process. Empowering employees to really find the waste in their day is the best way.
Fitz: The last area I wanted to go to was comparing these methodologies and this idea of eliminating waste or continually improving a process and tying that back to Zeitworks. We are focused on automated process discovery and finding process bottlenecks with technology. How do you see these two side by side?
As human beings, we want to spend our days not copying and pasting things; we want to do something better. A lot of our product offering is identifying these wastes and then understanding the value stream from the beginning to the end of a process.
Matt Kirk, Zeitworks Data Scientist
Matt: This is top of mind relative to what we’re building at Zeitworks. Bottlenecks is one, application waste is another. A lot of the time what people find is that we spend a lot of time going back and forth between different applications. That adds up over time. A common use case would be that maybe someone is looking at Acrobat PDF and they’re typing somewhere else. That back and forth in a small case seems fine but it actually adds up to a major cost on the enterprise. A lot of what we’re doing is identifying these wastes, whether it’s back and forth context shifting, going into teams, slack or emails and bouncing around. Another idea is moving data around through copy and pasting. It is something we all do but in a lot of ways it’s a waste of time. That’s a ripe opportunity for automation. As human beings, we want to spend our days not copying and pasting things; we want to do something better. A lot of our product offering is identifying these wastes and then understanding the value stream from the beginning to the end of a process. Asking, “What is happening? What are the tasks involved? What are the applications being used? What’s on process and off process?” These are all things we are working diligently on.
Fitz: Well Matt, it’s been great talking about this with you. Thank you for sharing your knowledge on Lean and Six Sigma.
Matt: This has been fun. Thanks for inviting me to do this.