By Karthikeyan Lakshminarayanan
Lean Thinking is widely accepted as a philosophy and technique for eliminating waste from processes and thereby delivering exactly what the customer wants, as quickly as possible. The "value and waste" perspective is created through a value stream mapping exercise, predominantly focused on quicker value generation through waste elimination. There is, however, evidence that scope expansion that would enhance value stream mapping such that the focus on value enhancement is increased. In this context, there are several techniques associated with TRIZ that can be beneficial. Function-based thinking and Ideality can help in creating an improved understanding of value (and thereby waste). Nine Windows can broaden the context and scope of value stream mapping to provide an end-to-end perspective. The Little People concept can be used for micro-level problem identification and solution creation. There is considerable energy in the Six Thinking Hats technique for brainstorming, idea generation and solution evaluation that can be channeled into value-oriented thinking. This paper attempts to combine the strengths of various techniques into a Holistic Value Framework suitable for process analysis, optimization and alignment of processes to their end-objectives.
Applicability of TRIZ concepts to Lean Thinking is hardly a new development. Several authors have delved into this subject earlier. Brian Campbell, in his article Lean TRIZ has suggested different ways in which TRIZ concepts can be used in Lean Thinking. Sergei Ikovenko and Jim Bradley, in their paper TRIZ as a Lean Thinking Tool, discuss the applicability of TRIZ Plus to basic Lean principles, including value definition, types of waste and value stream mapping. Amanda Bligh, in her paper The Overlap Between TRIZ and Lean, touches on how concepts like Nine Windows, Little People, ideality and the core problem solving capabilities of TRIZ can be used within conventional Lean Thinking. Michael Slocum, in his article, Leaning on TRIZ, demonstrates the need to use TRIZ to create solutions for eliminating non-value added operations that prove difficult to get rid of
From a Lean perspective, James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones have incorporated aspects of a value-focused approach in their articulation of value and value stream in Lean Thinking. Tyson Browning has interestingly compared Lean with "getting in shape," mapping waste elimination to weight reduction or liposuction and value enhancement to diet and exercise in his paper On Customer Value and Improvement in Product Development Processes.
This paper builds on some of these ideas and thoughts further to develop a Holistic Value Framework that incorporates diverse elements like ideality, function-based thinking, Nine Windows, Little People from TRIZ and Six Thinking Hats from deBono's work into traditional Lean articulation of value and value stream. The focus of this framework is to encourage the wearing of a value-focused lens rather than a waste-focused lens to differentiate between value and waste.
From Wikipedia.com: "Value stre
Mapping the process starts with plotting the as-is process. The key is to become one with the process to become one with the object that is actually traversing the process (while carrying a magnifying glass). Some fields of thought suggest splitting this first step into three value definition, plot the value stream backwards (from final value or output to the first input) and then employ a go-see-yourself strategy from start to end to see the exact happenings in the process. One could do the go-see-yourself part first and the value stream next something that's best left to individual choice. It is important to note that these steps are different (they have different objectives) and necessary. Also, it is not of paramount importance in the traditional value stream mapping sense, to map the value from end to start or in reverse. It seems to work perfectly fine even in the forward direction.
The next step (that can also be performed independently) is to map the information flow. The information flow captures data flow among actors in a process as well as the flow of decisions that support the generation of value at every step.
Once the as-is process is up on the board, we need to examine each activity in the process critically from the perspective of value-addition to the end-product. Activities can be classified into three types [Womack and Jones, Lean Thinking]:
For example, consider a person wanting to get home and plonk himself on his favorite sofa at the end of a hectic work day. (Assume that he has already driven to the gate of his house.) In a traditional value stream mapping, each of the activities leading up to the person sitting on the sofa is listed or drawn, and cycle times and value-added times for each of the activities are noted [Table 1].
The next step is to identify wastes wait times, over-processing, unnecessary motion, etc.
It is interesting to note that much of the traditional value stream activity focuses only on waste elimination. Once all waste is eliminated, value-added time equals entitlement and process efficiency equals 100 percent.
The key here is to draw the line between waste and value. It is likely that many of the activities are not adding directly to the final value but are necessary from a process standpoint. "I want to get into my house, but I can't do it without parking my car!" This could be termed as "psychological inertia" of the activity the person is so used to doing the activities that the activities look like value-added activities. At the same time, because of the focus on waste, the end-process usually results in an optimized version of the initial-process, with some activities eliminated and a few curtailed or modified. Quantum leaps are difficult to achieve with this kind of analysis. This is where some other techniques like function-based thinking, ideality and TRIZ can add value to the value stream mapping process.
From a function perspective [Mann D, Hands-on Systematic Innovation], activities are essentially ways to perform specific functions and the sum of these functions produces the final output or value. Therefore, rather than looking at the process from an activity lens, function thinking encourages us to look at the motive behind the activities: each activity performs one or more functions and each function is essential to create the final product or value or output. Applied to value stream mapping, once the as-is process is determined, one can abstract to one layer higher and think about the association of each activity with a specific function (or more than one function) and the inputs and outputs to each function.
In the prior example, one could possibly map activities to functions in the following manner [Table 2]:
Once the functions are identified, multiple options can be devised to carry out those functions [Figure 2]. As long as the function is met, activities don't matter. Alternatively, one can choose from multiple options for the optimal way to perform a specific function or a string of functions.
With so much hinging on the subjective evaluation of what constitutes value and waste, the ability to be clearly able to do so is critical to the utility of value stream mapping to process improvement. The waste elimination mindset tends to be restrictive and offers very few clues or options. A function-based approach can trigger the generation of many more options and facilitate the creation of a holistic value stream map. Also, a detailed function model can be used [M. S. Slocum, Leaning on TRIZ, S. Ikovenko, J. Bradley, TRIZ as a Lean Thinking Tool] to analyze cause/effects, identify wastes and unused resources and apply TRIZ inventive principles to resolve contradictions.
How to generate options is another topic of great interest. Once again, we can get a lot of help from Six Thinking Hats, ideality-based thinking and TRIZ. Nine Windows can be an excellent tool to detail functions and problems. However, even for those uninitiated in the ways of TRIZ, the following four questions (and the answers to those questions) can help in the generation of options [Figure 3].
1. What? "And then what else?"
What function is being performed? In essence, what is the value being added? What are the current activities that perform the function? What other functions do the activities perform? Are there other ways to achieve the same function?
2. Who? "And then who else?"
Who is performing the activities? Who is involved in delivering a specific function? Are they the right people? Who else could do it?
3. When? "And then when else?"
When are the activities performed? When is the right time to perform a specific activity or function? Are there other times when the activity could be performed?
4. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
In essence, the function view focuses on value rather than waste. This is the main difference between a traditional value stream perspective and a function-based approach. There is space for the application of both approaches first, a function-based approach to get a value-aligned process and second, the waste-elimination mindset to optimize the new process. Function analysis can be a new step preceding the traditional value stream mapping and waste elimination steps. It can add considerable value to overall process improvement and can produce a better alignment with the final value.
There is considerable literature on the effectiveness of Nine Windows [D. Mann, Hands-on Systematic Innovation] in stretching the problem landscape [Table 3]. In fact, Nine Windows can be a very effective way of depicting value streams in transactional processes.
It is likely that the traditional value stream would fall in the "earlier system and current value/output" cells above activities that are performed leading to the final output/value. Owing to the focus on detail during as-is process mapping, the traditional value stream mapping process is also likely to inadvertently include some of the subsystem level information. (There might still be value in deliberately thinking from a subsystem perspective).
Nine Windows can add considerable value to this picture by expanding the scope of thinking to the future [Table 4]. This is where the output/value is likely to be used by users and this usage would again fit into a super-context and is likely to have several sub-contexts. Understanding these blocks can add to the understanding of customer value and thereby assist us with developing the optimum processes in place to generate that value [A. Bligh, The Overlap Between TRIZ and Lean].
Consider the manufacturing of suitcases. The traditional value stream can be used to note all activities leading to the creation of a suitcase through the manufacturing and assembly of various components. Once manufactured, the suitcase is transported to wholesalers and retailers, purchased by customers and then used in varied environments. Working out these future value streams can provide useful inputs to value creation as well as optimization. More interestingly, this sort of holistic thinking can help generate ideas for modified products or new product lines.
For example, suitcases need to have strong exteriors to withstand pressure and force when being transported in cargo compartments and conveyor belts. At the same time, it would be nice for them to be lighter and flexible when being carried by hand or in personal transport. "From a TRIZ perspective, this would be a nice physical contradiction to resolve." Gazing at the future can help the practitioner question status quo in terms of whether customer value is actually being met by the current process. It can also help in process optimization by crystallizing waste more clearly. For example, if the primary objective of medium-sized rucksacks is to enable frequent, quick, lightweight traveling, providing wheels on rucksacks doesn't make sense (added comfort may not compensate for added weight). Depending on future usage patterns, stress testing can be optimized to focus on parts prone to stress like handles, straps and locks.
The traditional articulation of value stream mapping tends to restrict the scope of their application somewhat. Nine Windows can facilitate the creation of a more complete and holistic value stream map which integrates a broader spectrum of views general and specific, past, present and future.
Altshuller's "Little People" (also called "smart little people" or "mighty miniature dwarfs") [D. Mann, Hands-on Systematic Innovation] concept is a simple but powerful way to understand a process from within the process rather than from outside. This ties in very closely with "go-see-yourself" and "become-the-product" from Lean. It is quite easy to mix or equate the two in the traditional value stream mapping activities. There is, however, a subtle difference between the two. "Go-see-yourself" is the magnifying glass; but the view is essentially external to the process. "Become-the-product" is a way to view the process from within. By identifying this difference and by associating "become-the-product" with "Little People," the practitioner is encouraged to look at the process from within and to also "feel" for the product. In a way, this combination of "look and feel" is instrumental in generating interesting internal views, problem identification at microscopic levels and generating ideas to solve micro-problems.
In essence, "become-the-problem" or "Little People" is a technique to be used in conjunction with value stream mapping to identify problems/wastes at a micro-level and eliminate them. It becomes more powerful when combined with function-based thinking and the what, who, when and why analysis. In the suitcase example, it can be derived that the function of the handle is to enable a person to lift and carry it and is required only when it is necessary to carry the suitcase. At other times, the handle is unnecessary and should therefore be disposed off or hidden. It follows that the handle should embed itself into the suitcase (manually or automatically) when not required.
Ideality [D. Mann, Hands-on Systematic Innovation] is a state of all benefits and no ills; in other words, function is performed without consuming any resources (time, space, people, money, etc.). From a value stream perspective, ideality is a situation in which value or output is generated without performing any activity. Overall, this might not be possible to achieve, but is something to think about or aspire to. If not overall value, each function in the overall process can be examined from an ideality perspective. Can this function be achieved in zero time? Can it be achieved with zero resources?
One may then be motivated to look at the function/functions being performed: cleaning teeth and killing the bacteria that cause bad breath. Having moved into the function domain, it might be possible to look at alternative ways to clean teeth, such as chewing gum or using mouthwash [Figure 4]. One could try to prevent teeth from getting dirty in the first place by controlling what one eats or pre-empting deposit by cleaning as soon as the "dirt" is deposited, maybe as soon as food is chewed. The ideal situation is that teeth never get dirty or having self-cleaning teeth.
Ideality-based thinking can be a game changer for value stream mapping efforts. Once the as-is process is drawn and while evaluating each activity from a perspective of waste elimination, rather than asking the question "What is wasteful in this activity?," it is beneficial to ask "Can this activity be completed in zero time and with zero resources essentially automatically?" It is extremely important to look beyond competitive benchmarks. (Womack and Jones categorically state "Benchmarking is a waste of time for managers that understand Lean Thinking.") This in turn catalyzes function-based thinking for effective value stream-mapping.
Additionally, ideality and function-based thinking can also help with the effective usage of available resources. In the cleaning teeth example, human saliva is a natural cleaner and is generated throughout the day and more so while consuming food. In fact, saliva is essentially produced to digest food. The digestion process starts in the mouth at the same time cleaning is also taking place. (Importantly, saliva doesn't digest tooth enamel.) This solution is at a high state of evolution multiple functions performed by the same activity or substance. This is a hint toward effective utilization of available resources. From a value stream perspective, there are likely to be activities that are non-value adding, but necessary or unable to be eliminated. In this context, it might be beneficial to look at these activities and resources and see if they can perform other functions not necessarily related to the value in focus. For example, in the "entering-the-house" example, physically opening and closing the gate and garage door is cost effective and simple to implement, one could look at using the activity to burn some calories on the side by making the gate or garage door heavier or having an inclined path leading up to the garage or to the house. This is what the TRIZ trigger "blessing in disguise" refers to.
Effectively, the ideality perspective shifts the focus from specific activities and process benchmarks to functions and usage of available resources. It ties up with function-based thinking and who, what, when and why analysis. Considering that the objective of value stream mapping is to generate value quicker, ideality can be a great enabler to identify and eliminate waste, enhance value and use resources optimally.
TRIZ inventive principles are applicable for problem solving within all contexts business processes are no exception. Time, cost, quality and skill are parameters forever at crossroads with one another ideal for mapping to technical contradictions within business processes [B. Campbell, Lean TRIZ]. Customer issues can often be mapped to technical or physical contradictions. Once waste is identified, elimination of waste is another problem that lends itself well to TRIZ principles [S. Ikovenko, J. Bradley, TRIZ as a Lean Thinking Tool].
TRIZ inventive principles are extremely useful from an ideation perspective and tie in well with the overall value stream mapping effort.
Having gone through what may be called the technical aspects of value stream mapping and tools and techniques that could be potentially used to enhance the mapping process, it is important to consider that there are several "soft" problems that typically pop up along the way. First, transactions involve multiple people, each one of whom is a potential contributor to optimizing the process. In fact, it wouldn't be possible to map the transaction process to a value stream without the active involvement of each person contributing to the process. With multiple people involved, it is critically important to get everybody on to the same page. Defining the as-is process, identifying value, identifying functions, identifying waste, exploring the problem and solution landscape using Nine Windows, "becoming-the-problem" and ideality-based thinking can be beneficial only if multiple brains work in resonance-mode. This is an ominously difficult task.
This is where Six Thinking Hats [E. De Bono, Six Thinking Hats] can be a life-saver. It can be used to facilitate structured brainstorming and consensus building. Needless to say, it can be used combine multiple brains to generate more powerful ideas and solutions [Figure 4].
Furthermore, it is beneficial to use TRIZ inventive principles/triggers in conjunction with the Green and Yellow Hats. Initially, teams are encouraged to generate ideas on their own. Once saturation sets in, TRIZ principles are randomly distributed as thought triggers to generate fresh ideas. These TRIZ principles typically result in the generation of broader, stronger out-of-the-box ideas. Especially potent in this respect are Blessing In Disguise, Self Service and Universality, obviously because of their strong link with ideality-based thinking.
Value stream mapping has been an integral part of Lean thinking for waste identification, waste elimination and process optimization. The traditional value stream mapping process of defining value, mapping the as-is process using "go-see-yourself," identifying the stream of value-adding and non value-adding (waste) activities and then waste elimination lends itself well to fine-tuning of processes. There is often a need to broaden the scope of this activity to gain a better understanding of value and look for quantum jumps in process efficiencies rather than incremental process optimization. This broadening of scope can be achieved by using a Holistic Value Framework that incorporates elements of function-based thinking, ideality, Nine Windows, the concept of Little People, TRIZ triggers and principles, and Six Thinking Hats in addition to traditional value stream mapping concepts.
I am thankful to Navneet Bhushan, Ravishankar Kuni, Channamalla Reddy and Rathnadhar K V, my colleagues from Productivity Office, Wipro Technologies for sharing their views and thoughts on the subject (and many other subjects not related directly to this paper). These thoughts have shaped my thoughts in no small measure. I am thankful to Darrell Mann for the thought triggers he has provided in Hands-on Systematic Innovation I have referred to his book constantly while thinking about and writing this paper.
Karthikeyan Lakshminarayanan is a manager driving enterprise-wide Lean initiatives at Wipro Technologies, a global software services provider. His Lean interventions have achieved positive results in more than 50 projects in diverse domains like Enterprise Applications, telecommunications, Product Engineering Systems, testing Services etc. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Ramrao Adik Institute of Technology, Mumbai University, India. Contact Karthikeyan Lakshminarayanan at karthik.lak (at) wipro.com.